When information is censored, thought is censored

UF student: ‘Florida university instruction [is turning] into a censorship nightmare’

by Stevie Sanders

The day I opened my acceptance letter from the University of Florida was one of the happiest days of my life. I have dreamt of coming to UF since I was a bright-eyed nine-year-old screaming to Tom Petty at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

Imagine my despair when, within my first year at the university, outside forces would threaten to shatter that dream. 

This university, my university, has now become a breeding ground for political conflicts and culture wars that are turning Florida university instruction into a censorship nightmare. The University of Florida is, or rather used to be, a hub for intellectual debate and conversation. That reality has recently been stripped from students and professors alike for the sake of opposing “wokeness.” 

What is education if not the expansion of ideas drawn from understanding other perspectives? Florida universities that previously celebrated alternative backgrounds and encouraged discussions are now being silenced for the political advantage of rapacious politicians. 

When I accepted the offer to attend my dream university, I accepted the opportunity to hear all the opinions of world-class educational experts in their field, not just those that I agree with. Higher education is not merely an algorithm for enjoyable content. Higher education is supposed to be the match that ignites the burning passion inside of professors when they lecture on their field of study regardless of amiability. 

Now, I sit in the front row of my classes and watch my professors pause with uncertainty in their eyes as they struggle for the next “politically safe” sentence. 

Decades of thesis papers and research articles should be flowing into these professors’ curricula, not tentative, lukewarm instruction, designed to keep everyone content. I long for the days when professors would share personal opinions and ask students, “What do you think?” without fear of retribution. True education cannot afford the luxury of comfort. 

I am heartbroken that I will never be able to meet the versions of my professors I have admired for years. 

In high school, I perused the world-renowned research and community work imagining one day I would join them in their endeavors. Instead, I found these experts in an altered state of educational instruction, with noticeably decreased veracity founded upon fear and retribution. 

These giants of education, who have given their entire lives to the mission of knowledge, are terrified of being terminated if they express a disagreeable thought, or utter a pronoun that is preferred by a student. I have personally seen thought-provoking curricula stripped from my courses because professors are unsure if discussion topics cross into the gray area of “wokeness.” 

New legislation, HB 999, holds that the Board of Governors annually ensures there are “diverse viewpoints” in Florida universities. From the perspective of a student, I question the inherent biases of these “diverse viewpoints.” Under the guise of “protecting students,” HB999 is going to instigate professors to seek employment in states with fewer restrictions, thus reducing the available courses at universities and minimizing accreditation. 

This legislation claims to protect students against partisanship at universities while in turn producing more biases because those who decide what is “partisan information” come with an agenda: to propose education from a perspective that solely aligns with their political views. Supporters of HB 999 do not base their decisions on the best interest of the students or the professors, rather their decisions are based on the intention to gain power over a system and create a monopoly void of critical thought. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs, also under attack by HB999, encompass so much more than what has been deemed as “woke” by the right-wing side of Florida politics. DEI programs allow international students to seek accommodations for language if English is not their primary communication. DEI defends the right of all students to embody their heritage and identifications in a system that was not built to incorporate them. This support provided by DEI programs is intended to increase the success of those marginalized and does not decrease the resources of others. These programs simply level the playing field for generationally discriminated against minorities supplying them with the same opportunities as those who have not experienced similar hardships. 

As a first-generation American, education has been the stepping stone for my family to achieve the “American Dream.” My parents crossed oceans and made sacrifices so that I may have the opportunity to create a future in this country. It is my purpose to continue their quest through academic pursuit, but this mission is being strangled to submission by current political powers. 

The United States must defend We the People per the First Amendment where every person on American soil may hold and voice opinions as they see fit. However, when political tides change and universities are actively muted to uphold a constrained and distorted version of the First Amendment, we border on dystopian realities that formerly only existed in science fiction writings like 1984

The issue Florida universities are currently facing is not whether every piece of information is agreeable, but whether the disagreeable information should be stripped from the narrative. 

The inherent beauty of education is found in its ability to provoke thought, but these thoughts are only provoked when students step out of their echo chambers and challenge alternative viewpoints. Critical thinking is then instilled when students learn to defend their beliefs by being exposed to varying opinions. If one disagrees with a stance, removing it from history is not a solution. History risks writing an unfortunate narrative when unchecked powers begin censoring thought and debate. 

To those in power, your opinions about education are secured by the Bill of Rights, but your current encroachment on others’ access to education is a dangerous misstep into unconstitutional territory. Knowledge, education, and information are not guaranteed in many other countries, but this is America, we are different, we are a democracy of the people, and we are a place where citizens can instigate the change they want to see.

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