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NAACP urges athletes to reconsider Florida PWIs amid DEI cuts

todayMarch 11, 2024

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Photo by Geoff Scott on Unsplash

In a powerful letter addressed to current and prospective NCAA members, the NAACP has called on Black student-athletes to reconsider attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs) in Florida. This comes as the state dismantles diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at state-funded universities, starting with the University of Florida, under the DeSantis administration’s “Stop WOKE Act.”

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson and Chairman Leon W. Russell emphasized the crucial role of DEI programs in fostering an inclusive academic environment and supporting the success of Black students. Research shows that interactions with Black educators can increase a Black student’s chances of college enrollment by 13%, and the presence of Black faculty and DEI initiatives is linked to improved graduation rates and reduced equity gaps.

The impact of DEI programs on higher education is significant. Between 1996 and 2016, the percentage of minority students enrolled in higher education increased substantially, with Hispanic student enrollment rising from 8% to 19% and African American student enrollment increasing from 11% to 14%. Additionally, the percentage of faculty of color in degree-granting postsecondary institutions grew from 21.3% in fall 2011 to 24.4% in fall 2017, although there is still underrepresentation compared to the U.S. population.

Studies have also shown that DEI initiatives can improve retention rates for underrepresented students. For example, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program has successfully increased retention and graduation rates of underrepresented minority students in STEM fields. Campus climate surveys at institutions like the University of California system have found that implementing DEI initiatives can lead to an increase in the percentage of students, staff, and faculty reporting a positive campus climate.

The NAACP’s letter also highlights the financial contributions Black student-athletes make to these institutions, particularly in the multi-billion-dollar college football industry. “If any institution is to reap the benefits of Black talent, it is only right that they completely invest in Black futures,” the letter states.

The potential impact of this call to action could be substantial, as a significant number of Black student-athletes choosing to attend universities outside of Florida could shift the balance of power in college sports and send a strong message about the importance of DEI programs in higher education.

Florida is not alone in this battle over DEI programs. In Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin System recently approved a deal to cut DEI spending in exchange for $800 million in state funding that had been withheld by state Republicans. The deal includes caps on DEI staff hires, restructuring of current DEI staff roles, and a freeze on administrative hires across the system.

Under the agreement, the UW System will reclassify a third of its DEI positions – 43 employees – to areas focusing on “academic and student success.” While UW System President Jay Rothman has stated that no one will lose their job, the deal also includes a freeze on the total number of employees from 2024 through 2026, with exceptions for faculty and staff who support students or research.

The deal has drawn criticism from those who view DEI programs as essential for promoting equity and inclusion in higher education. Opponents argue that these initiatives play a crucial role in improving campus climate, student retention, and faculty diversity. Data shows that DEI programs have contributed to increased enrollment and graduation rates for minority students, as well as a growth in the percentage of faculty of color in postsecondary institutions.

However, conservatives in Wisconsin have painted the deal as a first step in dismantling DEI programs on campuses, which they see as divisive and a misuse of taxpayer funds. The agreement also allows UW-Madison to establish a new faculty position focused on conservative political thought, classical economic theory, or classical liberalism, to be supported through private donations.

As the debate over DEI programs in higher education continues, the NAACP’s call to action serves as a powerful reminder of the stakes involved for Black students and student-athletes. With data showing the positive impact of DEI initiatives on enrollment, graduation rates, faculty diversity, and campus climate, it is clear that the decisions made by universities and state governments regarding these programs will have far-reaching consequences for the future of higher education and the fight for racial equity in America.

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Written by: Tarik Moody

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