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Monday, September 27, 2021

Graduation boycott aims to address racial equity issues on campus

<p>Anthony Rojas, a 23-year-old UF political science master’s student, and Mackintosh Joachim, president of the UF chapter of the NAACP, announced a boycott of the university-wide commencement ceremony on Friday afternoon outside Tigert Hall.</p>

Anthony Rojas, a 23-year-old UF political science master’s student, and Mackintosh Joachim, president of the UF chapter of the NAACP, announced a boycott of the university-wide commencement ceremony on Friday afternoon outside Tigert Hall.

Jae’Lyn Dorsey is graduating from UF this semester with a bachelor’s degree in health education.

But she will not be attending the university-wide commencement.

“I think it's very inconvenient for families and students,” the 21-year-old said. “I have a lot of family that wants to come on Saturday and Sunday and both, and it's very confusing to figure out when they can come, and it’s financially inconvenient.”

Dorsey will take part in a boycott led by Mackintosh Joachim, president of the UF chapter of the NAACP, and Anthony Rojas, a 23-year-old UF political science master’s student. They are calling for a boycott of the university-wide commencement on Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The two feel UF administration never completely addressed the incident of graduating students being tackled off stage at the Spring 2018 ceremony, said Joachim, speaking as a student and not on behalf of the NAACP.

The boycott does not apply to individual college ceremonies, which are held by each college throughout the months of May and June.

“It is a waste of time and money, it has no purpose,” said Joachim, a 20-year-old UF finance and women's studies sophomore. “We feel like it is time for [President Fuchs] to definitely just say, you know, ‘We can’t just keep brushing those things under the rug anymore.’”

This boycott follows an incident in Spring 2018 when at least three black students were rushed off the stage by a marshal during the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The UF administrator forcibly pushed students after they attempted to dance across the stage.

This led to a change in graduation procedures in Fall 2018, which added a collective ceremony in the stadium. The Fall 2018 ceremony cost about $360,000 in university funds. The Spring 2018 ceremony, which did not have a university-wide ceremony, cost about $231,000.

The university will no longer be holding a Fall university-wide commencement ceremony because of the additional costs and a smaller graduating class size, according to Alligator archives.

The university declined to comment on the boycott, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said.

After members of the UF NAACP chapter met with President Fuchs last May and September to discuss changes to the graduation format, Joachim said he felt students were not heard.

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“He tried to say graduation was unorganized and that’s why it happened,” Joachim said. “I totally disagree. It’s a symptom of what’s going on on campus. UF has a racial equity problem.”

The change to the current commencement format of multiple ceremonies is punishing UF students for the actions of an administrator at last Spring’s commencement, said Rojas, one of the boycott’s leaders.

Rojas hopes it shines light on racism at UF, and forces administration to take minority issues seriously, like the decline of black student enrollment, he said.

He is disappointed in funding going to the university-wide commencement, which could be directed toward other issues on campus like mental health resources, Rojas said.

The university has yet to disclose a cost estimate for the Spring 2019 commencement.

Rojas described the change in procedures as “opportunistic.” He said he believes the incident gave the President a chance to change the commencement format to his own liking.

There was no call for boycott of the Fall 2018 Commencement because Rojas believed the university was going to call for change.

“The reason we didn't boycott the last one is they said, ‘Okay, we'll take a look,’” Rojas said. “And we believed them. Apparently, they didn't really follow through on their word.”

Even after meeting with President Fuchs last Fall, Rojas said students and families didn’t come first in planning the new procedures.

“This boycott is the simplest way to say, ‘Hey, first and foremost, we don't want this, stop wasting money on this,’” he said. “It's about time we started addressing the real big problems on campus.”

Anthony Rojas, a 23-year-old UF political science master’s student, and Mackintosh Joachim, president of the UF chapter of the NAACP, announced a boycott of the university-wide commencement ceremony on Friday afternoon outside Tigert Hall.

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