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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Students, staff and faculty protest DEI decision outside UF Board of Trustees meeting

Emerson Alumni Hall is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.
Emerson Alumni Hall is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

On Friday morning, about 45 people gathered outside Emerson Alumni Hall chanting “Get DeSantis out of our campus” and “The B-O-T has got to go” to protest UF’s recent firing of diversity, equity and inclusion positions. 

The protest, composed of undergraduate students, graduate assistants, faculty and staff unions focused on the Board of Trustees’ role in adhering to state guidelines on DEI, as well as the board’s role in publicly donating to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign. 

The protest occurred directly outside the Board of Trustees’ meeting in Emerson and comes after the 13 recently eliminated DEI positions, as well as the elimination of the Chief Diversity Office.

The Board of Trustees meeting consisted of construction project updates, industry relationships within AI tools, and the hiring of 11 new faculty to the Hamilton Center

It was organized by four student-run organizations over Instagram: UF Queer Liberation Front, UF Pride Student Union, UF Young Democratic Socialists and UF Jewish Voice for Peace.  

Police presence was heavy in and around Emerson Alumni Hall. 

Michelle Nolan, a member of the United Faculty of Florida union and librarian at Marston Library, has a long history at UF. Attending UF as an undergrad, a graduate and now as a faculty member, Nolan is frustrated by how UF’s campus community has evolved, she said. 

“When I came here as a student, it was the DEI offices that made me feel like I had a place on this campus,” she said. “Seeing it eliminated altogether is so insulting.”  

She said she worries for the future of the student body. 

“This is our community… The students and workers here are what gives this place life,” she said. 

Ronan Hart, a 23-year-old UF graduate history student, was a safety marshall for the protest. His role was to keep an eye on any counter protestors, as well as ensure the safety of the current DEI protestors. Hart also kept the written list of demands sent to the Board of Trustees. 

The biggest demand was the reinstatement of all 13 recently eliminated DEI positions, as well as the reinstatement of the Chief Diversity Office. 

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Sylvia James, 61, is the lead organizer for United Campus Workers of America, a union for all staff members at UF. James emphasized the importance of unions and students protesting together.

“The more of us that can get together, the stronger our voices will be heard,” she said. 

Cassie Urbenz, a 23-year-old UF graduate assistant, was an original organizer for the protest and represented the graduate union. Urbenz said DEI at UF is needed because representation is needed.

“[Diverse students] are invaluable,” she said. “I don’t understand why you would prevent [students] from being at this university… [the lack of DEI] is going to hurt our reputation.” 

Marilyn Wende, a member of the United Faculty of Florida union, carried the protester's shouts with her pink megaphone. As a faculty member herself, she believes the lack of DEI creates a hostile work environment, she said.  

“This is an attack on all workers on campus,” she said. “Wall-to-wall, we are uniting together against this attack.”

Inside the Board of Trustees meeting, Faculty Representative Danaya Wright made a statement to the board acknowledging the protest happening outside. This was Wright’s last meeting as faculty representative. 

“I want to personally thank those of you who came to share your concerns today … you care deeply,” she said. “I want you to know that we’re listening… because when we stop listening, we stop learning.” 

Sarah Lynne, the faculty representative who will be replacing Wright in June, said she loves that there were people protesting outside Emerson Hall. 

Since DEI was state-mandated, there is a concern that the actions of these protestors will have little effect on change demanded within the institution. Lynne said that isn’t the case. 

“There is no right or wrong place,” she said. “They should do it here, they should do it in Tallahassee and they should do it within their families… especially when… it’s a strongly held belief about the best way we should be running our institution,” she said. 

UF Spokesperson Cynthia Roldan said UF has nothing to add in regards to the Board of Trustees meeting or the DEI protest.  

Contact Sara-James Ranta at Follow her on X @sarajamesranta.

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Sara-James Ranta

Sara-James Ranta is a third-year journalism major, minoring in sociology of social justice and policy. Previously, she served as a general assignment reporter for The Alligator's university desk.

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