Amid rising anti-Semitism on U.S. college and university campuses, Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) orders Florida institutions to lower the requirements to transfer in for Jewish students. The emergency order states students with “a well-founded fear of persecution” could waive transfer requirements and even be offered in-state tuition.
In his campaign to join the GOP presidential race, DeSantis has been vocal in his support of Israel, sending supplies, medical equipment, and toys for those affected by the October 7th attack, as well as his promises to mitigate anti-Semitism on college campuses. Though DeSantis trails Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, these efforts may be in hopes of boosting the Jewish vote in his favor.
Rise of anti-Semitism on campuses
Since the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel, college campuses across the United States have seen a rise in not only pro-Palestine rallies but also antisemitic attacks on Jewish students. Eyes have been on presidents of prestigious universities for their response—or lack thereof—to the uptick in antisemitic and anti-Muslim sentiments.
Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania leaders have already resigned after a congressional hearing where they were unable to say calls for the genocide of all Jews were against their school policies.
“This week, Jewish students across the country are returning to campuses that have outright condoned anti-Semitism. Over the coming months, they’ll have a tough decision to make. Do they pack up and leave, or do they stay and continue to endure a hostile environment?” DeSantis said. “And if they do decide to come to Florida, I can tell you this: we will welcome them with open arms.”
So-called elite universities
DeSantis, a 2024 potential GOP presidential candidate, put out in a statement, “With leaders of so-called elite universities enabling antisemitic activities, rather than protecting their students from threats and harassment, it is understandable that many Jewish students are looking for alternatives and looking to Florida.”
For students facing religious harassment, though the order is unclear if it also includes Muslim, Christian, or other religiously identifying students, Florida institutions would waive many requirements for transferring. Application date, minimum credit requirement, and foreign language competency would no longer be a barrier to entry. Florida schools will also offer in-state tuition to out-of-state Jewish students with a financial need.
In-state tuition is often substantially less than tuition for students from other states. At the University of Florida, for example, in-state tuition is $6,380 a year, less than a quarter of the $28,658 their out-of-state peers pay. DeSantis’s order to allow out-of-state students in-state tuition is unclear as to where the money would come from to pay the difference.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion
DeSantis has notoriously moved to remove DEI offices from public institutions, doing away with programs and benefits geared toward the inclusion and empowerment of minority populations. He believes this reform promotes the rights of parents “to direct the education and upbringing of their own children.”
Before this latest order, DeSantis had been condemned for his stance on banning books and transgender athletes’ participation in sports. Currently, his focus on Jewish students is being called into question, fearing it may cause more backlash against Jewish students. “Why is discrimination against Jewish students being singled out, instead of Muslim students, Hispanic students, and Black students?” asks Rabbi David Kay in Orlando.
With many wondering if the emergency order applies to Muslim students being targeted by Islamaphobia, DeSantis’s statements about Hamas may hold the answer. DeSantis has been quoted as saying that if he is elected in November, he will revoke the student visas of all Hamas sympathizers. He also wants all universities across the nation to ban any pro-Palestinian demonstrations, labeling Students for Justice in Palestine a terrorist organization.
Senator Lori Berman, D-FL, who is Jewish, believes the directives are having little effect. “It’s kind of interesting that we’re offering our Florida schools when I’m not sure that our Florida schools are any different than what’s going on elsewhere in the nation,” she says, also stating that while she’s heard complaints from students at Harvard, students at Florida universities have been having the same experience.
Berman also notes that there have been Nazi and antisemitic rallies in Florida, with no comment from the governor’s office. “He didn’t condemn that at all. He did not condemn any of the neo-Nazi ideology that we’ve seen. It’s a political talking point right before the Iowa caucuses.”