Following a former prospective UF student’s racist comments online, UF Student Government passed a resolution June 9 applauding “the administration’s decision to rescind Liberty Woodley’s admission to the university.”
Senator Zachery Utt (Inspire, Engineering) wrote the resolution, a declaration of opinion, that asked UF to rescind Liberty Woodley’s admission to UF and deemed her actions an offense against the Student Body. He wrote it after UF’s statement June 3, which was released after screenshots of Woodley’s racist comments calling two Black girls derogatory terms circulated online.
While Woodley is named in the SG resolution and UF spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed Woodley will not be attending UF in the Fall, due to student confidentiality, he could not say if UF rescinded her offer. Orlando said they are investigating about half a dozen UF students or prospective students who allegedly posted racist comments on social media.
After UF announced June 8 that a prospective student who made racist comments on social media will not be attending the university, the resolution was edited during Senate June 9 to instead applaud UF’s actions. It still deems Woodley’s actions an offense against the student body.
Woodley’s actions violate a part of the Student Honor Pledge requiring students to uphold the “highest level of integrity,” Utt said. Although the pledge is typically used to persecute cheating and plagiarism, in this instance Woodley’s actions were a breach of moral integrity, Utt said. The pledge states students should uphold honesty and integrity.
The resolution also asks UF to refer future perpetrators of racism to the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution office, which hears violations of UF’s regulations, including violations of the Student Honor Code. It also requests UF include a “strict zero tolerance policy” for hate speech on its application homepage and portal.
“As a student, I don’t want to go to a university, period, that has students that function at this level of hatred,” Utt said. “I want to use every single power available to me to denounce this post and demand rectification as much as we possibly can.”
Senate can decide what is considered an offense to the Student Body on a case-by-case basis, according to Senate codes. Offenses against the Student Body aren’t formally recognized often, Utt said. Some offenses are defined by SG codes, such as spending Activity and Service Fees without Student Body Treasurer permission, but Senate can define offenses not explicitly listed in codes, Utt said.
The Judiciary Committee, a group of Senators who decide what nonbudget legislation goes to senators to be voted on, decided June 7 in a vote of 8 to 1 to remove Liberty Woodley’s name from the resolution.
Eight of the committee members argued that they shouldn’t put her name in the resolution because it would encourage students to read her racist comments and therefore spread hate speech. Additionally, after the Gainesville Sun reported that Woodley had been receiving death threats, those members said they did not want to publish her name to “put a target” on her.
Sen. Marcus Nelson (Gator, Beaty Towers), the only Black senator on the committee, disagreed. He said many students are upset about Woodley’s comments, which is why it was important to pass the resolution. He said he didn’t think putting her name in the resolution wouldn’t endanger Woodley because he doesn’t think students will threaten her. He also said putting her name on the resolution wouldn’t spread her message.
“I would hope that there aren’t students at UF that are saying ‘Wow, she’s on to something,’” Nelson said during the Judiciary meeting. “If that’s the case, we have a bigger problem.”
Judiciary Committee Chair Seth Longland (Gator, Public Health and Health Professions) said in an email to The Alligator that the committee omitted her name to condemn anybody who makes racist comments, instead of limiting it to just Woodley. Some senators defended their decision during Senate June 9.
Nelson said during public comment that he is grateful Woodley won’t be coming to UF. But this is just the first step in the march towards justice, he said, and he encouraged senators to educate themselves and to combat racism.
This resolution follows an executive order from Student Body President Trevor Pope issued May 31 condemning the death of George Floyd. The order said it aims to address racial issues on campus, by having the The Diversity and Programming Committee, a group of senators, student leaders and SG officials, meet and discuss ways to address race-based issues at UF,
Writing this legislation and bringing it to a vote will take one step further than the order by demanding justice for racist incidents on campus, Utt said.
“It was an attempt to get an entire population of a minority group at the University of Florida to feel excluded and like this isn’t their home, even though it is,” Utt said.
The university is supposed to be a respectable place of higher learning, Brian Marra, an 18-year-old UF history sophomore, said. He said he signed the resolution because Woodley’s comments don’t have a place at UF.
UF shouldn’t be a place where bigotry and racism is accepted, Marra said. Although he agreed with the statements that President Kent Fuchs and the Florida Gators Student-Athlete Advisory Committee released, real change can only happen when UF takes a stand against racism. This resolution is a way for it to do that, he said.
The African American community is being oppressed, and it has been for decades, 19-year-old UF political science sophomore Stephen Badea said. He signed the resolution as well, and said that it represents the Student Body’s willingness to combat injustice.
Woodley’s post was insensitive and bigoted, he said. He said he doesn’t want to go to a university that accepts people like that.
“We're going to stand up and not allow this kind of thing to happen because this is an institution of higher learning,” he said. “We uphold principles like inclusion and tolerance, and if we usurp those principles, then what are we as a university?”
Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.