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Thursday, February 02, 2023

DISPATCHES: Updates on UF's Sen. Ben Sasse interview, protest

Live updates on Sasse's interview at Emerson Alumni Hall and the protest outside

Live dispatch updates:

2 p.m.

The UF Board of Trustees unanimously voted in favor of Sen. Ben Sasse as UF's 13th president. He will go to the Board of Governors next for approval before becoming president-elect.

12 p.m.

Ashley Sanguino, a 20-year-old political science sophomore, made her way inside the interview room at Emerson Alumni Hall where she holds a sign that reads "Get Sasse out of our Swamp & DeSantis out of the BOT!"

Sanguino said Sasse’s nomination as a previous senator is harming UF’s reputation.

“We are disappointed that they've chosen to exclude faculty and staff and students out of this conversation that the entire UF community needs to be a part of,” she said.

UF looks like a joke to the rest of the country, Sanguino said.

"It's honestly a little saddening," she said. "This is not why we came to this university. We came to be accepted. Instead, we’re being met with barricades.”

Gian Carlos Rodriguez, a 19-year-old political science junior, agreed with Sanguino’s sentiments.

“I don't think a politician should be in charge of a school,” he said. “Politicians don't exactly have a great track record of getting things done. I'll say that.”

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Sanguino and Rodriguez said they stayed after the rest of the protesters left to see the rest of Sasse’s visit unfold.

“We don't want him to just come out and it's silent,” Rodriguez said. “He could just walk out without worrying. We want to keep the pressure and we want to make sure that he knows very well that he is not welcome here.”

11:30 a.m.

After a ten-minute break, public comment has stopped and UF is beginning Sasse's interview. Sasse is now speaking. Protesters outside have started to disperse.

11 a.m.

Kaplan tells the crowd she believes they’re voting inside. They face the building again shouting “we at UF say no.”

Others felt Sasse’s university efforts were an attempt to escape his controversial voting record.

Joe Courter, Gainesville Iguana publisher and resident, said the university appointment allowed Sasse to escape political dissent after making stances against Donald Trump.

“He should’ve stayed in the senate and fought the Republican Party,” Courter said, “Instead he’s bailing out getting a golden parachute from the University of Florida.”

Dayanna Peek, a 20-year-old international studies and public relations junior, said Sasse’s presence was a sign of disrespect.

“It shows that the Board of Trustees don't realize what students want,” they said. “For them to show up and put out these physical and non-physical barriers in front of us shows that they're concerned about what they want.”

Peek attended the previous protest during Sasse’s first visit to UF. They said President Fuchs' email prohibiting indoor protests was also disrespectful toward students.

“Obviously, Kent Fuchs seems disillusioned,” they said. “He doesn't realize what's best for student body and thinks that what we're doing is just being a nuisance. But in reality, we're trying to have our voice heard as members of the Gator Nation.”

Peek spoke to the crowd without having any preplanned speech. They said they spoke from the heart.

“I just want him to get out,” they said. “I do not believe he has a level experience that I would like to see a university president hold, especially for a university of this caliber as top five public university.”

Peek said they believe Sasse will not accommodate nor support UF’s LGBTQ population.

“Him being anti-LGBTQ — that's a very big concern for me, considering just about a quarter of the UF student body population identifies as LGBTQIA+,” they said.

10:45 a.m.

There are about 50 to 60 protesters outside of Emerson Alumni Hall.

Kaplan chanted “Show me what democracy looks like” and protestors responded with “This is what democracy looks like.”

“No justice,” Kaplan chanted. “No peace,” the crowd responded.

Nancy Shepard, who graduated from UF’s College of Engineering in 1989, took time off from work to attend the protest.

“I loved this university because of its transparency [and] inclusion,” she said. “I just see that eroding in front of me.”

Shepard said she had not previously attended protests, but decided that she could not stay silent.

“I don't think he's qualified,” she said. “This is a public university and this process should be more open.

Shepard attended the protest donning her “I Voted” sticker and orange and blue attire.

“Unfortunately, I'm not sure there will be any major adjustment to the the process,” she said. “But I am going to be feel better that I was part of the effort to to to show that it was unacceptable.”

10:30 a.m.

10:15 a.m.

Protestors began moving closer to the building to be heard better from inside. They moved in a line, signs raised and chanting, “get Sasse out of our swamp.”

Luca Carlson, a 20-year-old UF political science major, said he expects the vote’s result will not change, but hopes the student government president will listen to the dissent and vote against Sasse’s appointment.

“I’m really hoping LeMasters votes no,” Carlson said.

He wants people to know people still disapprove of Sasse, Carlson said.

“My goal is to make our opposition heard and let him know that every day he’s here he’s gonna be the enemy of the people." Carlson said.

10 a.m.

Aron Ali-McClory told the crowd about Kent Fuchs’ legacy and the email sent out to ban protesting indoors.

“UF is willing to stoop down to white supremacy and is willing to stoop down to the codes used to enforce segregation 50 years ago,” Ali-McClory said.

The crowd then chanted “anti women, anti gay ben Sasse go away.”

“We are building an opposition to the regime that is being solidified in that hall right now,” Ali-McClory said.

Kaplan commented on the unanimous student government vote against Sasse’s nomination, which she said “speaks volumes.”

Other protestors grabbed the megaphone and stepped up to share their own thoughts on Sasse.

“As a queer woman, I refuse to stand for this,” one speaker said.

The crowd began chanting “Get Sasse out of our swamp.”

Nearby car honks while driving by on University Avenue. The crowd cheers along. Speakers spoke of distaste for Sasse and his connection to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Only Gators make it out of the swamp,” Ali-McClory said.

9:45 a.m.

As the Board of Trustees prepares to discuss and vote on Sen. Ben Sasse inside Emerson Alumni Hall, organizers outside are rallying the group of about 30 protestors to enter the building and sit for public comment.

Protest organizers have announced they’ve been told there’s no more room inside for public comment. They were also told they couldn’t sit in as general public members. One protestor asks the crowd, “How is that possible?” A crowd of around 40 protestors began to chant against Sasse instead.

Protesters started to chant “hey hey, ho ho, Ben Sasse has got to go.” Protestors wear Ben Sasse masks and hold signs that read, “our students deserve better” and “Fuchs the replacement.” Ava Kaplan leads a chant asking the crowd, “Whose university?” The group of protestors shout back, “Our university.”

UF’s Young Democratic Socialists Association attended the protest.

“We don't feel like Ben Sasse represents his students at all,” a UF YDSA protestor said. “We feel like the way that he was chosen was very shady. We don't think that he stands for the policies for UF students as a whole.”

The two protestors said Sasse’s policies as a Senator do not support UF’s LGTBQ community and women’s rights.

“We believe that he's appointed by DeSantis, pretty much, and he's gonna be representative of the Florida State Government, not the University of Florida,” another UF YDSA protestor said.

Students attended the protest to voice their dissent against Sasse, but were cynical toward change actually occurring.

Kelly Runnell, a UF computer science major, said Sasse’s appointment represented a threat to the LGBT community, and the politicization of education.

However, he also believed the vote for Sasse would likely remain the same. Protesting ensures Sasse knows he's not supported, Runnell said.

“I doubt anything’s going to change, but at least Sasse can understand that nobody likes him,” Runnell said.

Sophia Bailly, Lucy Lannigan, Alan Halaly, Veronica Nocera, Aidan Bush, Makiya Seminera, Alissa Gary, Isabella Douglas and Jiselle Lee contributed to this report.

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