UF rally calls for unity against racism and discrimination
On April 6th, a broad coalition of individuals including Hispanics, African Americans,Asians, gays and lesbians, faculty, staff, students and community members took the first steps to developing a unified movement against hate and discrimination at the University of Florida. The events which led up to the "March Against Hate" had been building for months with many incidents--the continuing revelations of UF's law school being inhospitable to African Americans, racist fliers against Black History Month, the defacing of a banner for Pride Month, a fraternity party with a 'Vietnam war' theme (men as soldiers, women as Vietnamese prostitutes) and finally the spray painting on the Institute for Hispanic and Latino Studies (La Casita) of "No Spicks for President" just days before the Student Government elections. The slur was directed at the presidential candidate of the challenging Sun Party, Gil Sanchez.
Beginning at Reitz Union and marching across the campus to the lawn between the wooden houses across from campus on West University Avenue which house the Institute for Black Culture and La Casita, hundreds chanted "2-4-6-8 Gators don't discriminate" and carried signs, banners, and a resolve that "This is where we take a stand."
The 45-minute rally had a string of speakers sharing a common thought--we are all part of this university community, and we need to stand together--not just for one day, but in a unified coalition which will last and leave its mark for future students at UF.
Dev Ghose, Student Government housing cabinet director and VISA Social Director, spoke about his recent brush with racism a few weeks earlier: "I was heading back up to the VISA office on the third floor and this man got on the ground floor elevator with me. He was looking at me strangely but I thought well, maybe he's having a bad day. He gets off on the second floor and as he left he had the nerve to say 'sand nigger' and walked away. And I'm like... okay so that's something bad against Arabs or Indians like me. But this is the Reitz Union. I thought when I'd made it from Oklahoma I'd be escaping things like that. But no, it happens every single day... [But] what was my reaction to that? I did nothing. We've got to make sure that ... we do take action and solve these problems, because I took no action and that man is here somewhere on this campus spreading that same hatred, and that is unacceptable! So when you go out, back to campus, back to classes, meet with your friends--yeah there's about 200 students here, but there are 45,000 students here (on this campus) and they all need to hear our message that hatred is unacceptable and that we will unite against that."
Mike Malarky of the Gay and Straight Alliance made the point that there's a need to "go beyond celebrating our diversity, our differences and uniqueness, and demand change together, recognizing the common experience of oppression.... We must know what unites us all as humans; we must fight all forms of discrimination, oppression, and hatred."
Dr. Norman Charles gave a historical note, citing the groundwork done by prior generations of black students, and that black faculty and staff have been struggling with the same issues and paving the way for current students. "What I would like to see, when you organize things; please include us, because it hurts when students say nobody (in the faculty) cares--it's not true."
Dr. Ed Delgado Romero of the Association of Hispanic Faculty and Staff pointed out out that the support faculty and staff had also organized against the racist graffiti and had been ignored in the media. "I'm proud of you, I'm proud of the protest. The only time I've seen a protest of this size was when our president (Lombardi) insulted an African-American administrator in the State University System (calling Adam Herbert an Oreo) and students were rallying for him in spite of those messages. I'm so proud of you for changing that. ... I'm proud of you for the model you are setting, because this is a coalition of different groups including so-called white people--you're here--and I say that because it's an injustice to lump any group together. You have to realize that: you can't say 'all white people this' or 'all white people that'--that's not fair. I'm gonna challenge the faculty and staff that if you want to see your students more involved, you want to see protest, I'm going to challenge you to set the example. I'm gonna challenge you to speak up in the classroom. I'm gonna challenge you to teach your students to do stuff like this."
Dr. Betty Stuart Dowdell, a campus activist in 1971 who was part of the class whose activism brought advances to minority students and who is now on the faculty at UF, also spoke. She said "This is good. Everyone talks about going back 'in the day.' Well, this reminds me of being back 'in the day.' I'm proud to be part of that walkout class in 1971 that fought for this building over here [the Institute of Black Culture]. Sometimes it takes something like this to pull us all together, to remind us we have not yet overcome, that we've come a long way, but we've got a long way to go."
"In 1971 there were a hundred black students. I don't even remember Hispanic students," she said of the time when in 1971, on the newly integrated campus, almost the entire black student population of UF withdrew in protest of racism here. "Don't let this day be in vain--get together, work together, make a coalition like others have said. Iron out differences and problems and work together."
Guillermo Robello of UEPA (Puerto Rican Student Union) issued a strong challenge to the rally: "Where do we go from here, now that we have crossed the tracks and come over to minority row? What do we do to maintain this energy, to foster this interest and to keep ourselves committed to the progress of this university? ... I, like the director of STAAR, like many of us here, propose the creation of a coalition, a formal partnership between the different student organizations, that will lobby for and defend the rights of students of color at this university. A coalition that understands the differences between us and looks across them to rid ourselves of prejudices and other types of self-deprecating behavior. A coalition bent on bringing our interests to the forefront and putting our needs at the top of the university agenda. It is not enough for a five-minute speech on a Friday afternoon. We need a coalition that realizes it's gonna take more than unity parties and talent shows, much more than politically correct slogans and diversity weeks, more than colorful posters and guest speakers...
"So what I'm calling for is a coalition of revolutionaries, people who will be brave enough to declare, in the words of Lorna Cervantes, 'We believe in revolution because everywhere there are crosses burning.' We believe in revolution because we recognize the similarities among different groups and we realize that meaningful change is only possible if we all serve as avenues of each other's concerns. Do you believe? We believe because we have invested our time and money in the University, because we have entrusted this institution with our academic and professional formation, because we have give it the so-called best years of our lives and the University has done us wrong.
"So to all those--those narrow-minded people that during the last couple of weeks of fliering, and organizing, of thinking and coming up with methods to do this [event]--have asked us 'Why? Why we couldn't just let it go? Why couldn't you people just forget about it and get on with your everyday lives?' To those people we say this IS our lives, and the problem you have is that we will not let you get on with yours until you start seeing it from our side of the tracks."
Stephanie Seguin of Campus NOW followed Robello, and pointed out that "On an almost constant basis on this campus, women are harassed, are stalked, by professors, classmates, and co-workers." She pointed out that UPD routinely brushes things "under the rug" and people get shunted around the bureaucracy. Alluding to Lisa Gier King, who was arrested after she reported she was raped at the Delta Chi fraternity, Seguin said, "She was a hero for coming forward. I think we should applaud her. The people who speak out today against racism and discrimination are heroes. This is the way we will have our revolution--if we speak out! Women, people of color, gays, lesbians, the staff of this university: we deserve fair and equal treatment. We deserve justice. We must fight back for our justice. This is our university and we must fight for it!"
There's only weeks left before the spring semester ends, but represented at the rally were many students who will still be here over the summer, and many more who will be here in the fall. If the sense of unity can be sustained, this will be a vibrant campus, because the overall feeling was "Speak up, speak out--we've got your back and we're on the same page."
Dev Ghose, Student Government housing cabinet director speaks at the April 6 "Rally Against Hate." The 300-person march ended between the Institute of Black Culture and the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, which was vandalized late last month.
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