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.
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.
- 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.
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.
“To be honest, I don’t see anything that’s gone well since I’ve been here. Every time I see something start to go well, I think, ‘OK, this might be something.’ But it gets shut down or something happened that has destroyed my faith in the university,” he said. “There’s no more joy in attending the University of Florida. [Black students] would rather go to Florida State or FAMU.”
Joachim said the two biggest issues he wants UF to address are increasing the percentage of Black students attending the university to better reflect the demographics of Gainesville, Alachua County and the state of Florida, as well as changing the name of the student union.
He has been fighting all four years of his time at the university for a shift away from the J. Wayne Reitz Union name, he said, without satisfaction. Joachim also opposes the Stephen C. O’Connell Center name.
The Reitz Union is the heavily-trafficked university student union and is home to the bookstore, food court, game room, arts and crafts center and Multicultural & Diversity Affairs spaces, among others. The O’Connell Center is a multi-purpose arena used for graduations, sporting events, concerts and more.
Reitz stalled integration efforts and was cooperative in a nine-year push by the state Legislature, called the Johns Committee, to root out LGBTQ students and faculty at UF during his time as UF’s fifth president.
O’Connell, the sixth university president, refused to grant amnesty to student protesters after 66 were arrested following a sit-in at his office by the Black Student Union in April 1971, commonly known as Black Thursday. His decision led approximately one-third of the Black student population and several Black faculty members to leave the university.
“When you look at all those histories, we can not allow somebody like that, their name, to be on the building that a lot of students and visitors come to every single day,” Joachim said.
Ava Kaplan, a rising junior at UF studying political science, philosophy and French, agreed. She is also a member of the Goddsville Dream Defenders and student leader with Food Justice UF and is white and Jewish.
Her priorities for anti-racism at UF, like Joachim’s, include name changes and a more representative and inclusive student body. She also believes UF still has work to do to completely divest from the use of prison and jail inmate labor, such as ending its food service contract with Aramark, a giant corporation that contracts with prisons and has been accused of many workplace violations.
“In terms of the issues that a lot of students care about that would have the most impact on day-to-day life and also the issues that would require the most effort from UF staff and officials, I have not seen change with those,” Kaplan said. “To me, it seems like it was a stalling tactic to appease people in the moment, but they never intended to meet any of these goals they promised.”
President Fuchs told The Sun in a recent Zoom interview that he was pleased with the past year’s anti-racism efforts across UF, particularly that they occurred amid a global pandemic and through many parts of the university.
“My observation is that the campus, broadly speaking, embraced this year,” he said.
But Fuchs did note that many of his goals could not be achieved in a year and that increasing enrollment diversity particularly needs work. While UF legally cannot have quotas in place for what percentage of accepted students are minorities, the president said he wants UF to reflect the nation’s demographics.
That would mean not just shifting to trending upward in diversity instead of the past few years’ decrease but a significant jump from 2020’s 6.4% Black or African American freshmen to the country’s 13.4% Black or African American population, per 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
“This is an area where we just have to make progress,” Fuchs said. “I don’t have a simple answer as to what has stopped us or what needs to work, but I do know we have to redouble our commitment.”
As for the students’ other big concern, honorary namings, the president said reviewing which names to keep and which to remove will come later as an end goal. First, he said, the assigned task force is compiling a document of all UF’s honory namings, big and small, as well as the reasons they were chosen. It is also coming up with a revised set of values and considerations for the university’s future naming policy.
Instead of working one at a time on the most controversial building names, he said, this process, while more time-consuming, is consistent.
Fuchs said he hopes to see that document in early fall and believes it will serve as an important foundational resource for generations at UF to come. Afterward, he said, names can be identified for possible removal. But ultimately, the choice to take down an honorary naming is up to either the UF Board of Trustees or the state legislature, depending on which authority approved it originally.
Fernandez said Reitz’s naming was approved by the Board of Regents, whose power now rests with the BOT, and O’Connell’s was approved by the state legislature.
“This is important work. It may not be yet the end result that most people want to see or some people want to see because we’re setting the stage for the future,” Fuchs said.