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University of Florida Under Fire After Pushing Black Graduates Off Stage ‘Like a Savage Animal’

Two of the students hauled off stage after dancing at their college graduation Saturday want to hold the University of Florida accountable — and they say the president’s apology has fallen short.

Twitter users were abuzz May 5 when watching Black college graduates among a class of 10,000 grads be dragged off stage after celebrating earning their degrees. Meanwhile, white students who did the same were reportedly not touched by an on-stage usher.

“At first I thought this was a spoof, but it’s real and what in the f— was The University Of Florida thinking?!?” one person tweeted. “To forcibly push Black students excited about graduating off the stage is reprehensible. They paid their money and spent their time and you put hands on them!”

“They earned their accomplishment, this was their day to celebrate, under no circumstance should this have happened,” another tweeted. “University of Florida students were waving and cheering when they were manhandled by a graduation marshal.”

While speaking to “Good Morning America,” Monday, May 7, Oliver Telusma, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., says he’s never “been handled in that manner, not even by my parents. It’s kind of embarrassing, kind of degrading.”

Nafeesah Attah, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., said the usher’s actions “was not arbitrary,” noting the dances — she said she prepared hers ahead of time — were symbolic of student joy and representative of their respective fraternities and sororities.

“It was definitely contingent on your race. Other white students who were dancing were not perceived as a threat,” Attah says before adding, “I tried to do one of my stroll moves, but I was instantly like blocked by one of the officials on stage and they aggressively pushed me off the stage after that. So I was definitely disappointed they took that moment from me because I can only get my bachelors once.”

Graduate Christopher Garcia-Wilde told The Gainesville Sun Sunday, May 6 that “it’s a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years.”

He decided against strolling and held up his fist, but two of his friends tried to stroll and “they both were pushed and one of them got an entire bear hug.”

Backlash online forced UF to issue an apology, which president W. Kent Fuchs delivered at another commencement ceremony that weekend.

“We physically rushed a number of students across the stage in one of our commencements and I want to personally apologize for us doing that,” said Fuchs, who said in a tweet that the practice will be banned at future ceremonies.

But the apology wasn’t enough for Telusma and Attah.

“The lasting impression — at least for undergrad — will be them watching their son having his back turned toward the audience being handled like a savage animal,” Telusma tells GMA Monday.

And several others felt the same.

“The University of Florida has shown no respect for their student body especially African-Americans during graduation,” one person tweeted. “They take their tuition money but they can’t dance across the stage during graduation I think more than an apology is needed.”

“Pushing Black graduates off the stage for not moving fast enough requires much more than an apology,” another tweeted.

“You are sorry, but what is being done about this faculty member…” a grad student said. “These students were proud to be Gators and celebrating a HUGE moment, and this faculty member’s first reaction was to put his hands on them #disturbing #itsnotgreatuf.”

Margot Winick, UF spokeswoman told The Gainsville Sun school officials are looking into the incident, noting the actions of the usher — a faculty member whose name has not yet been released — were not in line with the celebratory day.

“We very much believe that this was a time for celebration,” she said. “So the university just regrets that the acts of those who were monitoring the lineup could dampen the spirits of the day. That’s not at all what commencement is about — it’s about celebration.”

She also said she was looking into the claims that only Black students were mistreated.

“I don’t know the facts,” she said. “I haven’t reviewed the tapes to see quite if that’s accurate.”

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