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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The uncertain future of the University Multicultural Mentorship Program

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are on the chopping block at UF and every other state institution of higher learning. Just recently, the administration shut down the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, amongst other DEI positions. In response to The Alligator breaking this story, Gov. Ron DeSantis quote reposted its coverage to further classify DEI as “toxic.”

The Student Government response was swift: members of the Change Party Caucus condemned the move, followed later by the new officers-elect from the Vision Party Caucus.

Flashing back to January, the Florida Board of Governors adopted rules to curb spending on DEI initiatives at state universities. A similar enactment of the Florida Board of Education affected public colleges.

With these prohibitions, UF has now lost some top positions and may soon lose the Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement. About half of our student body does not self-identify as white, according to the Fall 2022 enrollment data. Many others come from intersectional backgrounds, with many LGBTQ+ students among those groups.

Proponents of the laws and new rules argued that DEI programs eat money used for research. UF is one such eminent research institution, but Alligator reporting indicated only 0.14% of our budget goes toward diversity initiatives. 

Five million dollars is hardly a drop in the bucket compared to over a billion dollars in research expenditures. Although student organizations have certain carve-outs in the law, we and all other public’s sit on uneven ground.

One program I fear will be on the way out is the University Multicultural Mentorship Program, or UMMP. The program is part of the CIME, a wider office that will likely also be shuttered soon.

UMMP was formed in 1986 as the University Minority Mentor Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Its mandate was to “address the issue of retention of African American students,” according to the UMMP website

This occurred three decades after the first African American students enrolled at UF. Although disparities have been lessened today with the rising impact of BSU and other organizations, many problems still exist. First, no Black students were admitted at all. Now, they only constitute a small ratio of our total student population.

Part of this university’s history saw UF as a segregated campus. But the actions of changemakers like Virgil Hawkins helped bring progress to Gainesville. 

The impacts of early issues remain, necessitating programs like UMMP.

The program soon expanded to all colleges and in 2006 was moved to the Department of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, which has since transformed into CIME. The program was renamed in 2018.

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I had the personal benefit of being a UMMP mentee in my first year at UF, Fall 2020 to Spring 2021. That came at a time when the pandemic gripped the university and the world. 

As a student of mixed heritage and unsteady disposition, having someone to talk to about UF when I could fully experience it was empowering. I could hear about the sprawling campus, decades-old brick buildings, and other charms of UF.

Through every subsequent year at UF, I have served as an ambassador of UMMP. Although I write this column solely in my capacity as a student, I would be remiss if I did not note the impact of the program on my time as a Gator.

Now, the program is designed to “support first-year students from diverse backgrounds in their transition to the University of Florida.”

I hope I’ve captured this program’s impact before its likely closure. Additionally, I hope to appeal to the administration.

The Student Senate recently passed a resolution condemning attacks on DEI. I had the chance to work on it with Senator Laurie Wang, a fellow UMMP alumni, and Senator Noor Azeem, the DEI liaison. It was passed unanimously, suggesting to me a body of support from the student body for DEI-related programs.

To those in administration reading this, I hope you can recognize the history of this multi-decade program. Hundreds of students are mentored by it annually, which amounts to thousands of alumni over time.

I also hope you can recognize the value of this to all students and don’t treat it like another program you must cut to comply with state law. If you must, I hope you can find a way to save this program with alternative funding or relocation to a different department.

According to Alligator reporting, 85% of the CIME funding comes from state funds. For UMMP, it only gets a fraction of UF’s minimal DEI budget. To analogize again, this spending is like a drop in the ocean. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion is not just a slogan. It means a commitment to righting historical wrongs, pushing against those in power, and uplifting all voices. UMMP is one such way to do that, one that UF has committed to for nearly 50 years. It is a commitment we must continue to renew for decades to come.

The program single handedly raises students like me or others. It puts us on the path to becoming Gator alumni. If lost it means some may sink into the background.

We must maintain the program to maintain a future for so many Gators.

Ronin Lupien is a UF biomedical engineering senior.


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