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The Broader Ramifications of the Attack on DEI at Florida Public Colleges and Universities

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The fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives has reached an important juncture in the state of Florida. With regulations by the Florida Board of Governors that threatened to dismantle DEI-related programs in public colleges and universities, now passed by the Florida Department of Education, it is crucial for the nation to rally and prevent potential ramifications that could ripple throughout the country.

Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus BrightRepublican presidential candidate Nikki Haley stated during a recent debate when referring to the rationale behind the engagement of the United States in the war between Russia and Ukraine that “Russia said that once they take Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next. Those are NATO countries and that puts America at war. This is about preventing war.”

The Baltics refer to the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the reference of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is about their policy of an attack on one member country is an attack on all member countries. Florida could have “Ukraine” type ramifications when it comes to the vigorous attempts to dismantle DEI efforts in its public colleges and universities.

While recognizing the vast differences in the severity of the two scenarios, it is important to highlight the commonality of preventing adverse consequences by addressing the issue at hand.

If the movement to advance the dismantling of DEI is able to move forward without formidable opposition or a potent counternarrative that gains significant public traction, then it could have a similar effect to Russia taking Ukraine and then moving unabated into Poland and The Baltics.

In this case Poland and The Baltics may represent employment and contracting. Those could potentially be among the next dominoes to fall after colleges and universities. Government contracting plays a crucial role in promoting economic fairness and providing opportunities for businesses led by underrepresented groups. Minority-owned businesses, often already facing significant barriers, may find it even harder to compete on an even playing field. The exclusion of DEI programs from state and federal funding would limit the resources available to these businesses, hindering their growth and impeding progress towards greater equity.

When it comes to employment, in many industries, hiring decisions are heavily influenced by personal connections and referrals. This reliance on social networks can perpetuate inequality as it limits access to opportunities for individuals outside established circles. Consequently, qualified candidates from underrepresented communities often face barriers to entry, hindering their professional advancement.

The notion of there being a pure meritocracy in hiring processes is flawed. While there may be numerous qualified individuals for a given position, who ultimately gets selected often depends on who is making the decision. Implicit biases and subjective criteria can contribute to the perpetuation of homogenous workforces, excluding diverse perspectives that bring valuable insights and creativity.

DEI initiatives were implemented precisely because people of color and other marginalized groups were not being considered or given equal opportunities based on their qualifications. The prevailing "Good Ol' Boy" system limited opportunity to select networks, leaving talented individuals overlooked. It took years of pressure and mass mobilization to challenge these exclusionary practices and open the doors of opportunity.

Furthermore, companies that do have a level commitment to fostering diversity and inclusivity in their workforce often rely heavily on colleges and universities to provide a diverse talent pool. When policies curtail DEI initiatives on campuses, the pipeline of qualified and diverse graduates becomes compromised. This may pose a challenge for companies seeking to recruit individuals from underrepresented backgrounds since the pool of available talent diminishes. Consequently, limiting DEI efforts in higher education hampers progress towards building inclusive workplaces and perpetuates systemic biases.

Even for those who are not in Florida and not in higher education, this vote and the implementation of the regulations that are likely to follow matter because just like the aforementioned Russia and Ukraine example, the next affected industry and location may be yours. U.S. Senator Rick Scott from Florida has gone as far as to propose banning all government collection of racial data.

By not collecting such data, we would essentially be turning a blind eye to the existence of racial disparities and inequalities that persist in America. Racial data is crucial for understanding the extent of these disparities and formulating targeted policies and interventions to address them. These types of efforts show that the dominoes could fall very rapidly if there is not a strong counter movement to stop it.

DEI programs play a critical role in continuing progress towards social, political, and economic inclusivity and equity. By continuing to advance this movement, we can keep the doors of opportunity open and foster environments where innovation and success can flourish for people of all backgrounds.

Dr. Marcus Bright is an author and social impact professional.

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