On Wednesday afternoon — in a final attempt to keep the Institute of Black Culture and the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures two separate buildings — Jireh Davis marched.
Davis joined more than 100 other UF students and alumni on a walk from Turlington Plaza to the Reitz Union. Collectively, the group was protesting plans made by Multicultural and Diversity Affairs staff to combine the IBC and the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, commonly referred to as La Casita, in upcoming building renovations.
Davis said that both black and Latinx students had to fight to have each institute built in the first place — some of whom were kicked out of UF for protesting.
Plans for renovating the IBC and La Casita have started as early as April 2016, when it was announced that the institutes would be torn down and rebuilt due to a presence of mold, termites, moisture and structural damage, according to Alligator archives.
Davis, a UF African-American studies and political science junior, said since they were first built, the buildings were meant to represent two separate cultures. Now, she said she feels as though MCDA is attempting to combine the buildings, which would turn them into something else entirely.
“I think sometimes it takes somebody doing something really wild to create a change, but I think this might be that thing,” the 20-year-old said about Wednesday’s march.
“The Controversy,” as some students have been calling it, began after a webinar June 28. At the meeting, MCDA staff and a renovation core committee presented its option of joining the two buildings in a “U” shape.
Students at the webinar accused MCDA staff of not taking their opinions into consideration during the renovation process, many of them expressing their dislike of the conjoined design.
In an effort to ensure their voices were heard, students took matters into their own hands, creating a public Facebook page entitled “No La IBCita.” On Tuesday, students held a “teach-in” to present the individual histories of each institute and why it is so important to keep the buildings separate.
“We didn’t ask for this,” Davis said. “We just wanted (the institutes) to be rebuilt and renovated into something better and greater than what they already are.”
Although the march was originally intended to start on Turlington Plaza and end at the IBC and La Casita, respectively located at 1510 and 1504 W. University Ave, student organizers decided to change course.
The march instead commenced at the Reitz Union, where the renovation advisory committee — which is made up of UF faculty, alumni and students — was meeting to discuss the building plans one last time before making a final decision.
Students who marched Wednesday chanted phrases such as “Mama mama can’t you see what UF has done to me” and “When brown faces are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
Once inside the Reitz, about 40 protesters proceeded directly into the meeting, which was open to the public. They presented MCDA and the advisory committee with a petition to keep the institutes separate. It had nearly 1,000 signatures.
Christopher Wilde, a student member on the advisory board, said he felt a rush of support and relief when protesters interrupted the meeting. It showed that students would not back down, he said.
“It was an amazing moment. It was solidarity again between the communities, and it was powerful,” he said.
Wilde said the executive director of MCDA, Will Atkins, attempted to adjourn the meeting as the protesters were coming in, claiming they were disrupting business and behaving in an uncivil manner. Protesters, however, explained they would remain silent if the advisory committee proceeded with the meeting.
Atkins said he is appreciative of the opportunity to have students share their opinions. He also added that it is important for everyone in the process to realize that MCDA staff and the core committee are listening to multiple perspectives.
“We have an obligation to hear various perspectives,” Atkins said.
Wilde said he thinks the meeting continued only because it would’ve reflected negatively on MCDA staff if students weren’t allowed to listen in.
At the meeting, one of the biggest issues discussed was the project’s $5.3 million budget.
Wilde said that, in the past, MCDA staff has cited a lack of funds for joining the buildings together — something he doesn’t believe.
“They’ve been using this idea that we can’t have two buildings because of money, but the two building design is actually cheaper than the ‘U’ shaped building,” Wilde said.
In regard to building design, Wilde said the core committee is expected to make their decision by July 19.
Wilde said that although a final decision is looming, the fight for La Casita and the IBC has been going on since 1971 — and likely won’t end anytime soon.
“I’m happy with how today went,” Wilde said. “But it’s just the beginning.”