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Out With The New

Florida’s Governor Took Over a Tiny Liberal Arts College. Why?

Luna Floyd

January 20, 2024

“We need more people who understand the effects of the things that they do; understand socially how [their work] affects people, and understand generally how that radiates out…. We need fully educated people. Not only is that what’s under attack, they’re trying to reverse it. They’re trying to teach us the bad ways to apply our skills.”

My younger brother, Nick Floyd, spoke into the local public radio microphone with purpose and conviction as we stood on the hot sidewalk outside the Sarasota Museum of Art. My brother was explaining how computer science majors needed access to a well-rounded liberal arts education to truly understand how their creations might affect the world. He was lucky enough to get that education from New College of Florida, but he knew that the students coming after him would likely lose that insight he valued so much.

Instead of attending his own college graduation ceremony, my brother was fighting back against the hostile right-wing takeover of New College of Florida. I was incredibly proud of his achievements and his courage, but it still hurt that the place he loved so dearly was changing so drastically.

During my brother’s last semester on campus, New College had been turned inside out. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, unhappy with the free-thinking and left-leaning culture of New College, stacked the board of trustees with ideologues, fired the college’s president, and abolished the Gender Studies concentration. Governor DeSantis’s “anti-woke” education agenda has since made an example out of this tiny liberal arts school, providing a sobering preview of the future as Governor DeSantis envisions it.

Students like my brother were unwilling to have their graduation ceremony taken over as well. On May 18, 2023, students and faculty at New College of Florida held an unsanctioned and unofficial alternate graduation ceremony at a local art museum to celebrate the unique spirit of the school and its students. Instead of crossing a stage on campus, students, alumni, and faculty put together a wonderful program at a local art museum. Pronoun pins were distributed at the door, students dressed up as their thesis topics, departed faculty shook students’ hands, and speeches emphasized the resilience and strength of this tiny community. The alternate graduation ceremony felt like holding up a candle to the might and hostility of the state, with all the futility and joy that entails.

“To have [graduation] be tainted with the takeover would be like someone driving a car into your wedding.” 

As my brother later told me, “Graduation was always this deeply important ceremony of unbridled creativity and pride. We were promised that we would be the people in that ceremony one day, that people would celebrate us and our journey through New College the same way we celebrate others every year.”

“To have [graduation] be tainted with the takeover would be like someone driving a car into your wedding.”

As I clapped for the students walking across the stage at the alternate graduation ceremony, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something about the takeover that I was missing, something hiding just below the surface. Why would the state of Florida stage a takeover of a tiny liberal arts school with fewer than 700 students?