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Monday, May 27, 2024

Six years ago, the Florida Dream Defenders put forth an action to change the name of the Reitz Union. This was in response to the not-so-new-found knowledge that ex-UF President Julius Wayne Reitz (1955-1967) was both incredibly homophobic and undeniably racist. This was met with antipathy by the white fraternity and sorority members of the Student Senate. The action was denied over claims it violated the Student Constitution. The Reitz family still contributes money to UF, which was a major influence on the Student Government’s dismissal of the action. This also shows money is more important than a student’s feelings of security and what is considered appropriate.

An explanation about Reitz: During his tenure as the president of UF, he allowed witch hunts for homosexuals and leftists, yet this building honors him. A low estimate touted by UF states 22 people on staff were fired and students were expelled for being homosexual. The staff was dismissed without tenure after being accused by a state senator. Yet this building honors him. He is quoted in 1988 as saying “As a matter of fact, I’ll be the first to admit that anyone who was a homosexual was a complete aberration.”

Among the 85 black students Reitz denied was Virgil Hawkins, whose name should have replaced that of Reitz. Hawkins sued the school, and a court order ultimately forced integration. UF credits Reitz with helping integrate the campus for obviously double-minded reasons. 

But we need to stop giving bad actors, such as Reitz, a pass. What’s always brought up is “they were a person of their time,” which could work if it’s a medieval doctor who didn’t anesthetize patients. But, on matters such as this, it’s important to remember there were always people who knew to treat other human beings with respect.  These controversies with Reitz occurred in the 1960s, but in 1924, Society for Human Rights was founded, and in the 1950s the Mattachine Society was formed. Both of these groups were dedicated to gay rights, and the information was out there. Reitz was just a bad person at his core.

This isn’t the only reason the name change is necessary. In 2018, many students whom Reitz would not have wanted at this school still attend. The students within marginalized communities who he targeted are still targeted to this day — being pushed off the stage at graduation, for example. A task force of UF’s Black Affairs found last year that of 600 polled, nearly a third of the black students felt they didn’t belong at UF and over half experienced microaggressions. Reitz’s name and actions were actually cited as an isolating factor. Having a bigot retain power in name only empowers bigots.

It doesn’t stop there. Other buildings, such as the O’Connell Center, Buckman Hall and Smathers Library, are named after problematic figures. I understand that renaming the building won't erase Reitz’s actions, but it will help diminish their legacy. In 2015, SG passed a resolution encouraging the renaming of Reitz Lawn. It’s time to rename both the building and lawn. Pressure SG. Reitz continues to harm students.

Levi Cooper is a UF English senior. His column appears on Wednesdays.


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