October 25, 2021

USB CF

The Education People

UF students, President Kent Fuchs reflect on school’s anti-racism work

Following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor a little over a year ago and one day before Juneteenth, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs announced 15 anti-racism goals UF would pursue to create a more equitable campus.

Spread across three categories of education, history and representation, the 15 covered both short-term and long-term goals for students, workers and the university as a whole. They can be found online at statements.ufl.edu.

Some, like eliminating the “Gator Bait” cheer at sports events and bringing more diverse speakers and artists to campus, saw change quickly. But others, like improving recruitment and retention of Black students and faculty and reviewing UF’s honorary namings and system, have a long way to go.

A screenshot as University of Florida President Kent Fuchs speaks to the UF community in a Facebook video posted on May 29, 2020, after the killing of George Floyd. (Photo by Danielle Ivanov/The Gainesville Sun)

Here is a look at some of the efforts so far, what still needs to be done and how student activists are feeling about progress.

Timeline:

  • June 18, 2020: President Fuchs’ statement was released, announcing the 15 goals. Use of the “Gator Bait” cheer was officially ended.
  • June 25, 2020: Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi spoke virtually to UF.
  • Aug. 24, 2020: A monument to William Loring, a Confederate major general, that was under UF’s care in St. Augustine was removed and taken to Trout Creek Fish Camp.
  • Sept. 10, 2020: Professor and activist Anita Hill spoke virtually to UF.
  • Sept. 11, 2020: UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences had no remaining contracts with state and county correctional facilities that authorized inmates to work for free on IFAS research fields across the state. The contracts were severed earlier than expected — a previous UF statement said they would end no later than July 2021 — after the activism of several student groups.
  • October 2020: Biweekly meetings began for the presidential task force set to document UF’s historical relationships with race and ethnicity, particularly of African Americans and Native Americans.
  • November 2020: Biweekly meetings began for the presidential task force set to review honorary namings and develop recommended criteria for future selections.
  • December 2020: Online racism, inclusion and bias training was released for faculty and staff. It is encouraged but not required, according to UF spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez, and as of Wednesday, over 15,000 had completed it.
  • Jan. 5, 2021: Dr. David R. Nelson, senior vice president for UF Health Affairs and president of UF Health, announced a plan to partner with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County to help provide COVID-19 vaccines in places like East Gainesville. Efforts later expanded to specifically include Black pastors and faith leaders.
  • Jan. 12, 2021: UF announced almost $1 million in research funds were awarded to faculty teams to study racial disparities.
  • January and February 2021: Online racism, inclusion and bias training was released for students. It is encouraged but not required, according to UF spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez, and as of Wednesday, over 16,000 had completed it.
  • March 14, 2021: Antonio Farias, UF’s first Chief Diversity Officer, resigned to start a different job as Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Colorado Denver.
  • May 1, 2021: Incoming freshmen reached the deadline to place their non-refundable deposit and commit to attending UF. The number of Black or African American freshmen attending UF in each fall semester cohort has fallen since 2017 from 10% to 6.4% in 2020, according to university data. The completed 2021 numbers are not yet available from UF.
  • June 18, 2021: UF passed the one-year anniversary of President Fuchs’ goals statement.

Student responses

Mackintosh “Mack” Joachim is a UF senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies with a minor in African American studies. As a Black student from a family of Haitian immigrants, he is involved with many anti-racism and activist groups on and around campus, like UF NAACP, Goddsville Dream Defenders and Food Justice UF.

The 22-year-old said his introduction to UF was when white nationalist Richard Spencer came to speak on campus in the fall of 2017, Joachim’s freshman year. Since then, including the past year’s efforts, little to no meaningful change has happened to improve his experience as a Black student at UF, he said.