‘A place free of judgement’: Black, Hispanic and Latinx students are welcomed back home

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Carl Simien, UF President Kent Fuchs, Betty Stewart-Fullwood, William Atkins and Beaudelaine Mesadieu cut a ribbon Saturday, officially opening up the new Institute of Black Culture.

 

Despite cold, wet weather, hundreds of people felt warm as they gathered this weekend for the reopenings of the Institute of Black Culture and the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures.

The institutes reopened to students on Saturday and Sunday with ribbon-cutting ceremonies for each building that included speakers, performances and food. 

Both houses were rebuilt after being torn down in 2017 for structural damage, mold, termites and more issues. Originally, construction was supposed to begin January 2017 and finish Fall 2018. But when UF Multicultural Diversity Affairs staff proposed to combine the institutes, students protested and the timeline was pushed back so two separate buildings would be built.

IBC was originally built in 1971 and La Casita was built in 1994 after minority students peacefully protested for a space of their own on campus.

As of 2018, about 6 percent of students are black and about 19 percent are Hispanic/Latinx, according to UF enrollment demographics.

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Members of the UF Gospel Choir sing “This is the Day” Saturday in celebration of the opening of the new Institute of Black Culture.

Beaudelaine Mesadieu, the project advisory committee student chair, welcomed guests and spoke about the journey of planning and construction for the buildings. UF President Kent Fuchs thanked students, alumni and others who helped contribute to the buildings. He also talked about how the buildings create a sense of community for minority students.

“I’m so proud that both La Casita and the Institute of Black Culture next door are so beautiful,” Fuchs said on Sunday. “They’re so prominent, they’re such an important part of our campus, signaling their permanence and their preeminence.” 

Other speakers included D’Andra Mull, incoming vice president of student affairs; William Atkins, associate dean of students and senior director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs; Ashley Garner, Black Student Union president; Carl Simien, Black Affairs director; Isabella Oliver, Hispanic Student Association president; Bianca Quiñones, Hispanic-Latinx Affairs program director; and Duane Whitehorse, a member of the Kiowa Native American Tribe.

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Duane Whitehorse, a 72-year-old Kiowa Elder, begins the ribbon-cutting ceremony by blessing the new Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures with tobacco. 

Jaelle Coradin, a 19-year-old UF mechanical engineering freshman, attended the IBC ribbon-cutting ceremony and said she felt a sense of community with other African Americans there.

“It’s important to have a safe space,” Coradin said. “Even in classes, not that many people look like us, so it’s just a sense of comfort and safety to have this space.”

Tyanna Griffiths, a 19-year-old UF psychology sophomore, said IBC is a safe place for her to celebrate her Caribbean culture.

“In history, we weren’t always welcome,” Griffiths said. “It encourages more black students to apply here because some people don’t feel like they would be safe here.”

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Kent Fuchs, William Atkins, Beaudelaine Mesadieu and Isabella Oliver cut a ribbon Sunday, signifying the opening of the new Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures. UF staff, students and alumni attended the event.

Students at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for La Casita also said the building provides a safe space for Hispanic and Latinx students. 

Ornella Saragusti, a 21-year-old UF economics and political science senior, said when she first came to UF, La Casita was one of the first places that she visited.

“La Casita was a place of free judgment,” Saragusti said. “I was the truest form of myself there, and I think it’s really important to give those UF students the ability to find that place, especially if they’re so far from home.” 

Daniella Conde, an 18-year-old UF communication sciences and disorders freshman, said La Casita is an important place for students to convene and learn about each other.

“It brings me a lot of joy to see everyone here together,” Conde said. “It’s a symbol of inclusion on campus and the diversity that our campus now has.”