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Rally in Sarasota held over changes at New College

The school's new leadership will discuss the future of diversity, equity and inclusion programs next week.

SARASOTA, Fla. — More changes are looming over New College of Florida in Sarasota.

The school is long known for its progressive roots before its new direction under conservative leadership by order of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Opponents of the changes protested and marched in downtown Sarasota urging the governor to leave education alone.

"This isn't the end and we're not gonna give up fighting," student Chai Leffler said.

About three dozen people made up of students, alumni and parents with graduates joined in the event hosted by The Party for Socialism and Liberation Tampa Bay.

"New College is a home for so many and it was home for me at one time and I refuse to let that go," graduate Hannah Schwallie said.

This year, the governor appointed six members to its board of trustees. They ousted its then-president and voted to have former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran take over.

On Tuesday, the board is expected to discuss abolishing existing diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracies. Proposals listed on the agenda include an end to mandatory diversity training, curtailing political coercion and identity-based preferences.

The potential restructuring has some people like Art Siegel worried. He said his son, who identifies as transgender, thrived in the school and worries it won't be the same for other students who feel marginalized. 

"It's a center for free thought and freedom of expression, which I always thought America was about," Siegel said. "But lately, freedom and liberty have been under attack."

Some students and alum feel the values of New College prior to new leadership are what made it stand out.

"I was never once indoctrinated in anything," Schwallie said. "I was allowed to make my choices and be who I am and that something New College really pushed was to be yourself."

Ahead of Tuesday's board meeting, students and others opposing changes to New College plan to rally. This week, students across Florida walked out of class to oppose the governor's education policies. 

Next week will also mark when Corcoran is expected to take over as interim president. 

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