Days after nearly 300 members of the UF community stormed Emerson Alumni Hall in protest of Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, the university’s sole presidential finalist, another group of around 20 gathered to express its discontent with the decision.
Though lacking the numbers of the Oct. 10 protest, attendees of the “Sasse Out of Our Swamp” picketing and flyering event showed no shortage of outrage.
Students gathered outside the Harn Museum of Art to express their frustrations surrounding UF’s presumptive president. As part of UF’s Fall Board Weekend, members of the UF Foundation Board, a group of donors, attended a private event inside the museum as picketers surrounded the barricaded entrance.
At least 15 University Police Department officers patrolled the event, which was not made public. Spokespeople from UF and UPD both declined to comment on picketers outside or why officials put up the barricade.
The UF chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America quickly organized the event after learning of the donor reception, said Vice Chair Allan Frasheri, a 19-year-old UF philosophy and economics sophomore. The organization became aware of the reception within a day of the event, he said.
Though the organization wasn’t able to organize an effective protest on short notice, Frasheri said he wanted to make the demands of the student body known to donors. With the opportunity to talk to Foundation Board members in person amid a falsely rumored appearance by Sasse, Frasheri said it was essential YDSA was present.
“If they’re going to hear from Sen. Sasse, they should also be hearing from us,” Frasheri said. “These are also very influential people.”
The organization outlined a list of demands on flyers, including the removal of Sasse as a candidate or Sasse’s withdrawal of his candidacy, more transparency from the search committee, the release of the names of other presidential finalists and the repeal of a new public records law that doesn’t require universities to release candidate names.
Picketers handed the flyers to board members entering the event. Though there were no chants or marches, the picketers still made their distaste for Sasse known, encouraging event attendees to back a presidential candidate students would support and implement a search process open to all.
UF narrowed its pool of more than 700 potential candidates to 12 but kept them confidential, which Senate Bill 520 allows. Now, students are criticizing the bill as they demand changes to the process.
India Sander-Nazario, a 21-year-old UF wildlife ecology and conservation senior, said the UF community should have access to the presidential search. The candidates should be public, she said, especially when the choice impacts all of UF.
“It should be a process that should be open to the public, open to the students, and it should reflect the student body,” Sander-Nazario said.
UF students aren’t the only ones upset by the secretive process. Tony Oliver-Smith, an 80-year-old former UF anthropology professor who said he happened to be at the demonstration while visiting the museum, said the community should’ve been privy to the names of finalists when they were decided.
Oliver-Smith understood the need for privacy in this situation, he said, but the search committee’s responsibility to the public outweighed its obligation to keep the candidates confidential.
The search and its result were mismanaged, Oliver-Smith said.
“The nomination of Sasse to the presidency, I think it was poorly done,” he said. “The politics of the situation are blatantly obvious.”
Picketers weren’t just upset with the committee’s process, but also its pick.
Students raised concerns over Sasse’s past comments on the LGBT community, abortion rights and student debt forgiveness. Some fear his conservative politics will threaten the inclusivity of UF.
Riley Moon, a 21-year-old UF political science senior who handed out flyers, said attendees of the event were largely supportive of these concerns. Board members she was able to speak to, she said, largely agreed with her advocacy of LGBT rights and academic freedom.
However, Moon said the responses seemed empty. The attendees could truly prove their support by abandoning the event and picketing with the students, she said.
“How can you be at a dinner like this?” Moon asked. “How are you not out here fighting with us?”
Contact Heather and Mickenzie at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @hmb_1013 and @MickenzieHannon.
Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.
Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.