When Alex Tepperman checked his Twitter feed the day Richard Spencer spoke at UF, he saw a photo of himself protesting with added comments from users supporting white nationalism and ethno states.  

Tepperman, a UF history doctoral student, said the comments brought his family members to tears, but Tepperman said the tweets did not faze him.

“I have had a lifetime of dealing with casual anti-Semitism,” the 34-year-old said.

In an overfilled room located in the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs office in the Reitz Union, about 40 members of the UF community voiced their grievances about the racial and cultural climate at the university during a two-hour discussion. Diana Moreno, an assistant director in MCDA, moderated the discussion and asked student and staff panelists about their experiences with racial injustice at UF, along with how Spencer’s speaking event on campus last month affected their lives.  

Moreno also discussed ways to better UF in terms of racial justice, as well as what racial justice looks like in higher education.

The six panelists, a combination of students and faculty, focused the conversation on UF’s decision to allow Spencer, a white nationalist, to speak at the university’s Phillip’s Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 19.

Paul Ortiz, an associate professor in UF’s history department and director of UF’s Samuel Proctor oral history program, said UF’s decision negatively affected students of color.

“It put on a lot of burden, especially on people of color,” he said. “People were scared for their lives. I’m amazed we survived. We’re exhausted. I’m exhausted.”  

Ortiz, also the vice president of the United Faculty of Florida, said the union is considering filing a grievance with UF for allowing Spencer to come to campus; stating it was a violation of federal labor laws because it put students, faculty and staff at risk, he said.

Angela Locarno, a 21-year-old UF women’s studies senior, echoed Ortiz’ sentiments.

“There is immense emotional energy that it takes to explain to people why your existence matters,” she said.

The discussions turned toward the responsibilities of UF’s leadership to protect its students, faculty and staff.

John Hames, an adjunct lecturer at UF, said UF only cares about their brand.

“They are putting protection of the UF brand over everything else and thinking the outcome will be neutral,” he said. “Responses to racism are always done to guard the UF shield.”

Monero, panelists and audience members also discussed how UF can change its education in order to incorporate racial justice into the curriculum.

UF does not require courses in anti-racism and anti-fascism, Ortiz said, which is something he believes the university should change.

“That’s institutional racism right there,” he said. “That’s a climate of racism that we foster right there.”

Panelists also complained about UF’s lack of adequate ethnic studies programs.

Moreno listened as panelists and audience members discussed strategies to incorporate justice education into the curriculum, including making the required freshman year “What is the Good Life?” class more focused on racial justice.

Ortiz also talked about a course being launched in spring 2018, “AFA 4931: A Black and Latinx History of the Gator Nation,” which he said was created in response to protests on the future of the Institute of Black Culture and La Casita at UF.

“It is imperative that we teach the experience of students of color on campus,” he said.

 @camille_respess

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