Thousands of phones across Gainesville lit up with a University Police alert: Suspect, black male, it said.
Deionté Harvey stayed in his dorm. He didn’t want to be racially profiled.
During his four years on campus, the 21-year-old UF Spring 2020 graduate said he felt unsafe. He was never the suspect in those alerts, but he took longer routes to his dorm, Murphree Hall, to avoid UPD presence around Midtown anyway.
“It feels horrible,” Harvey said. “I’m always watching my back.”
Harvey isn’t the only one. Students across UF are calling on the university to address racial inequality on campus amid national demands to end systemic racism. Four students and one professor told The Alligator they’re tired of solidarity statements from university administrators—they want action.
During Mackintosh Joachim’s freshman year, white nationalist Richard Spencer visited campus. Black graduates were shoved off stage during a UF commencement ceremony in his sophomore year, and a year later, Donald Trump Jr. visited, too.
These and other incidents have left the 21-year-old UF political science, African American studies and women’s studies senior feeling exhausted and unsafe, he said. He’s the president of the Gator chapter of the NAACP, but he said he sometimes feels like giving up.
“Something always happens,” he said. “Racial relations in the University of Florida get worse and worse every year.”
Joachim said he doesn’t want future Black students to share his experience as a Black person at UF: unwanted and unsafe.
Oluwayemi Olajubu, a Black 21-year-old UF digital arts and sciences junior, said he feels unwanted on campus, too. He’s overheard students using racial slurs, and he walks to class in a sea of people who look nothing like him.
The presence of UPD on campus puts him on edge, he added.
“It feels kind of suffocating when you walk through Turlington, and there's like three squad cars in the area,” he said. “You kind of walk on eggshells.”
Harvey, Joachim and Olajubu’s experiences aren’t unique.
More than 4,750 people have signed a petition created by the UF Black Student Union demanding that the university implement a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech, require diversity training for administrative faculty and reduce the presence of UPD on campus to improve the experience of Black students at UF.
Nearly two weeks after the petition launched, UF President Kent Fuchs shared a list of initiatives to combat racism and inequality at UF.
The plans include requiring racism, inclusion and bias training for all students and faculty as well as ending the university’s use of prison and jail labor.
“It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work,” he wrote.
Harvey said that Fuchs’ efforts to recognize racism on campus feel empty. Without direct action, they mean nothing, he said. He wants the university to heed the requests from BSU and the petition signers.
“Now is the time to show you actually care about your students,” he said. “Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Please listen to us.”