Anti-DEI Measures Felt Across State: How the University of North Florida Lost its Color

  • This story is for OutFAU, our student publication covering Florida Atlantic University. To see more from OutFAU click here.

The former home of the University of North Florida’s LGBTQ Center. Photo provided by Carter Mudgett.

For as long as he can remember, Manny Velasquez-Paredes had the names of each LGBTQ Center team member written on a white board. 

Each time someone left, he covered their name. On April 26, he covered his own. 

Exactly seven days before graduation, the University of North Florida’s LGBTQ Center officially closed its doors to the campus community on April 26. The Center turned 18-years-old this year. 

The LGBTQ Center director, who took up the role in 2020, spent his last two weeks boxing up the office in a scene that resembled a cross between a garage sale and a flea market. A “FREE CLOTHES + BIN ITEMS” sign was put above a mass of binders, flags, merch, stickers and other items. 

That pile shrunk smaller and smaller every day. 

Rainbow flags, colorful artwork and flyers used to cover the walls, but they were stripped bare last week, returning the office to just its dull mustard-yellow colored paint.


The pile of “free to take” items in the LGBTQ Center during its last days. Photo provided by Carter Mudgett.

Some of the artwork is just “on loan” to various faculty and students, Velasquez-Paredes said. One such painting went to Doyle Tate, an assistant professor of psychology at UNF researching LGBTQ topics.

“I'm currently safeguarding one of the bigger art pieces, a giant rainbow osprey painting, in my office until Florida decides to stop their crusade against DEI on college campuses and [the LGBTQ Center] one day hopefully reopens,” Tate told OutFAU. 

Messages of support like, “We will not be silenced” and “We will be B A C K” were left written on whiteboards. Yet, staff at UNF, in Jacksonville, aren’t the only ones undergoing significant change. 

Racing to comply

A similar scene has been playing out across Florida’s public higher education this past school year as universities moved to comply with new rules banning spending on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. 

In 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 266 into law, which introduced new restrictions against DEI in the state’s higher education system. It took effect on July 1. 

Some schools, like Florida Atlantic University, closed their centers shortly after Senate Bill 266 was signed. Others waited until the Board of Governors passed their own ban, which happened on January 24, 2024. 

However, even after their decision, the timeline for each closure — and an answer to the question “where will staff go?” — was unclear. 

At UNF, President Moez Limayem released an email hours after the decision, announcing that the university’s diversity centers would begin to be “phased out.” Beyond Velasquez-Paredes’s team, that also included the Intercultural Center, Interfaith Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

But the UNF president made a promise: “No staff members will lose their employment at UNF as a result of the closures of these centers. We are working with affected employees to establish new work assignments within the University at their current salary or above.”

Not every school had the same approach. 

The University of Florida in Gainesville axed its diversity departments on March 1, firing 13 full-time DEI positions and ending 15 administrative appointments for faculty, the Independent Florida Alligator reported

Starting a new role in a new office

Velasquez-Paredes told OutFAU he’s grateful that UNF didn’t take the same approach as Florida’s flagship university but wished there was another way: “I can't help but feel that all of this could have been avoided.”

Before Florida’s crusade against diversity, equity and inclusion, UNF was recognized as the best college in the southeast for LGBTQ+ students by Campus Pride in 2022.

It was the sole university in Florida to receive the ranking that year, but that was rescinded the very next year. Campus Pride cited anti-LGBTQ+ legislation as the reason.

But for UNF, the LGBTQ Center is gone. Keeping with Limayem’s promise, the former-LGBTQ Center director began a new role as Career Services’ director of career education this week.

“I’ve been saying all along that, over the past year and a half, we’ve been on this rollercoaster of emotions,” he told OutFAU. “And I’m ready to find solid ground. I am ready to get off the rollercoaster and find the floor so that I can center myself again.”

For the past four years, Velasquez-Paredes has called the first floor of the Student Union home, where he worked in an office surrounded by Pride-themed artwork and memories. 

Now, he’ll work out of Founders Hall with the rest of Career Services, where the Student Ombudsman, Military Resource Center and Counseling Center work. 

One of the first things he plans to do in his new office? Put up a Pride flag.


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