UF holds third open dialogue on diversity

December 4, 2018
Jillaine Henry and Christine Skofronick
photographer: Lyon Duong

University of Florida top administrators held a third town hall December 3 to continue the ongoing conversation around diversity and inclusion on campus.

As a recommendation from the 2016 Black Student Affairs Task Force report, a regular town hall with university administrators was suggested to strengthen the connection and access students had to speak with university leadership. In 2017, one was held in the spring and one last November. This is the first event featuring Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Advisor to the President, Antonio Farias, who was recruited to the university in July.

During the 90-minute discussion, which was also livestreamed, in the Rion Ballroom at the J. Wayne Reitz Union, members of the university community openly voiced their experiences, concerns and ideas to help inform UF’s efforts to continue to build equity, diversity, inclusion, trust and respect. It also served to provide an update on the campus climate.

Approximately 40 attendees provided honest and open perspective and feedback about what they experience on campus.

“The purpose of these town halls is to allow students to voice their opinions, concerns, and recommendations for continuous improvement around campus,” said Will Atkins, associate dean of students and senior director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs (MCDA).

President Kent Fuchs and Chief Diversity Officer Farias took the stage to share updates on following remarks from Atkins, who was followed by Carl Simien, director of Black Affairs. Emcee Florida Bridgewater-Alford, communications outreach strategist at Strategic Communications and Marketing, then opened up the floor to questions.

photo of Tyler Brown

Tyler Brown was one of the students who asked questions at the event.

Tyler Brown, a fourth-year student who will be graduating in May, asked what steps were being taken at the administrative level to increase diversity across campus and make the university feel more welcoming to minority prospects. She also asked how can students be involved in attracting them here.

Fuchs responded, “I was really impressed in the progress reported on here… most all of the new programs listed here didn’t exist two or three years ago... They are to indeed focus on attracting people here to overcome an image that we don’t want people here and we don’t a diverse environment; we absolutely do.”  Fuchs said we need to address the perception and the reality, and be clear on who we want to be, and be public in areas we are weak in and not hide them. We also need to celebrate our successes, for example, that UF graduates the highest  number of black students earning a professional degree. Additionally, Fuchs stated that UF is working to embed programs that support students in their schools and colleges in addition to those such as MCDA within the Division of Student Affairs, and the colleges will be held accountable for recruitment too.

As to diverse faculty on campus, according to Farias, as compared to the top 10 universities, UF’s undergraduate minority faculty population ranks No. 2.

UF’s initiative to hire 500 faculty is an opportunity to increase the ratio of demographically diverse faculty. Recently, the University invested in a trip to the Southern Regional Education Board to meet 1600 African American Ph.D.s as a recruitment opportunity.

As for recruiting, “we need folks to be honest about the climate and experience here,” Farias said. Affinity groups for faculty, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ, and the Association of Academic Women, are all part of the process to tell what it means to be a faculty or staff member here, to share “real information,” he added. Changing climate and culture at UF is something we all must play a part in, he said.

“We as an institution should reflect the communities we reside in, our state, our nation, in terms of the demographic of our student body, where our students come from, ethnicity, gender,” Fuchs said. “And that should be our goal.”

To watch an archive of the event’s livestream, click on:

https://mediasite.video.ufl.edu/Mediasite/Play/b2c7ad636b1c4d1f8ddeb05e18a3fcb61d

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