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Sunday, June 23, 2024
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The time for “Gator Bait” at UF has ended. The phrase is associated with “horrific historic racist imagery,” and UF Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue their use of it, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote.

Fuchs announced a sweeping list of initiatives for the university to address racism and inequity in an email to all UF students Thursday. In the email, he outlined measures like implementing mandatory training on racism, inclusion and bias, reviewing historical monuments or names and removing those “that UF can control that celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders” and ending the university’s use of prison and jail inmate labor.

Fuchs outlined the plan in three parts: pursuing a mission of “education, research and engagement with the community,” understanding UF’s history and “moving forward with symbolism and behavior” consistent with university values and “representation, inclusion, opportunity and accountability.”

“It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work,” Fuchs wrote. “We know that we cannot undo lifetimes of injustice and racism, but we believe we can make progress.”

A presidential task force, led by the UF president’s executive chief of staff Winfred M. Phillips, will document the history of UF in relation to race and ethnicity, according to the email. A second task force will then review “all historical namings” to determine if they should be changed. 

UF communications director Brittany Wise did not respond to a phone call, email or text message inquiring on UF’s decision to issue this statement, how the university plans to reconcile the past and how they will hold themselves accountable.

Hessy Fernandez, UF’s issues management and crisis communications director, said UF has been listening to the university community’s concerns. Fuchs’ announcement builds upon efforts in many colleges, departments and among individuals to address racism and inequity, she said.

Fernandez said the university will hold themselves accountable by publishing the trends in race, ethnicity and gender for faculty, staff and students in each college. These reports will be presented regularly to the Board of Trustees. 

Fuchs also said UF has relied on prison and jail inmates to provide labor in agricultural operations, a practice that will also end as it is “incompatible” with the university’s principles. Students protested the use of prison labor on campus in 2019.

UF’s Office of Research will provide grants to faculty on topics of race, equity and justice. He said the 2020-2021 academic year will focus on the Black experience, featuring seminars and speakers to reevaluate the university curriculum.

Fuchs said UF will work with the University Police Department and Gainesville Police Department to review force policies and institute needed reforms. He said UF will also intensify their efforts in recruiting and retaining students, faculty and employees of color. 

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Fuchs issued a video on Twitter May 29 where he condemned the killing of George Floyd and said there has never been a more urgent need to come together against racism and hate.

UF Spokesperson Steve Orlando did not respond at the time to questions asking how Fuchs’s statement relates to UF’s history with race-related issues. In Fall, a Black student was called a racial slur on a SNAP vehicle in Fall and students complained that Black students were targeted during graduation in Spring 2018 .

UF announced it would investigate instances of racism among current and prospective students June 3, after an incoming student’s racist remarks resurfaced online. While UF is still investigating about half a dozen students, they announced that the prospective student would no longer attend UF in Fall

And last week, UF Student Government announced the removal of graduate student Branden Pearson from his position in SG due to racist comments he made in the past. The university has not announced its response to Pearson’s remarks.

UF gave faculty and staff time to reflect on racism in America through the #ShutDownAcademia initiative. In an email to employees, Fuchs asked that June 10 be a day for faculty to pause their normal work day to consider their actions and how they can better educate themselves on racism.

Despite these measures from the university, students are still demanding change on campus. 

Students have filed petitions to remove the names of racist figureheads from buildings on campus, like the Reitz Student Union and the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. UF’s Black Student Union also issued a petition asking UF to give Black students a more safe and fair learning environment.

BSU is one of the leaders in the UF Black Leadership Council’s Unity Week, a weeklong event aimed at giving students support in the fight against racism. 

Wednesday’s Unity Week event was a town hall for students to express their grievances to university administrators. Originally, university officials like Fuchs and SG President Trevor Pope were asked to attend to give a statement. Students supplied questions for the administrators, but they ultimately did not attend, according to UF NAACP’s chapter president Mackintosh Joachim.

This article has been updated to include the statement of UF’s issues management and crisis communications director.

Meghan McGlone contributed to this report.

Contact Nicole at Follow her on Twitter @_nrodriguez99.

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