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In defense of ‘niche subjects’: Ron DeSantis got it wrong

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MAY 24, 2023

On May 15, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 266, a law that restricts spending federal or state funds on institutions that champion “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives. In a press conference following the bill’s enactment, DeSantis was quoted as saying, “If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley.” 

By eliminating so-called “niche subjects” such as gender and women’s studies, DeSantis is hoping to focus on what he has described as a “classical education” that removes what he considers “distortions” of history. 

It is no secret that UC Berkeley has long been seen as a beacon for pushing the envelope. From the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s to the Third World Liberation Front’s support for the ethnic studies department in the 1990s, students have consistently been at the forefront of advocating for an all-encompassing educational experience.

UC Berkeley’s rich history of support for these programs has undoubtedly enhanced academia within the entire UC system. Students are drawn to institutions that promote diversity of thought and programs that are not offered elsewhere. 

A keystone of any academic setting is the presence of dissent and discourse, which is amplified on campuses that seek to explore the intersectional nature of human experiences within any region. 

We reaffirm support for the existence of the many majors and minors that UC Berkeley offers, as these programs provide much-needed space for the development of critical thinking skills and truths that are often hidden from history. UC Berkeley must continue to serve as a catalyst for progress, and the UC administration should increase support for these programs in the face of their erasure in states like Florida. 

Furthermore, we believe that these programs are invaluable on college campuses, as students require spaces where they can explore their respective identities and challenge the status quo of belief systems that have become antiquated. 

While the rhetoric espoused by DeSantis may be a precursor to his predicted presidential bid, it sheds light on a deeper issue faced by educational institutions within the United States, California and Berkeley. 

The notion of “diversity, equity and inclusion” has been weaponized by those who attempt to stymy progress within a nation that has historically oppressed marginalized communities. Additionally, the targeted effort against college campuses is not accidental. Colleges serve as institutions of free thought and expression, and putting a damper on these holistic centers for learning is detrimental to the very role education plays in our communities. 

We appreciate the variety in coursework and perspective that makes UC Berkeley a unique institution. While SB 266 will become a reality for public institutions in Florida, we urge UC Berkeley to continue holding a megaphone up for these “niche” programs.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2023 opinion editor, Emma Solomon. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

MAY 24, 2023