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Monday, June 17, 2024
Photo of Reitz Union protest

Protesters are seen walking from the Reitz Student Union towards Tigert Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. 

While students voted on the first day of Student Government elections, protestors gathered outside Reitz Student Union against the building’s namesake, J. Wayne Reitz, a former UF president and segregationist.

About 70 students and faculty marched from Reitz North Lawn to Tigert Hall Tuesday to demand UF change the name of Reitz Union

The protest, co-organized by Goddsville Dream Defenders, UF Student Government’s Change Party, African Student Union, Black Student Union, UF NAACP and CAPS was against the building namesake, Reitz, and his racist and homophobic legacy at UF.

Reitz used his presidency from 1955 to 1967 to keep UF a segregated institution and support the John’s Committee, which outed and punished LGBTQ students. 

UF President Kent Fuchs promised to remove “any monuments or namings that UF can control that celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders,” in a June list of changes the university promised in reaction to the national Black Lives Matter movement. 

A committee will be formed to address the names and create a process for removal, Fuchs said in September. Any renaming will have to be approved by the Board of Trustees. Fuchs expects to complete the renaming process by the end of Spring semester.

Kiara Laurent, a 21-year-old UF criminology and sociology senior, led the march in chants and spoke in front of Tigert Hall, where UF administrative offices, including the office of President Fuchs, are located.

Protestors chanted “Reitz was a racist! Reitz was a homophobe!” and held signs supporting the renaming of the student union after Virgil Hawkins, a civil rights activist who helped desegregate UF during the 1940s and 1950s.

Laurent said she saw Fuchs’ promises as empty public relations moves after not seeing any action toward renaming the buildings in the months since.

“The next student will not have to face what I faced, the next Black girl will not have to face the same oppression. The next queer person will not have to feel the same oppression when they walk into that place,” she said about the Reitz to the crowd outside Tigert.

Bliss Taylor, an 18-year-old UF psychology freshman, said she felt racist tension at UF since she set foot on campus, and feels that the union’s name is part of that.

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“I walk into the Reitz Union and I'm uncomfortable, like I don't belong,”she said. “And then you have people getting Starbucks.” 

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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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