Graduation

A UF employee forced several students off the stage during the College of Liberal Arts and Science's graduation ceremony on Saturday. 

Courtesy of Zachariah Chou

Nafeesah Attah planned to do a traditional dance move called a duck walk – by waving her arms up and squatting while stomping her feet – as she walked across the graduation stage Saturday afternoon. That is, until an administrator grabbed her and forced her to stop.

The 20-year-old international studies student was one of at least three students who were grabbed and ushered away by the administrator dressed in blue graduation ceremonial robes at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences commencement at the O’Connell Center, according to a viral video posted Saturday evening.  

(Courtesy of Mackintosh Joachim)

The dance Attah was going to perform was a historic part of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, she said. Members of the sorority have done it at previous UF graduations, she said.

“There were other students who were white who were backflipping and doing other dance moves, and they were not handled in the same way,” Attah said.

Mackintosh Joachim, an 18-year-old UF psychology and women’s studies sophomore, posted the video of the incident. The video taken by UF public health student Tasha Raymond, 21, has 587 reactions and 557 shares as of Monday morning.

“I recorded this video for the sole purpose of my friends who were crossing the stage,” Raymond said. “I really didn’t think that when I recorded this that that would have been the outcome and the result.”

“It was inhumane how they were treated and very distasteful. I think that more than a verbal apology is warranted. This will literally taint their graduation experience.” 

Joachim said a friend at the commencement also sent him pictures of it happening. He said he feels that black students were being targeted.

“A black girl was literally just walking and he pushed her,” Joachim said. “To me, it is a race thing.”

UF President Kent Fuchs tweeted an apology Sunday morning about a UF employee who was “inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage” during the graduation ceremony.

“During one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies, we were inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage,” he tweeted. “I personally apologize, and am reaching out to the students involved.” 

Attah said graduates were not given a designated amount of time to walk. Attah said she believes the incident could have been prevented by the UF administrators and employees who were on stage. She said as she walked on stage and tried to do her dance move, she was immediately pushed off the stage by the marshal.

“The manner in which he touched and pushed aggressively was directly targeted to black students,” she said. “Although I appreciate the apology from him, but I think it’s a little too late. I definitely hope the UF administration holds the person accountable.”

David Richardson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email that he is working with the president’s office regarding the commencement.

The incidents I saw were unacceptable, and the president has let me know that he has instructed the commencement team to make changes immediately,” Richardson said.

When Wallace Mazon saw the footage, he felt disrespected as a black student.

Mazon, a UF political science and African American studies senior, said administrators should have known better. Students are constantly raising up their hands high, shouting or dancing during the commencement walk across the stage.

“If you’ve been to a graduation, that’s like something you know,” Mazon, 23, said. “For that big guy to put his hands on graduating students after they put in so much work, to not only benefit the students but to also make UF more prestigious — it was complete negligence.”

UF director of communications Margot Winick said she couldn’t yet confirm the identity of the employee who laid his hands on the graduates. 

“(The incident) is under review,” Winick said. “We still have a lot of graduation ceremonies. I think that’s where the university’s focus is right now, continuing to hold graduation.”

Follow Angela DiMichele on Twitter @angdimi and contact her at [email protected]