UCF department briefly scraps anti-racism policy amid concerns about new state law
The University of Central Florida’s English department briefly suspended an anti-racism statement, saying it violated a recently enacted state law, but the message about the suspension disappeared by mid-afternoon Thursday after drawing significant attention on social media.
The English department added a note about suspending the statement to the department’s website “without any direction from the university,” UCF spokesman Chad Binette said in an email late Thursday.
The chair of the English department did not respond Thursday to emailed questions from the Orlando Sentinel about the matter.
The department’s anti-racism statement, enacted last year, says the discipline has an “appalling history of complicity in perpetuating colonialist and racist practices and power structures” and has “upheld a canon of literature that is exclusive, elitist, and blindingly white.” The department quoted an August 2020 statement from university President Alexander Cartwright that vowed to fight “long-standing inequities and discrimination” and said it joined Cartwright in condemning “the systemic racism plaguing our society.”
In response to those problems, the department promised several actions, including ensuring scholarships for low-income and first-generation college students; anti-racist curricula and discussions; and representation for writers of color in course materials.
But a note in large, bolded text appeared early Thursday at the top of the statement on the department’s website, saying it had been “suspended.”
“The following statement was enacted by the Department of English in 2021,” the note said. “As of July 1, 2022, the statement is suspended as it violates Florida law.”
The note, which was removed by mid-afternoon Thursday, did not specify which law the policy violated. But a new law, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act,” took effect on July 1 banning instruction on critical race theory in Florida K-12 schools, colleges and universities. Critical race theory, historically a law or graduate school subject, says racism is embedded in the country’s institutions.
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The law also prohibits employers from integrating concepts associated with critical race theory in workplace training. Several businesses and UCF history professor Robert Cassanello are challenging the new law.
Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, said her office did not contact UCF or the school’s English department about the policy and only became aware of the statement on Thursday after a Sentinel reporter tweeted about it. The Stop WOKE Act does not task the governor’s office with investigating possible violations of the law or bringing legal actions, she said.
“The UCF English Department ‘Anti-Racism Statement’ is mostly nonsensical Marxist drivel, but troubling in areas that suggest intent to treat students/faculty differently based on skin color,” Pushaw wrote in an email. She dismissed the notions of “white fragility” and “the epithet ‘Latinx,’” which are mentioned in the department’s policy, “as evidence-free ideological constructs.”
Pushaw’s message added that the office welcomes any university initiatives to identify and address potential critical race theory-related discrimination in statements or policies.
Binette’s message said the university did not think state law required the English department to suspend its statement.
“Florida’s new law speaks to classrooms and training, and we are confident in our faculty’s ability to objectively engage students in robust, scholarly discussions; expand their knowledge; and empower them to freely express their views and form their own conclusions,” he wrote. “Freedom of speech, civil discourse and academic freedom are at the core of our values.”