Graduating While Black: Students Manhandled on Stage at University of Florida Commencement Ceremony

During the University of Florida’s (UF) commencement ceremony, a white university graduation marshal decided to stop Black students from celebrating their diplomas with “strolling.” He physically forced them off stage. At the pinnacle of their college careers, Black graduates were reminded that racism exists at the university.

“Strolling” is a signature dance that is a cultural tradition among Black fraternities and sororities. Members often stroll across the graduation stage to receive their degrees. However, the UF graduation marshal, wearing a ceremonial robe, took it upon himself on Saturday to humiliate Black students only wanting to celebrate their accomplishments.

At one point, he bear-hugged a male student, dragging him away.

Dozens of videos of the incident spread widely on social media.

“To stroll at graduation at a historically white institution where Black students weren’t allowed for a long, long time is a huge accomplishment,” Christopher Wilde-Garcia, who graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, told the
Miami Herald. “We deserve that celebration.”

Garcia-Wilde said he chose not to stroll, choosing instead to hold up his fist after he saw his friends get pushed by the graduation marshal, one of them bear hugged.

This video shows the manhandling from another angle.

“I was afraid the man would touch me,” he said.

In an interview with NBC News, Garcia-Wilde said any graduate who took too long was rushed across the stage by the marshal, but that his actions were more aggressive towards Black students.”

“I definitely think the marshal was racist and demonstrated that behavior,” he said. “He showed himself.”

Oliver Telusma, a member of the Beta Sigma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, is also a member of the graduating class and received his bachelor’s in political science. Telusma was one of the students who was pulled by the staff member.

I had just started and he picked me up and turned me around, which I thought was kind of embarrassing and degrading to be handled in that manner,” Telusma told the Gainesville Sun. It was just really uncalled for, especially for anyone not martially trained to do that.

“It’s a situation where time and time again the university has made Black bodies feel unsafe.”

Blacks make up 6.4 percent of the student body of the predominantly white and Hispanic undergraduate campus.

Wilde-Garcia said the graduation marshal’s actions were assault and indicative of how Black students are treated at the school.

“This little snapshot of what happened at graduation is a little bit of insight into how the university treats minority students, especially Black students,” he told the Miami Herald. “Black students are told how to exist at the University of Florida, even on the graduation stage.”

On Sunday night, President W. Kent Fuchs issued an apology on Twitter, saying the staff member was inappropriately aggressive.”

Margot Winnick, the UF director of communications, said the president called each of the affected students to apologize.

But for the unnamed graduation marshal to feel comfortable enough to manhandle Black students as if they were deserving of it speaks volumes of the university’s culture.

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