Richard Corcoran, Florida New College president and DeSantis ally, debates DEI

"DEI is [George Orwell's] Animal Farm," Corcoran declared at a debate over the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. ""What it's saying is to get rid of individual rights and adopt group identity rights."

“DEI is [George Orwell’s] Animal Farm,” Richard Corcoran, president of Florida’s New College, declared Wednesday at a debate over the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion programs on higher education.

“What it’s saying is to get rid of individual rights and adopt group identity rights,” added Corcoran, who, under the auspices of Gov. Ron DeSantis, has been dismantling DEI initiatives and gender studies programs at the once progressive Florida institution. “If you’re in that group, you’re in good shape—but if you’re not in that group, you’re not.”

But eliminating DEI will destroy curated spaces meant for minority, first-generation, disabled and LGBTQ+ students to thrive, and limit the diversity of opinion essential for critical-thinking adults, retorted Ameshia Cross, director of strategic communications and external affairs for The Education Trust and Corcoran’s opponent at the debate hosted by the The Steamboat Institute at the University of South Florida.

Cross pointed out that the tolerant climate created by DEI initiatives is all the more necessary as the U.S. is projected to become “minority white” by 2040, according to Census projections.

“We want opportunities where equity matters,” she said. “DEI efforts allow a sustainable process of policies to help [students] develop into the best possible American.”

More from UB: The 4 trends shaping the admissions process in 2024, per report

An unclear road ahead

Corcoran contended that the “DEI industry” is overinflated, having peaked at $10 billion, according to Global Industry Analysts. The funding schools have received has not produced positive student outcomes and that statewide efforts to support DEI across Mississippi, Alabama and Michigan have failed, he continued.

A pair of campus climate surveys analyzed by The Michigan Review found that student satisfaction decreased across over a five-year period that the University of Michigan implemented DEI. Between 2016 and 2021, the number of students who felt they were treated fairly and equitably fell by more than three percentage points, and the number of students satisfied with the campus climate overall fell by nearly 11 percentage points, according to the publication.

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t go out there and solve the injustices that exist in society,” Corcoran said. “You have to, but we should do it in a way that succeeds. [DEI] is not only not succeeding, it’s setting us backwards.”

Cross conceded that DEI isn’t perfect. She noted that some schools aren’t implementing DEI properly. However, removing DEI could lead to “devastating” results.

There has been a years-long decline in state funding for education and Cross was not optimistic about conservative-led legislatures reversing the trend. The Center for American Progress recently found that Republican policymakers are moving to cut public education and workforce programs intended to promote equitable career pathways.

“Right now, there are bills across the country that come before conservative legislatures, and when the rubber meets the road, they say ‘no’ on the funds,” Cross said.

One issue that the two agreed on was the need for more robust pre-K outreach support. Minority students are far less likely to choose a successful academic path if they are not exposed to the right influences by fifth grade. Additionally, both remarked that regardless of expanding student diversity on campus, institutions need to work on building heterogenous faculty that reflect the richness of the students they intend to support in the first place.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

Most Popular