Students heckled, jeered, and turned their backs on Dr. Scott Atlas, a former Trump advisor who delivered the keynote address during their graduation ceremony at New College of Florida on Friday night.
The protests came after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed six new trustees to the school’s board of trustees in January as part of a conservative takeover that saw the college’s diversity, equity, and inclusion programs scrapped.
Students said their demonstration was planned to show their opposition to the Trump ties of the commencement speaker and the move to the right of the New College leadership.
DeSantis has spent the past couple of years campaigning against “woke” influences within the Florida education system. The governor is widely seen as Donald Trump’s most credible rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, although polling indicates he has fallen significantly behind in recent weeks.
Atlas, a former member of the Trump White House’s coronavirus taskforce, attracted attention in 2020 for opposing some lockdown restrictions and pushing for college sports to be resumed.
However, some graduating students protested against Atlas’s address by turning their backs, booing, and jeering as he gave his speech. Video from the ceremony shows a large number of students and their family members chanting “Wrap it up” during the speech, whilst facing away from the speaker.
During his talk, Atlas criticized the reaction to the coronavirus pandemic by both the Trump and Biden administrations and warned against faculties he claimed are “dangerously intolerant of opinions contrary to their favorite narrative” at universities.
Some New College of Florida students held an alternative ceremony on Thursday night, which was addressed by Maya Wiley, who heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Six new conservative-leaning trustees were appointed to the college’s board in January by DeSantis, and its office of outreach and inclusive excellence was abolished shortly afterward.
Newsweek has approached both New College of Florida and Governor DeSantis, for comment by email.
Earlier this week DeSantis signed a bill that will defund all diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state universities in Florida, arguing they are a “distraction from the core mission” of the educational institutions.
In March 2022, the governor signed his Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by critics, into law. This banned education about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools through grade three, though it was later expanded to all students.
The legislation triggered a heated spat between DeSantis and Disney, Florida’s biggest single employer after the entertainment behemoth spoke out in opposition.
DeSantis then stripped Disney of much of its self-governing powers, prompting the company to file a lawsuit arguing the governor was undermining their First Amendment rights.
On Thursday, Disney announced it had canceled plans to build a new $1 billion complex in Orlando, which would have created 2,000 jobs.
Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle attributed this to “several dynamics,” including “a change in company leadership and evolving economic and business conditions.”