The NAACP, the nation’s foremost civil rights organization issued the following statement regarding the aggressive behavior shown toward Black graduates during a commencement ceremony in Gainesville, Florida:
“Our nation’s move toward increasing intolerance cannot be separated from the hate and rhetoric emerging from the White House. It’s unacceptable that the simple idea of being Black can trigger explicit and implicit bias which generates such aggressive responses toward Black people,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “The fact that paying respect to their sororities and fraternities through ‘strolling,’ generates fear even on a college campus, means that any institution receiving public funding must ensure that all employees get tested for and receive training in implicit bias.”
According to an ABC News report at least 21 graduates were approached in a physically aggressive way and some were pushed off the stage while engaging in a cultural expression that dates back to some of the nation’s earliest Black sororities and fraternities.
“Graduation for us has always been a celebration and let’s be clear; this celebration belongs to the students. Every alumni, Greek or not, is probably disgusted at how the Univ. of Florida literally handled the students,” said NAACP Youth and College Director Tiffany Dena Loftin. “We are already over policed in the streets and in our community; the one place we should be left alone is on stage as we celebrate completing college.”
According to the FBI, hate crimes in Florida increased by 33 percent last year. On a national scale, many advocates see what’s happening locally as part of an overall national push towards hate and intolerance. “Our schools and colleges, not just in Florida but around the nation, must be safe and inclusive places for all students and schools are obligated to stem intolerance,” said NAACP Gainesville Branch President Evelyn Foxx. “Unfortunately University of Florida failed to realize this until after the fact.
The NAACP Florida State Conference supports implicit bias testing and training for state university system employees as part of larger solutions for eliminating racism and bias on campuses. “An apology from the University is not enough,” said Adora Nweze, NAACP Florida State Conference President. “We’re demanding that the university and the university system here in Florida enact implicit bias testing and training for all employees –it’s not the complete solution but a good start,” she added.
In yesterday’s USA Today President Johnson made the call for greater implicit bias testing and training for elected officials, corporate employees and those who deal with the public.