FIU community protests HB999 and administration complacency

Protestors gathered on the steps of Primera Casa | Diego Diaz, PantherNOW

Conor Moore and Diego Diaz| PantherNOW Staff

Despite threatening weather, a couple hundred students, faculty and staff turned out Thursday to denounce potential threats to academic freedom and complacency from FIU’s administration. 

In the latest community response to the state legislature, members of the FIU community engulfed Primera Casa stairs as part of a walkout against current Florida state legislation making its way through the state government.

Organized by FreeFIU, a student and faculty coalition created in direct opposition to the ever-looming Florida House Bill 999, protestors marched from the Graham Center Lawns to PC to denounce not only the legislation but the perceived complacency of university leaders.  

“This protest, for me, is the deepest expression of academic and ideological freedom; a necessary action so the university knows that all viewpoints should be tolerated,” said Michael Peterson, an environmental studies and sustainability student.

Stick notes scattered across the entrance of Primera Casa. They had been removed only an hour and a half after the walk out ended. | Elise Gregg, PantherNOW

The bill marks an unprecedented restructuring of Florida’s public higher education, which includes heavy limits to diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracy, prohibiting curriculum from utilizing DEI or “Critical Theory” and stripping university departments of agency in the faculty hiring process.

Moreover, HB999 allows the university presidents and Board of Trustees to call for tenure reviews at will, with grounds of termination including “insubordination” and “conduct inappropriate for a public employee.” 

Governor Ron DeSantis and fellow Republicans call the bill a means of eradicating “woke activism” from college campuses, but for those protesting the bill represents an erasure of the diversity and independence key to higher education. 

Diversity was a central theme for protestors, with each protestor highlighting a varied portion of the bill as their driving factor.

“There are so many different people with different angles on this; Desantis managed to really annoy a lot of groups,” said Lee Mcloughlin, a graduate geography student. “I like seeing all these different groups come together, I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”

The march from the Graham Center Lawns to Primera Casa | Diego Diaz, PantherNOW

The walkout began at the Graham Center Lawns, where chants and speeches calling for educational freedom invigorated the crowd.

English professor Vaness Krarmer Sohan spoke of uncertainty, suppression, and fear brought forth by the bill.

“I’m afraid of what will happen if I continue to talk to students about the intersection of language, race, and class. I’m afraid of what will happen if I continue to teach the stories that have most inspired students,” said Sohan in a speech. “I’m afraid I’ll lose my tenured job, I will lose my colleagues, that I will lose my union.

“I can’t stop being afraid, but I can keep doing what I’m doing.”

Student Oscar Alvarez of YDSA FIU spoke to protestors on the GC Lawns. | Diego Diaz, PantherNOW

Speakers also included Young Democratic Socialist of America FIU President, Jacob-Alexander Chavarria, Political Education Chair Oscar Alvarez and FIU Professor Emeritus of psychology Marvin Dunn.

“I’m old enough to have to have gone to the back of the bus with my mother squeezing my hand: I can’t tell you about that though,” said Dunn in a speech.

Following the speeches and a quick lesson on the chants being used, the crowd would make their way to PC with pounding percussion and rhythmic chants painting their path.

“Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Ron DeSantis go away!” was the primary mantra oft-repeated during the protest.

Students and faculty took turns speaking to fellow protestors to decry HB999 and threats to academic freedom | Diego Diaz, PantherNOW

After a series of speakers passionately advocating for their cause, such as student government CASE Senator Daniel Salup-Cid and YDSA president Jacob-Alexander Chavarria, it was clear feelings were strong among all the students – not just the organizers.

“I’ve had a number of professors that have stopped teaching classes altogether because they feel intimidated by DeSantis and his fascist cronies,” said Salup-Cid to protestors. “There’s a moral duty to stand up for those that need it, and that’s why I’m here.” 

Young Democratic Socialists of America, along with several other organizations, were mainly responsible for organizing the walkout | Conor Moore, PantherNOW

Notably present were also current and future SGA Student presidents Cristhofer Lugo and Alex Sutton respectively.

Sutton, who will be a future trustee as leader of student government, promised to advocate for students through his position. 

“You can bet that I am going to be the vote in favor of student rights, in favor of academic freedom,” said Sutton in an interview with PantherNOW. 

Students took to plastering sticky notes over the glass walls of Primera Casa.

Even portraits of prominent FIU figures displayed in the halls, such as Modesto Madique, were covered with sticky notes.

Speaking to PantherNOW, Grad Wages & Rights member Bailey Bond-Trittipo detailed her excitement regarding the high turnout.

“I think it’s amazing, being a predominantly commuter campus, the turnout we were able to get speaks volumes. Not everyone’s on campus 24/7,” said Bond-Trittipo. “So the fact so many students were here is really incredible.”

Sticky notes denouncing HB999 and Gov. DeSantis scattered across the front doors of Primera Casa | Elise Gregg, PantherNOW

The protest would end with an open forum back in the GC lawns, with attendees being encouraged take the microphone and explain their personal opposition to the legislature.

Yet, this isn’t the end of FreeFIU organizing efforts, with speakers calling on protestors to return on April 27, to protest the upcoming BOT meeting.

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