Wednesday was a quiet day of relaxation and veteran appreciation for most students. For fourth-year business management major Heather Jackson, it was a day for civil action.
Students gathered in Turlington Plaza at 5:30 p.m. wearing all black attire as part of the “Blacked Out UF” rally to show support for students feeling threatened at the University of Missouri. Jackson along with Daniel Clayton, both political action co-chairs for the University of Florida chapter of NAACP, heard about the controversy going on in Missouri and felt the need for a student gathering to unite and voice opinions.
“We found a way that we could make a difference and we made that difference,” said Jackson.
With almost as little as two hours notice, dozens of students found their way to the event through text messages and social media. Members from Black Affairs, Black Student Union, Progressive Black Men and student body president Joselin Padron-Rasines were in attendance.
“It shows urgency. It shows the power of individuals saying we need to do something and we need to do something now,” said Padron-Rasines.
Padron-Rasines also recognized the event as a catalyst of sorts for University of Florida: “What happened in Missouri is not an anomaly. It is important for UF to acknowledge Missouri and to be there as a support system. I think today was a call to action,” she said.
The event began with the linking of hands and arms in a circle followed by performance poetry. The floor was opened up for about ten minutes, allowing students to speak on their views about the incidents taking place at the University of Missouri. Several students expressed ideas of increasing campus unity, and concerns about how similar the Missouri campus is to UF.
Both UF and Mizzou are affiliated with the Southeastern Conference. The University of Missouri is also a public research university with a student demographic that parallels UF. African Americans represent only seven percent of the University of Missouri population. University of Florida has a six percent African-American population, which has been on the decline since 2007.
Contrary to their similarities, UF’s president was hired just this year while the University of Missouri’s president resigned this week. The Missouri student body was not satisfied with the actions of the president after their homecoming parade. Student led protests and athlete strikes resulted in president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigning on Monday. By Tuesday night, serious online and verbal threats were made towards African-American students, including threats of racially targeted terrorism.
Following the discussion, members of a campus activist group called Dream Defenders led the crowd in several chants. As the sun began to set and the bell tower chimed in the background, students shouted in unison; “I. I believe. I believe that. I believe that we will win!”
The rally ended with a short prayer and a group photo.