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Very Real

Florida University Apologizes After Dancing Black Students Forced Off Graduation Stage

“In general, I don’t think I've ever been handled in that manner, not even by my parents,” said one student.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

The University of Florida is in hot water this week after dancing, celebrating students were physically forced off stage during a graduation ceremony.

In videos that have been widely shared across social media, and as seen in the screenshot above, an unnamed usher working during last weekend’s spring commencement ceremony can be seen aggressively ushering students off stage when they begin to dance or otherwise physically celebrate. While some white students were also rushed, attendees noted that black graduating students were more likely to get manhandled and shoved off stage, USA Today reports.

“In general, I don’t think I’ve ever been handled in that manner, not even by my parents,” one student who’d been forced off stage, Oliver Telusma, told ABC News' Good Morning America. “It’s kind of embarrassing, kind of degrading.”

Another student, Nafeesah Attah, told ABC that the response of the white usher who got physical with many black students “was not arbitrary.”

“It was definitely contingent on your race ... other white students who were dancing were not perceived as a threat,” Attah said.

As one student explained, it’s not just dancing.

“Both of my friends wanted to celebrate by strolling, which is a cultural tradition in historically black fraternities and sororities,” Christopher Garcia-Wilde told the Gainesville Sun, adding, “It’s a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years.”

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs addressed the situation in a Twitter statement, offering an apology and stating that such aggressive ushering will not take place at future ceremonies.

“During one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies, we were inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage. I personally apologize and am reaching out to the students involved,” Fuchs wrote. “The practice has been halted for all future ceremonies, and we will work to make sure all graduating students know we are proud of their achievements and celebrate with them their graduation.”

Fuchs said they “personally called each of the students impacted to convey his apology and to let them know that the practice of physically interfering with students’ celebrations to rush them across the stage has been stopped,” a university spokeswoman told ABC.

According to UF spokeswoman Margot Winick, university officials are looking into the incident, which they feel was not in line with the spirit of the ceremony, the Gainesville Sun reports. While they have confirmed that the usher is a faculty member, they have chosen not to release his name until they have finished reviewing the situation.

“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 added, “What’s confusing is that we have so many ceremonies. This happened at one, and there’s been, by the end of today, four since that happened.”

On the subject of whether or not the usher’s actions were motivated by race, Winick remarked, “I don’t know the facts. I haven’t reviewed the tapes to see quite if that’s accurate.”

According to some students, however, what happened was just par for the course at UF.

“It’s a situation where time and time again the university has made black bodies feel unsafe,” Telusma told the Gainesville Sun.

Institutional racism is a big issue, Garcia-Wilde told NBC News, explaining, “Every time there’s an incident — whether there’s a noose on campus, or [white supremacist] Richard Spencer coming, or a student’s black history poster taken off of her dorm room — the university releases an apology, but they don’t create any change that sustainably prevents those discriminatory actions from repeating.”

Garcia-Wilde is likely referring to the noose found in a UF classroom last January, reportedly left by a member of a campus theater troupe as a joke, and the student who had their Black History Month decorations ripped off of their dorm room door a month later. The university also came under fire in October after allowing white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak on campus, inciting protests.

Garcia-Wilde continued, “It was really sad because this is going to be our final memory of the university of Florida and I'll always remember turning around and seeing my friends being wrestled and pushed across the stage.”

(Photo: Screenshots via YouTube)