In the aftermath of the graduation ceremony that became national news, UF President Kent Fuchs is seeking help from students on how to rethink future commencements.
Fuchs said in a video he posted on Twitter on May 8 that 22 students were rushed off stage at the commencement ceremony May 5 by an as-of-yet unnamed marshal. The employee has since been placed on paid administrative leave, UF spokesperson Margot Winick said.
Fuchs addressed the incident that occurred at the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s graduation at the O’Connell Center by tweeting apologies personally and on behalf of UF on May 6. The statement said the marshal acted “inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage.”
Mackintosh Joachim, an 18-year-old UF psychology and women’s studies sophomore, said the initial online apology was half-hearted and did not achieve any results. Joachim posted the video of the incident taken by UF public health student Tasha Raymond, 21.
Winick wrote in an email May 8 that UF is reviewing the incident and will not identify the marshal nor have further comment while under review.
“I don’t think it’s a fair punishment because he was clearly targeting black students,” Joachim said. “I think that they are trying to protect him because they know what he did was wrong.”
Nafeesah Attah, 20, is one of three black students who were filmed being ushered off stage. The international studies graduate said she was going to perform a historic dance from her sorority called a duck walk — waving your arms up and squatting while stomping your feet — at the ceremony before the marshal interfered.
Attah said members of the sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, have done the dance at previous UF graduations and that other students were dancing and backflipping but were not handled in the same manner.
“Although I appreciate the apology from (Fuchs), I think it’s a little too late,” Attah said. “I definitely hope the UF administration holds the person accountable.”
Wallace Mazon, a UF political science and African American studies senior, said students are constantly raising their hands, 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.”
Fuchs spoke at a Faculty Senate meeting last Thursday afternoon and outlined his plans to create a task force to rethink future ceremonies. Student Body President Ian Green confirmed his role as a co-chair in the initiative along with Vice President Dave Parrott.
“I want to be thinking outside the box and making sure it’s truly a celebration with the students in mind,” Green said. “I think (Saturday) definitely shows that we have some challenges at UF that we need to work on together.”
Fuchs said the task force being assembled is partly because of May 5’s graduation and to create ways that would make the ceremonies “more appropriate for the students of today.” He said he would like to see commencement in December and May as a ceremony for all graduating students inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
He proposed that colleges and departments hold their own ceremonies that are catered specifically to their wants and needs, whether they be more formal or more celebratory.
“I just believe that in (the current) commencement ceremonies, we’re doing too much,” Fuchs said at the meeting. “We’re trying to accomplish a university-wide commencement ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance around that.”
Fuchs said UF would send out a campus-wide notice to seek students’ input and any ideas they’d like to suggest.