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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
BLM department chairs

Racial inequality has long been a source of contention at UF. Amid national Black Lives Matter protests, faculty within the university say they’re trying to make a difference.

Over the past two months, many departments held town halls to better understand the experiences and grievances of the UF community. Some administrators said they’ve been invested in increasing diversity and combating racism for years, but the recent protests following the death of George Floyd have prompted them to reevaluate their approach. Others said the focus on COVID-19 has prevented them from addressing the issue at all.

The Alligator reached out to 97 departments and 16 colleges to find out what each is doing to combat systemic racism. Five department chairs and two deans responded. Here’s what we learned.

How will departments increase diversity among faculty and students?

Enrollment of Hispanic and Asian students at UF has risen since 2015, according to UF’s enrollment data. During the same time, the Black student population decreased.

Many departments are trying to figure out why.

Animal sciences chair John Arthington said his department will establish its own diversity and inclusion committee by August. The committee’s objectives are still being decided upon.

“Agriculture in general has not been attractive to the Africian American community as a profession,” Arthington said. “Is that because we haven’t done a good job attracting that group to our profession? Maybe that’s what it is. We need to reach out and figure out why.”

The entomology and nematology department formed a department-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in May, according to department chair Blair Siegfried. It had plans to create this committee since last Fall, Siegfried said, but national protests against police brutality and racial inequity spurred the department to act now.

The committee, which is made up of two faculty, a staff member, two graduate students and a postdoctoral student, released a climate survey to department employees and students in early July. The results have not yet been collected. 

The department is trying to correct decades of exclusion from within the discipline, Siegfried said, but change won’t happen overnight. 

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The Spanish and Portugese department is facing similar trouble with recruiting diverse students. However, the department is too overwhelmed with COVID-19 safety preparations to follow through on its plans to promote student diversity in Fall, said Gillian Lord, the department chair.

“That’s a conversation that never even got on an agenda because the world fell apart in February,” she said.

The industrial and systems engineering chair, David Kaber, said the hiring committees in his department prioritize diversity. The faculty involved in search committees reach out to candidates who are in underrepresented minority groups, he said.

“So they are in our applicant pool,” he said. “There's substantial diversity and breadth in our recruiting activity.”

Data from UF’s workforce headcount indicates that diverse recruiting alone doesn’t make for a diverse workplace. The industrial and systems engineering department hasn’t recorded having any Black faculty since 2010 at least, though Black people make up 7.9 percent of industrial engineers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

University-wide racial diversity among faculty is low, too. In Fall 2019, 67 percent of the university’s faculty was white. There has been some progress since 2015, with Hispanic, Black and Asian faculty increasing.

Many departments report a similar trend: over the past decade, gender diversity increased dramatically while racial diversity stagnated.

All department chairs who spoke with The Alligator expressed a similar idea: a diverse student body could lead to a diverse faculty.

“As we recruit more diversity amongst our students and as they go onto graduate school and seek employment in academic institutions, there’s going to be more candidates representing diversity applying for our job,” Siegfried said.

How will they address racism?

Town halls and listening sessions on racism popped up across the university after the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests surged across the nation. The industrial and systems engineering department released a statement on the need for racial justice after a student asked them to after their town hall.

The statement does not include specific steps on how the department intends to increase  diversity or combat racism. 

The College of Journalism and Communications is making plans to review diversity in its curriculum and reading material at the annual faculty retreat in August, said Dean Diane McFarlin. The college is also making a process for employees and students to report microaggressions to the administration anonymously. 

Microaggressions include minute, everyday slights that people of marginalized groups face, according to the American Psychology Association.

With its new Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, the entomology and nematology department chair said they would like to begin bringing in an entomologist or nematologist seminar speaker once a semester who “represents diversity.” 

“We don’t have all the answers, but we’re making positive steps,” he said.

Conversations about racial tension or inequity at UF did not begin with George Floyd’s murder. Multipleincidentsover the years have prompted students to protest and petition for a more equitable campus environment.

Fifteen of the 16 colleges have associate deans and committees dedicated to diversity and inclusion. And the university hired its first Chief Diversity Officer, Antonio Farias, in 2018. Farias has established diversity liaisons, began a podcast focusing on inclusion and started diversity grants, according to UF’s website.

UF President Kent Fuchs announced June 18 plans to address racism and increase diversity, including employee and student bias training, banning the Gator Bait chant at sports events and a call for the university leadership to increase diversity efforts.

“It takes effort. It takes time, but I hope we’ll see changes in ten years from now,” Siegfried said.

Correction: This article has been update to reflect the correct spelling of Blair Siegfried's name. The Alligator originally reported differently.

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Lianna Hubbard

Lianna Hubbard is a reporter for The Alligator’s Investigative Team. The UF women’s study major began as a freelance reporter three years ago. She founded her community college’s award-winning newspaper before beginning at The Independent Florida Alligator. See an issue in your community or a story at UF? Send tips to her Twitter.

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