In a moment of solidarity, UF students, many clad in black and holding signs, gathered outside Marston Science Library at noon Thursday in support of gender-affirming health care and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as they come under fire from the state government.
Organized by Stand for Freedom Florida and Voters of Tomorrow Florida, major state schools like Florida State University, the University of North Florida and the University of South Florida protested alongside UF. UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan declined to comment but said the university complied with state orders.
The audit of gender-affirming care across Florida universities hasn’t been made public yet, despite pending public records requests The Alligator placed with both the Florida Board of Governors and UF.
A group of roughly 60 students wore black in support of the cause. UF College Democrats President Sabrina Briceno, a 21-year-old public relations and political science junior, gave a speech before the students entered Marston.
“We’re talking about the basic freedom to choose our education with no attacks or threats to pull DEI funding, no attacks on our LGBTQ community, no attacks on our Black and brown community,” Briceno said.
DeSantis announced his intention to defund DEI initiatives at Florida universities in January. That same month, DeSantis requested that state universities provide the numbers and ages of those who received gender affirming care from the university.
In November, DeSantis passed a ban on gender affirming care for minors, which included a ban on prescribing puberty-blocking therapies and a ban on sex reassignment surgery.
Organizations like People Power, Dream Defenders and SFFL helped coordinate the walkouts at universities across Florida.
Seyram Akahoho, an 18-year-old UF microbiology and cell science freshman, said she joined the protest spontaneously and is passionate about giving voice to marginalized groups.
“Realize our voices aren’t small,” she said. “A lot of people think that because we’re a minority we can’t have power, but even from this turnout you can see that people are supporting.”
Many students, like 18-year-old UF freshman Zayda Ehlers, said they were there in support of transgender rights.
He hopes the state legislation is aware that marginalized students won’t passively sit by while they continue to hurt students, he said.
“I believe in standing up for my rights and the rights of my friends,” said Ehlers, who identifies as transgender.
After gathering outside the library for twenty minutes, students entered Marston to observe a “teach-in” organized by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.
A combination of UF professors, students and community leaders emphasized the importance of Black intellectual history. They spoke against the statewide censorship of African-American-studies-related curriculum and advocated for increased academic freedoms for UF students and faculty.
Kenneth Nunn, a UF law and African studies professor, said the state’s targeting of Black studies programs poses a threat to university students and professors.
“We’re in a moment now where our learning freedom, our teaching freedom is being challenged,” Nunn said.
Issues of Black and LGBTQ history, movements like Black Lives Matter and the idea of banning “woke ideology” were also discussed — concepts Paul Ortiz, SPOHP director and UF history professor, said were representative of the teach-in’s core values.
“How can we really affirm the importance of Black studies?” Ortiz said. “That became the theme for the teach-in.”
He aimed to remind the public — and Florida’s political leaders — of the value of Black studies at the event, he said. To him, the number of attendees spoke to the program’s success.
“We had well over 100 students,” Ortiz said. “I was very inspired.”
While organized by the SPOHP, the teach-in requested by UF students and faculty who had been informed of the walkout earlier, Ortiz said.
Ben Braver, the USF student activist who helped coordinate Thursday’s statewide walkout, spoke briefly via Zoom on academic freedom.
“Teachers deserve to teach without influence from political actors,” he said. “We value freedom.”
Valrie Minson, chair of Marston, was happy to host the event but said she didn’t formally coordinate the event with SFFL and UF College Democrats.
“When the idea was floated to do a Black History Month teach-in, I knew this was exactly what we were here for,” Minson said. “Black history is American history.”
Minson was excited about the turnout and learned a lot throughout the teach-in, she said.
“Sometimes, to have your voices heard, you have to do things that are a little different,” Minson said. “You have to interrupt.”
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Peyton Harris is a first-year English major and the News Assistant for The Alligator. She is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and spends her free time re-listening to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and binging Criminal Minds.
Halima Attah is a first-year journalism student and university reporter for The Alligator. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her thrifting on Depop or listening to her carefully curated Spotify playlists.
Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.