FAMU students in court confronting Florida’s alleged racial bias

Photo courtesy: famu.edu

In September 2022, six Florida A&M students filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Florida.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, says “Florida has purposefully engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination” by underfunding the nation’s top-ranked public HBCU.

The FAMU six — Britney Denton, Nyabi Stevens, Deidrick Dansby, Fayerachel Peterson, Alexander Harris and an unnamed student — are the plaintiffs in the case.

“The importance of this case not only resides in the disparity of the money, but just in understanding that history is repeating itself and it’s affecting us now,” said Stevens, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit majoring in psychology at FAMU.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle, one of the three federal judges in the Northern District, previously rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the case and gave the plaintiffs more time to prove discrimination as the cause of the underfunding.

On Nov. 8, the state made another motion to dismiss the case.

Civil attorney Josh Dubin is representing the students, and he says discrimination on behalf of the state is evident when comparing the HBCU to its predominately white counterparts.

“Sure, Florida State has an IT program, Florida State is being funded to a degree that is completely disproportionate to how FAMU is being funded,” Dubin said. “FAMU is not in the position to offer those kind of programs because it doesn’t have the funding to offer distinct and unique programs like that.”

Hinkle said he didn’t think there was a unique program in the state and a stronger argument would need to be made to trace and prove discrimination.

Dubin also argued that FAMU’s housing and campus issues are a result of the discrimination driving the underfunding.

Coincidently, this fall, well after the lawsuit was filed, the secretaries of the federal Department of Education and Department of Agriculture wrote letters to a number of states, including Florida, insisting that land-grant HBCUs such as FAMU had not been adequately funded in comparison to their predominately white counterparts.

The state has argued that the students are suing the wrong people and asking for more money that the state cannot give.

During the hearing, comparison to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education was made.

The state argued the cases could not be compared because appropriations were being requested from the students.

“That case was about running a segregated system, it wasn’t asking for more money,” the state’s attorney said.

Hinkle made clear to the state, the plaintiffs were not asking for more money, they were asking for a legal correction to the underfunding.

“What we are asking for is this institution to be recognized for what it is, a land-grant institution with a unique identity and not to be stunted in its growth,” Dubin said.

Hinkle said he would make a decision at a later date.

It should be noted that FAMU is not a party to the lawsuit.