Florida Republicans Are Terrified of Gender Studies Majors

A new DeSantis-backed bill would ban gender studies, “intersectionality,” and “critical race theory” from the state’s public colleges and universities.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Republicans have made diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts a bogeyman in their fight to implement conservative ideology across Florida’s entire education system. Now they want to ban gender studies outright, as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ sweeping plan to politicize the basic functions of colleges and universities. 


A bill introduced in the Florida state legislature last week would ban gender studies programs from the state’s public colleges and universities, as well as “intersectionality” and “critical race theory,” two other concepts Republicans across the country have made a sought to eliminate from public and private institutions.

The bill, HB 999, would allow members of the university system’s Board of Governors, most of whom were appointed by DeSantis, to “provide direction to each constituent university on removing from its programs any major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems,” according to the bill text. 

DeSantis’ office told Inside Higher Ed that because the bill hasn’t made it through the legislative process, DeSantis “will decide on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes and is delivered to the governor’s office.” But DeSantis said last month he would block state colleges and universities from spending money on diversity efforts and programs with the intention that they would “wither on the vine.” 


DeSantis has not publicly called for banning gender studies in Florida schools. But the governor has labeled DEI efforts, meant to increase opportunity for traditionally marginalized groups and promote multiculturalism, as “discriminatory.” 

Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, banned gender studies in his country’s universities  in 2018, and the Wyoming legislature has tried multiple times to defund gender studies programs at the state’s colleges. 

DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday night that his administration is working to stop what he called “the woke” in all levels of government. The governor, for example, said the nonprofit College Board was attempting to “impose queer theory” into its Advanced Placement African-American Studies course that the state banned, conflating learning about a theory with indoctrination into a belief system. 


After a back and forth with the College Board, DeSantis earlier this month publicly floated eliminating all AP classes and the SAT, both College Board products. A top DeSantis official and state legislators reportedly met with the founder of the “Classical Learning Test,” an obscure SAT alternative. A board member for the company that runs the test said it “orients people to the perennial truths of the great classical and Christian tradition.”

The new Florida bill would also put all hiring decisions at public colleges and universities in the hands of DeSantis-appointed officials—such as the right-wing activists DeSantis put in charge of a small liberal arts college in Sarasota to remake it into what his chief of staff called the “Hillsdale of the South.” One of those activists-turned-regulators at New College of Florida, Washington state resident Christopher Rufo, said on Twitter last week that the new bill is “the most ambitious reform to higher education in a half-century.”


Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani, on the other hand, called it “right wing projection wrapped up in a bill that will push the best and brightest out of our state and will risk our accreditation too.” After the last election, which DeSantis won in a landslide against former Gov. Charlie Crist, Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature and dominate Florida at all levels of government.

Last week, college students across the state walked out of class as a protest against DeSantis’ attempt to remake higher education.

“We want to make our own decisions and our education, how we want to better ourselves,” one student, the president of the chapter of College Democrats at the University of South Florida, told ABC News. “We think it’s quite silly that the state would try to restrict that."

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