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Tampa students host webinar to defend free speech

By staff |
April 5, 2021
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Tampa, FL - On March 31, students at the University of South Florida (USF) and members of the Tampa community attended a virtual webinar event, focused on the ongoing incidents of anti-protest repression from USF. The webinar was hosted by Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to demand that USF respect progressive free speech and drop SDS's suspension.

Since the 2020 fall semester, students and groups at USF who’ve advocated for demands such as defunding campus police, keeping the college of education open after budget cuts, and increasing the enrollment of Black students have been met with threats made by USF administration in the form of arrests, suspensions and threats of expulsion. SDS invited other groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who have also been threatened by USF administration when they attempted to host a protest of their own in August.

The speaker panel for the webinar included members of Tampa Bay SDS and Tampa Bay Community Action Committee (TBCAC) who spoke about the arrests made at USF on February 9th and SDS’s ongoing struggles with their suspension.

Gia Davila, a member of Tampa Bay SDS stated, “The webinar gave us as students a space to advocate for the right to free speech without the school threatening us with expulsions or arrests. The school has selectively chosen to silence students who challenge their beliefs and lean further to the left.”

Davila spoke about President Steve Currall and Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Danielle McDonald declining the invitation to the webinar: “The president and dean of students couldn’t even take the time out of their day to listen to us speak.”

On a statewide level, TBCAC member Elizabeth Kramer discussed how Governor DeSantis is working to stifle the people’s right to protest with House Bill 1 after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer. If passed, this bill would make activist and organizing work more difficult and dangerous.

Kramer states, “By denying our right to assembly on our terms and for our reasons, HB 1 denies the validity and ability for the people's movements to address political issues directly.”

Tampa Bay SDS will continue to organize, even with threats of arrests, suspensions and sanctions.

“It’s important to keep working and speaking out about social issues because change is needed at every level in the university and students experience all of these issues firsthand,” Davila remarked.