Antonio Farias, UF’s first Chief Diversity Officer, who oversees diversity and inclusion efforts, left his post Sunday.
His resignation triggered a search for a new Chief Diversity Officer that will most likely take months, according to UF’s vice president for human resources Jodi Gentry. It is unknown exactly how long the search will take, and Gentry’s office is still working on finalizing job qualifications for his replacement.
The position was created in 2018 following controversies at UF including white supremacist Richard Spencer’s visit to the university in 2017 and an incident with an administrator who was accused of racial bias when he pushed Black students off stage for dancing during the graduation ceremony in 2018.
Farias’ duties included meeting with organizations around campus, such as the Black Graduate Student Organization, Black Women's Image Initiative, Pride Student Union and Student Success Services. The annual salary for the position was $288,400 in 2019, according to UF’s fiscal analysis. The university created the position to better support the diverse campus environment through grants, outreach and other policies.
But, in 2020 UF admitted the lowest number of Black students in the past five years. The numbers have decreased compared to ten years ago, staying under 10% since 2008.
UF had 3,514 Black undergraduates out of 34,365 in 2008, when diversity data started being recorded, and that number has stayed low ever since. The number of Black undergraduates dropped from 2,182 to 2,127 out of 37,880 in 2020.
Farias said two and a half years was not enough time to change UF’s culture of diversity and predicted it would take five to ten years.
“We’ve been exclusionary longer than we’ve been inclusionary as a university, and that’s not just UF, but all of higher education,” Farias said. “It’s going to take a significant amount of time to get us where we want to be.”
His resignation was announced Jan. 21 at a faculty senate meeting. He’s heading to the University of Colorado Denver where he will be a vice chancellor, UF president Kent Fuchs said at the meeting. Farias said he’s moving to be close to his daughter.
His proudest accomplishment at UF was creating the Campus Diversity Liaison network, a group of faculty who work with Farias on diversity issues. He thinks the network will continue to have an impact around campus after his resignation.
“The work will continue whether Antonio Farias is sitting in this seat or not,” Farias said.
Within a short period of time, during the COVID-19 pandemic and resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Farias has done an exceptional job, David Canton, the director of UF’s African American Studies program, said.
Farias oversaw the distribution of racial justice grants. He also co-sponsored events with Canton such as talks revolving around Black students navigating predominantly white campuses and racial inequality in healthcare, Canton said.
Canton doesn’t blame the recent drop in Black undergraduates on Farias — he thinks the problem is more systemic. He stressed the importance of the new Chief Diversity Officer prioritizing Black student enrollment.
“I would say let’s focus on increasing Black student enrollment. For the first year of the (Chief Diversity Officer), that should be their priority,” he said.
It’s important to keep programs running smoothly during the transition between Farias and the new Chief Diversity Officer, Canton said. He compared the transition to a successful sports team acquiring new players.
“I hope whoever this new person is keeps us winning and that we all work together,” he said.
Contact Alexander Lugo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexlugo67.
Alex is a fourth-year journalism student at UF and is in his third semester at The Alligator where he is serving as the university editor. He previously reported on university administration and the city and county commission. In his free time, he enjoys video games, traveling and being outdoors.