On Jan. 17, the Florida Board of Governors voted to replace “Principles of Sociology” with “Introductory Survey to 1877” on the list of approved core graduation requirements for public universities in the state. The new course focuses on a “historically accurate account of America’s founding.”
In a statement calling for the reinstatement of sociology as a core graduation requirement, sociology chairs at public universities in Florida explained that “students have long gravitated to introductory sociology courses because they understand that they will gain a broad perspective on the social forces that influence their lives and life chances.”
Sociology professors at Brown expressed concern over this decision and what it reveals about the country’s political climate.
“Sociology has an immediate political ring,” said Michael Kennedy, professor of sociology and international and public affairs. “It was about time we ended up being in the crosshairs.”
Florida has seen significant political momentum towards restrictive curriculum policies. Several of these target topics of race, gender and sexual orientation — all of which are discussed in sociology curricula.
In 2022, Governor Ron Desantis signed House Bill 7 — also known as the Stop WOKE Act — which states that “subjecting individuals to specified concepts under certain circumstances constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex or national origin.”
For Kennedy, Florida’s restrictions are part of a “political agenda that distracts from real contradictions,” he said.
This type of political contestation to sociology is “unusual but not unprecedented,” said Scott Frickel, professor of sociology and environment and society. He added that since the discipline’s inception in the late nineteenth century, sociology has been “aligned with social welfare and social welfare reform.”
“Insofar as this discipline studies social problems, there’s a reformist logic that is implicit in the work that most sociologists do,” Frickel explained. “Powerful actors can see this orientation as dangerous.”
Frickel highlighted the rhetoric used by Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., who declared that the field of sociology “has been hijacked by left-wing activists.”
Kennedy was also troubled by the statement.
“It’s ridiculous to think that sociology has been taken over by woke activists,” he said, “however, it is common to use ridiculous statements today in order to advance political agendas.”
Both Frickel and Kennedy noted the implications of the decision to students and scholarships.
“If it’s not in the basic curriculum, sociology departments will lose a certain number of students, and the number of students who take your courses matters in terms of the resources you can garner,” Kennedy explained.
Without easy access to such curricula and course offerings, Frickel worries that students will be less inclined to think critically about the society around them.
“If you don’t understand the role that social institutions or structures play on individual lives, it becomes much harder, I would argue, to become an engaged citizen,” Frickel said. People “lose sight of the fact that we are part of something larger than ourselves,” he added.
The decision will affect over 400,000 students who attend public universities in Florida. The “Principles of Sociology” course averages an annual enrollment of over 8,000 students across the state’s largest public universities.
While Brown is not directly affected by the decision, Kennedy warned that the “anti-woke” rhetoric can have a creeping effect.
“The politics of Florida is a universe away from the politics of (an) Ivy League (in) New England,” he said. “But now, in the context we’re living through, that world in Florida is coming to (our) world.”
“The divisions are calling into question the mission of universities,” Frickel said, forcing scholars to consider “what counts as credible and important knowledge and what it means to educate someone.”
Dana Richie is a senior staff writer for Arts and Culture and the photo chief. She enjoys using multiple forms of media to capture peoples’ stories and quirks. In her free time, she loves knitting, learning about local history and playing ultimate frisbee.