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State officials told universities to report their diversity spending. Here's how FIU, FAU responded

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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Among the diversity initiatives at South Florida's public universities are programs to recruit and retain more students and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds — and efforts to improve cultural competency in nursing and medical schools.

A social justice summit. Pride Week event programming. Diversity training for on-campus counseling staff.

These are some of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that are being offered at South Florida’s public universities, according to public records.

The DEI-related programming also includes efforts to foster inclusivity and equity within nursing and medical schools, as well as courses on “Racism and Anti-Racism”, “Race and Cultural Inclusion in Social Work”, “Global Women’s Writing” and “The Individual in Society".

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Florida International University currently spends more than $3.1 million on its DEI-related initiatives, according to public records. At Florida Atlantic University, the amount totals more than $900,000. For both schools, the spending accounts for a fraction of the institutions’ total budget.

Florida’s public universities were required to report their DEI activities, as Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his campaign to restrict how racism, sexism and discrimination are addressed in public classrooms.

In a memo dated Dec. 28, DeSantis’ director of policy and budget Chris Spencer requested that the state’s higher ed institutions provide “a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory” to help the governor’s office prepare its “policy and budget proposals ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session."

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said the state will look to "curb" DEI initiatives — giving higher ed leaders a hint of what could come during session, according to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times.

DeSantis — who is widely expected to run for president in 2024 — has made education a key campaign issue and has significantly expanded his influence over local school boards and statewide ed policy.

In recent months, DeSantis has signed laws to ban ideas and teachings he considers to be “critical race theory” — a conservative catchphrase that, as NPR has reported, is used broadly to describe conversations about race and racism that make white people uncomfortable.

Educators and advocates are decrying the DeSantis administration’s policies, which have forced teachers to shut down their classroom libraries out of fear of prosecution and prompted college professors to cancel classes dealing with race and ethnicity.

Florida Atlantic University

FAU listed four general education courses as a part of its DEI activities, including classes on “Gender and Climate Change” and “Social Problems”.

Other programs listed include:

  • Graduate Diversity Fellowship: provides funding for graduate students “who increase the diversity of the student body in their chosen field of study”
  • training for campus Counseling & Psychological Services staff: provides funding for a 16-hour, semester-long training for CAPS staff to “help increase effectiveness in providing therapy to diverse student body of FAU”
  • Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion office in FAU’s College of Medicine: funded staffers who worked to engage “underrepresented community members," to recruit them as medical students, prospective patients or partners for medical research, or collaborative leaders working in healthcare in the region. FAU highlighted the office's work in a public announcement in December of 2021. Nonetheless, the office was shuttered a year later in Fall of 2022, according to public records.

Florida International University

FIU listed nine general education courses as a part of its DEI activities, including “Black Popular Cultures” and “Intro to Global Gender & Women’s Studies”.

Other programs listed include:

  • FIU’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: the office leads “strategic and campus-wide efforts” to “promote personal and professional growth” and “support the increasing needs of a diverse community." The office’s work includes offering training for managers, fellowships for students from underrepresented backgrounds and a mentoring program with Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in FIU’s College of Medicine: works to “enhance the diversity of the student body, faculty and staff” and foster “cultural competence and greater awareness” of cultural similarities and differences
  • the Office to Advance Women, Equity and Diversity: develops programming to improve hiring and promotion processes, works to recruit and retain faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, and offers faculty mentoring
Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter