In the 1970s, UF Nursing Professor Faye Gary was a nursing student at UF, and she remembers a racially segregated environment.
As one of the few Black students, she shared only the basement incinerator with white students while working at the W.T. Edwards Tuberculosis Hospital in Tallahassee.
She also remembers that Black students demanded more Black faculty be hired and students be treated better. They said they would consider leaving if they were not met. Then university president Stephen O’Connell responded, “That’s too bad, but I guess you can always leave.”
“No empathy. The dialogue was cut off. I was one of the ones who stayed because I felt I had no place to go. And I was not about to leave after generations of my people being denied,” Gary said.
Decades later, the distinguished service professor, who holds a joint appointment in the psychiatry department, shared her memories of racism, as well as her insight about how to improve the current environment at UF with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. The program then shared her story at a meeting earlier this month when discussing Black faculty and staff recruitment.
Dr. Hazel Levy, lecturer of genetics at UF and a graduate student in higher education administration, analyzed some of the findings, particularly those regarding faculty aggregation.
Using administrative data from 2019 acquired from the University of Florida through a public records request and spanning across 571 different department-level units and 17 different colleges within UF, Levy found that 71.6% of the departments had no Black faculty in 2019, and 33.8% of those departments were all-white. Furthermore, Black faculty have a 70% probability of interacting with a white faculty member, but only a 5% probability of interacting with a Black faculty member, whereas white faculty are highly likely to interact with each other, but unlikely to interact with Black faculty.
In reaction to the findings, Gary commented, “You have to have a critical mass. Without a critical mass on the ground, little change will happen.”
Gary said UF’s strategic plans usually show little measurable metrics and almost no accountability.
“They come and go every five years. I call that folly and deception,” she said.
UF Black Effort responds
In response to the meeting, UF Black Effort, a coalition of UF Black students, faculty, staff and alumni, called a town hall meeting held a week later on Zoom.
Panelists President Kent Fuchs, dean of UF Graduate School Nicole Stedman and assistant vice president for Human Resources Melissa Curry, responded to the research found by the racial initiative in front of 109 participants.
Dr. Vincent Adejumo, an African American studies professor at UF, echoed Gary at the meeting.
“Without accountability in place, these great initiatives on paper go absolutely nowhere,” Adejumo said.
Professor David Canton, the director of the African American studies program at UF, agreed. “UF needs to establish a benchmark in racial equity, Black faculty hiring, Black student enrollment, Black staff promotions, and have the same enthusiasm and financial commitment it took to reach the US News number 5 ranking.”
Fuchs responded to these statements by saying that he and everyone around him need to be responsible and accountable.
“We each need to have goals at the institutional level, within colleges, all the way down in the academic side and departments around this whole broad area, particularly for the Black experience, and Black representation,” Fuchs said.
Data experts at the Office of Planning and Research created a diversity dashboard around representation, which allows anyone to monitor what’s happening at the university in terms of representation, faculty, employees, and students. Fuchs said this is an important step in ensuring that each level of the university is held accountable.
Stedman and Curry said the university plans to continue incorporating its core values in conversations and job descriptions while monitoring the racial balance of the administration and affirmative action annually. Stedman said that the UF graduate school plans to continue supporting students through programs affiliated with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, like the Ph.D. Preparatory Program, the McNair program, Fulbright program, among others.
Fuchs mentioned that the university recently hired a diversity officer, a Black woman named Dr. Marsha McGriff, associate vice president of inclusive excellence at Ball State University in Indiana, whose strength is planning and setting goals. According to Fuchs, McGriff asked him to commit to hiring staff that would help her specifically focus on the Black experience.
McGriff starts her position on Dec. 6 and will be a member of the President’s Cabinet and the Human Resources team. She will hold meetings with the deans of all the colleges and work with chief operating officers who oversee the rest of the university, and then report her findings back to Fuchs.
UF faculty views
In a separate interview, Canton said racist incidents, like the recent vandalization of the Institute of Black Culture at UF, may be the cause of low Black recruitment numbers.
“We’ll say that’s an aberration. That’s a one-off, don’t worry about it. But that’s not honest, right? If you’re a Black parent or student, that aberration is multiplied,” Canton said.
Canton said that although racist incidents have happened, the current Africana studies professors are trying to ensure a safe learning environment and build that ‘critical mass’ referenced by Faye Gary. He also intends to recruit seven full time tenure tracks, three lecturers and one visiting assistant professor to make the African-American studies program at UF a department after 52 years.
Dr. Rachel Grant, professor of Media and Culture at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications (CJC), said this issue is very much a part of our understanding of systemic racism and true access to resources.
“We talk about wanting more Black faculty, Black staff and people in these institutions, but we are not the maker or producer of Black Ph.Ds. So if we’re not pushing into that system, we can’t expect that one day magically, all these Black Ph.Ds. or Black faculty members and staff will just come,” Grant said, adding that she doesn’t think people understand the real resources that Black faculty need, especially given that they are doing a lot more emotional and mental labor than their white counterparts. Because there are more Black students than staff, many Black faculty members spend extra, uncompensated time mentoring students of color who depend on them for support, Grant said.
“Making yourself available to so many students becomes a taxing burden,” she explained.
There are still programs and departments at UF that haven’t had any Black graduates, Grant said, adding that certain schools like the CJC have, however, started to implement requirements in diversity and cultural competency courses.
But Grant said changing the landscape of diversity isn’t just about courses.
“Are you allowing spaces for people who are typically erased and unseen to be seen? If you go on colleges campuses, do you see promotion or conversations just in the general landscape that showed that Black and Brown individuals, straight and queer, work in these spaces?” she said.
“I try to approach my classroom as a place where the act of visibility and voices are key. That should be throughout the curriculum. It doesn’t have to be a class devoted to diversity.”