I was an ambassador with Multicultural and Diversity Affairs for four semesters, where I worked exclusively at the Institute of Black Culture for three of those semesters. I chose to stop working for MCDA once it became apparent that many of the department’s actions didn’t align with the values that they promote. What is happening now with the renovation of the institutes is a prime example of how MCDA actively acts against the best interests of the students they claim to advocate for. Combining the IBC and the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, or La Casita, is not only working to erase the histories of the black and Latinx communities at UF, but also to further disregard the needs and concerns of students of color within a predominantly white institution.
The renovation process has been neither transparent nor inclusive from the beginning. Students were asked to voice what they wanted to see in the new institutes, all the while unaware that our voices would only matter concerning the furnishings of the institutes, not the structure of the buildings nor the staff residing in the spaces. Pulling students of color in and telling them their voices and stories matter, then shutting them out and silencing them once they become too loud or push too hard has been common practice within MCDA, and it has been much of the same with the renovation process. Student criticism has been met with ridicule, indifference and disregard from staff and administration, and students who serve on the advisory committees have consistently been shut out from key decision-making processes.
I would not be who I am today had it not been for the space the IBC provided me to explore and develop my blackness, boldly and unapologetically. Such a level of candor, kinship and cultural appreciation as I have been honored to enjoy within the past two years can only be guaranteed through having two spaces that are independent of each other and therefore equipped with the ability to serve the unique needs of each community. UF is only continuing to send the message that it is not their priority to ensure that black and Latinx students feel valued and included by trying to encroach on what is for many the only safe space they have on campus.
MCDA has put out a survey where students can voice whether they prefer the “U” shaped design or two separate buildings. I have submitted a response to said survey, but being that the survey is completely biased against two separate buildings, I’d much rather voice my opinion here, loud and clear:
Combining the IBC and La Casita into one building is disrespecting black and Latinx students at the university as well as the brave students before us who fought hard and risked their livelihoods to ensure that those spaces were there for students like me as well as those who will come after me.
Coded language such as “preserving the spirits of the institutes” will not suffice. The institutes need to be preserved as two separate spaces that serve two different communities with different cultures, needs and goals.
“Diversity and inclusion” has been and will continue to be a sham at UF if staff and administration don’t listen to the students these spaces are meant to serve.
In honor of the brave students who were willing to sacrifice their education for students like me, I refuse to let the university take away the space that has been vital to my college success and the success of so many of my peers.
MCDA can uphold the wishes of black and Latinx students by maintaining the integrity of the institutes as two separate entities. If not, I and other students will choose to honor the true history of the institutes and fight for the respect and regard that we deserve.
Khyra Keeley is UF a political science and African-American studies senior.