Major B.C. Knowles (left) talks to protesters Bryn Taylor (middle) and Rachel Hartnett (right) about entering the president's office Feb. 6, 2023. Over 100 people came to Tigert Hall to protest the first day of Ben Sasse's presidency on campus. (Rae Riiska/WUFT News)

UF students protest Sasse’s presidency, make demands


“We won’t back down!” chanted protesters in front of Ben Sasse’s office on his first day.

Students joined University of Florida faculty members outside Tigert Hall on Monday to demand the university administration commit to a series of initiatives including raises for staff, graduate assistants and all UF-affiliated workers.

Demonstrators also called on the administration to speak out publicly against any infringement on academic freedoms and free speech, and to support inclusivity, equity and diversity on campus.

“We’re just trying to give him a chance to redeem himself and really listen to the community and what we want from this new presidency,” said Aron Ali-McClory, an at-large member of the Young Democratic Socialists of America.

UF student Bryn Taylor hopes that Sasse stands with them and understands their culture at the university throughout his presidency.

“I really hope he understands that this community is very united on this front and we are very much trying to defend ourselves in this time when professors and staff and graduate assistants are heavily under attack,” Taylor said.

Bryn Taylor, Co-president for Graduate Assistants United, speaks to a crowd of over a hundred students, faculty and University members Feb. 6, 2023. The protesters shouted a list of 5 demands they expect from new UF president Ben Sasse. (Rae Riiska/WUFT News)

Sasse posted a tweet saying: “Students, it’s great to be a Florida Gator! One of my big missions is making sure that UF prepares you to be leaders during a time of disruption and change. This is going to be exciting. We’re going to engage ideas, build trust and sharpen each other. My wife Melissa and I are excited to see you around campus — whether we’re having lunch at the Reitz Union or cheering on Gator student-athletes this spring.”

The UF community that protested plans to continue to put pressure on the administration.

“We want to make sure that even if they choose not to listen, they’re forced to hear,” Ali-McClory said.

Some students are more worried about how the “Top 5” university will look, or could be affected, because of the future decisions Sasse can make as a president under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We just feel like it’s really important to show that the decisions of the Board of Trustees, the decisions of DeSantis, the nomination of Sasse doesn’t represent the community president at UF,” said Eva Kaplin, a student and an active participant and organizer of the protest.

Students attempted to give Sasse’s secretary a list of their grievances, hoping she would hand it to the president. They demanded: Sasse publicly disavows attacks from Tallahassee on academic and free speech; he commits to non-compliance with state-imposed activities targeting freedom of political thought, racial equity and gender-affirming care — including attempts to enforce the so-called “Stop WOKE Act”; he maintains all pre-existing commitments to inclusivity, equity, diversity and justice; he commits to protecting tenure for UF faculty; and finally, market equity raises for staff, graduate assistants and all UF-affiliated workers in line with the model set by the University of Michigan.

Rachel Hartnett, Co-president of UF’s Graduate Assistants United, tapes the five demands from protesters on the presidents door Feb. 6, 2023. Over 100 people were in attendance and shouted chants on the frost steps of Tigert Hall. It’s unfortunate, we were hoping to talk but he planned his whole day to avoid us, said Hartnett. (Rae Riiska/WUFT News)

“We need to stand up and make our voices heard because we’re being actively not just ignored, but silenced,” Kaplin said.

About Maria Dickson

Maria is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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