Tampa, FL – On Monday, March 6, students at the University of South Florida marched to the president’s office to protest attacks against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs by Governor Ron DeSantis. Led by Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the protesters marched to the building that houses the president’s office and occupied the lobby to demand a meeting with the president.
“Attacks on DEI programs affect the entire USF student body, but DeSantis has been specifically targeting Black history, gender studies and trans students,” said SDS member Lauren Pineiro. DeSantis’ most recent attack, House Bill 999, would cut funding for departments related to African American studies, gender studies, and multicultural programs at public schools and universities in Florida.
After the protesters entered and occupied the lobby, they chanted and demanded a meeting with the president. They were immediately met with hostility from the USF police department. Police Chief Chris Daniels, who has an active lawsuit against him regarding gender and racial discrimination, grabbed SDS member Victoria Hinckley by the arm without telling her she was under arrest.
“This escalation of violence from the police clearly shows that our university does not value student safety, but instead is complacent in the face of attacks from DeSantis,” said Hinckley.
The attack continued as police grabbed the students, most of whom were women and nonbinary, slamming them against walls and preventing them from leaving the lobby of the building. One member of SDS was arrested inside the building and the rest of the protesters moved outside to continue making their demands heard. Despite complying with the police’s orders to move outside, three more protesters were arrested. They were not read their rights or told why they were under arrest. When asked about where those arrested would be taken, the police gave conflicting answers.
Those arrested were charged with disrupting school campus, battery on a law enforcement officer, and resisting an officer without violence. Only one member of SDS was charged for trespassing in an occupied structure or conveyance. They were eventually bailed out with community support. The police released a statement to the media saying that the students initiated violence against the police despite several videos showing the police attacking the students.
University of South Florida President Rhea Law has yet to make a statement about the police brutality against students.
Despite the aggression and brutality carried out by the USF police department, Tampa Bay SDS has made it clear that they will continue to fight against the wave of anti-DEI cuts being carried out by DeSantis, with many members attending another protest on campus the next day.
“Myself and other members of Students for a Democratic Society stand against these attacks on diversity in university curriculum and programs,” said Pineiro.
Nationally, SDS chapters in other cities have had emergency actions demanding that the charges against the “Tampa 4” be dropped and that DEI be protected. “With the local, statewide and national attention on us, we understand that it is more important than ever to continue fighting against DeSantis’ attacks on African American studies, LGBTQ students, and academic freedom. We will continue to demand that universities protect Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on campuses, regardless of the pushback we face,” said Hinckley.