Between all of the chaos to come from this White House administration, it’s been frighteningly easy for us to miss important news or dismiss seemingly innocuous political moves as insignificant. This is something we need to take note of. At this point, we need to learn to ignore nothing.
Last December, while working to reauthorize the higher education bill, Republican lawmakers introduced the PROSPER Act. The acronym stands for “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform,” but frankly the details don’t seem to encourage anything opportunistic, successful or prosperous at all.
As The New York Times reported last week, the PROSPER Act is making its way through Congress with intentions of reforming education on a national scale. It definitely will not be for the better.
For one, the bill would allow colleges with religious backgrounds to ban same-sex relationships without legal consequences. Yes, you read that right. I repeat: A bill currently waiting for votes in Congress could let religious universities openly prohibit students in the LGBTQ+ community from dating.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but the repercussions of this bill are amiss. Why should any educational institution have a say when it comes who its students date? Some Christian colleges already limit same-sex dating and cohabitation. Having a bill like this, a bill that wouldn’t seek to change or address problems associated with this, loom in the political background is both disheartening and shameful.
It’s shameful not only because it discriminates against human beings on the basis of love but also because it operates under the guise of expanding freedom. I’m sorry, expanding whose freedom exactly — the religious, right? I don’t care what kind of university you are; the First Amendment should not grant you the ability to interfere in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Further, the separation of church and state should make it so political institutions like Congress cannot uphold these practices.
Higher education stands for just that: a heightened level of intellectual thought, a broader understanding of the world, its problems and their potential solutions. Education is not the place for bigotry, prejudice or terrible -isms; it is the place where we seek to rid ourselves of those practices and ways of thought through careful analysis and intense discussion. Too often educational institutions are twisted and used to promote just the things they ought to prevent. This is exactly what I accuse the PROSPER Act of doing.
And what else could the PROSPER Act bring about? The New York Times article states “Controversial speakers would have more leverage when they want to appear at colleges.” This seems fine at first: Shouldn’t colleges bring in diverse and interesting orators to promote intelligent discussion on campus? But then you’ll have to look at the speakers some colleges have either invited or reluctantly hosted over the past several years: disgusting “alt-right” bigots and white supremacists like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos. These are not the sorts of speakers who invite rational thought and logical conversations.
We ought to be more careful when we write legislation regarding our educational system — one of the most important institutions in this country. Don’t let news like this fade into the background as our president’s Twitter account attempts to steal the spotlight. Even if our elected officials don’t seem to think so, we’re paying attention.
Mia Gettenberg is a UF criminology and philosophy senior. Her column focuses on education.