Under the guise of promoting academic freedom and civil discourse, Ron DeSantis’ administration is suppressing drag shows, purging library books, and censoring content in AP African American Studies. Now, Florida’s self-styled “education governor” is promoting legislation to ensure “Florida’s public universities and colleges are grounded in the history and philosophy of Western Civilization” while banning critical race studies and courses dealing with gender and LGBTQ identities.
To be sure, this is not just a Florida issue. It’s a national issue. Governors around the country are signing bills that ban the study of race and gender identity in the classroom. And as a presumptive presidential contender in 2024, DeSantis has the potential to impose his policies at the federal level.
The problem with DeSantis’ efforts to privilege the history and philosophy of Western civilization in higher education is that you can’t teach European Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance texts without talking gender identity, sexuality, and social difference.
I would know. I have been teaching college courses on European Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance literature (what my students call “the old stuff”) for more than a decade. As a kid, I fell in love with the works of Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare, and Cervantes. My reading of these works was inextricable from my lived experience as a Latino immigrant, growing up in an agricultural community.
Perhaps Mr. DeSantis thinks that “Western Civilization” really means the history and philosophy of White, cis-gendered Christian men. If so, this is far from the truth.
Homer’s Iliad depicts the power of friendship and love between two men, Patroklos and Achilles. Plato’s Symposium extols the virtue of same-sex relations. Shakespeare’s plays are replete with non-binary gendered characters, as well as complex considerations of social pedigree, bloodline, and skin color.
And Milton’s Paradise Lost makes the case for how angels can transition from one sex to another.
Gov. DeSantis can’t have his cake and eat it too.
You can’t promote courses on Western civilization and ban discussions of race, gender identity, and sexuality.
The next time Mr. DeSantis runs for office, it may well be for the presidency.
That means the Cuban Americans and Puerto Rican Floridians who handed Mr. DeSantis a landslide electoral victory for governor may want to think twice about whether their culture, their lives, and their experience counts as part of “Western Civilization.”
We already know that trans individuals and influential Black scholars don’t.