UPDATE Wednesday May 9, 9:36 a.m.: The faculty member who grabbed students has been placed on leave while the incident is being investigated, a University of Florida spokesman told VICE News. The spokesman added that President W. Kent Fuchs has called each of the students affected to personally apologize.
The University of Florida is facing major backlash after some graduates didn't get their righful moment to celebrate at commencement.
The public university is apologizing Monday for the actions of an usher who manhandled several black graduates while they were dancing across the stage during the Saturday commencement event, in some cases grabbing and pushing them offstage.
The white usher, who has not been identified, appeared to target only black students who were marking their turn onstage with a celebratory dance or "stroll." In videos posted to social media, an unnamed usher is seen yanking and escorting students from the stage as they stop to dance or celebrate.
Students and people in attendance at the ceremony said the people being physically escorted from the stage seemed to be targeted because of their race. An estimated 5,000 students got their degrees on Saturday, and another 5,000 in a separate ceremony on Sunday.
"It was definitely contingent on your race," one graduate, Nafeesah Attah, told Good Morning America. “Other white students who were dancing were not perceived as a threat.” Some of the black students said they were doing a celebratory "stroll" that's a cultural tradition in historically black fraternities and sororities.
Images of students being pulled, pushed, and shoved offstage were splashed across the Jumbotron inside the Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Florida, spurring outrage among spectators who captured the scene on social media.
The University of Florida has yet to identify the usher in the videos, and the university did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
W. Kent Fuchs, the president of the University of Florida, apologized on Twitter: “During one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies, we were inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage,” he tweeted. And he again apologized at a separate commencement ceremony Sunday to the students who had been escorted from the stage the previous day.
"I want to personally apologize for us doing that, on behalf of myself and also the University of Florida," Fuchs said.
Cover image: @chicofreedom/Twitter