Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Navigating Florida’s political landscape from a UMass point of view

Unpacking the controversies, student voices and the path ahead
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past four years that Ron DeSantis has been Florida’s governor, he has attempted to turn Florida into the place where “woke goes to die.”

DeSantis has imposed several limitations on Florida’s education, such as bans on LGBTQ+ novels and books about race, removing classes that teach history of the U.S. like AP African American history and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

University of Massachusetts students describe escaping Florida’s changing political landscape

Former Floridian students describe feeling unsafe in their learning environment, and greatly limited by the DeSantis administration.

Jill Alie Hercule Espinal, a freshman at UMass studying sociology, moved to Florida from the Dominican Republic at five-years-old. Jill had a mixed experience growing up in Florida; she grew up in a pleasant neighborhood in North Tallahassee, but things shifted when she entered high school.

Espinal stated that it was a shock going into high school and realizing that she looked different from other people. As a person of color, attending a primarily white, conservative high school in 2020 was scary for her. “Everything felt cold, and Florida’s never cold,” Espinal said.

She felt isolated at the time, and this constant censorship in Florida has weaved its way into her college experience. Espinal shared that she now has a fear of being judged for her more liberal opinions, as those were often disregarded and considered controversial in Florida.

Nikita Pavlenko, another freshman studying environmental science at UMass that grew up in Florida, felt that Florida was very isolated from the rest of the world. “You’re either in Florida or you’re not,” Pavlenko saod.

He added that in Massachusetts people intermingle and interact with people from different cultures and different states, whereas in many parts of Florida people stay in their neighborhoods and are not exposed to much diversity.

Espinal and Pavlenko chose to attend school far away from home because of the recent laws implemented into the state by the DeSantis administration. Espinal had plans to stay in Florida for college but realized that since she plans to study sociology it would be less censored in a state like Massachusetts.

“It was, in a sense, liberating to be able to talk about my opinions and my takes without being in a judgmental environment, ” Espinal said about starting her studies at UMass.

Book bans greatly affected Florida public schools, by extracting books that involve topics of homosexuality and race. Espinal’s high school librarian, with whom she held a close relationship, quit her job due to the limitations of book bans. She didn’t have freedom to create displays regarding current issues and could not provide resources to students because certain topics are considered “controversial” in Florida, she explained.

“If that’s what he’s aiming to do in higher education,” Espinal said. “It’s a warning sign that when you don’t educate the masses, people are not thinking for themselves — they’re thinking in a way that you created.”

Impact of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

Due to resources being taken away from students and a lack of education and awareness about the LGBTQ+ community, LGBTQ+ students in Florida often feel unsafe and unsupported. Espinal’s best friend in high school got outed as bisexual, which led to ruthless bullying, including students pushing her down three flights of stairs purely because of her sexuality.

Florida laws such as “Don’t Say Gay,” which states that teachers should not be instructing on LGBTQ+ and gender identity, greatly contribute to homophobia in Florida. Other bills later banned diversity programs in colleges and took away the requirement of respecting preferred pronouns, or pronouns that don’t correspond to someone’s biological sex.

According to The Trevor Project, kids who are given access to spaces that affirm their gender identity report lower rates of suicide attempts, as compared to LGBTQ+ youth who generally already face much higher suicide risks than those who are straight and cisgender.

General law in Massachusetts prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, and perceived sexual orientation in all public schools.

Worries surrounding DeSantis’s use of executive power

Before 2023, the governor of Florida was not allowed to maintain his position as governor while holding a presidential campaign. To circumvent this, DeSantis passed a new bill that allowed him to remain governor during his campaign, with his term ending in 2026.

Graduate student Jesse Usher Barrett, who specializes in American politics and research methods, thinks that DeSantis getting onto the national stage could present a problem in terms of funding and limiting education.

Usher Barret fears the federal government potentially restricting institutions from promoting the “woke ideology,” which would effect into UMass’s strong advocacy for diversity, equity and inclusion.

He further theorized that DeSantis’s push towards his “war on woke” would “stop or maybe create a barrier for people wanting to go to school there as were seeing in higher education.” This is enforced by the views of Pavlenko and Espinal, both of whom are attending UMass due to limitations on Floridian education.

In addition to his conservative ideology, DeSantis’s personal likability is also a matter of concern. His views find limited acceptance beyond his core supporters within Florida.

Pavlenko articulated these concerns: “I think Ron DeSantis is too antagonizing to be the primary leader of a country. The kind of aggression we see from him, I don’t think is appropriate – and possibly reckless.”

Daniella Pikman can be reached at [email protected].

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