University of Florida apologizes for 'aggressively' ushering graduates offstage

University Of Florida Faculty Member Rushes Graduates Off Stage

Doing the stroll across the stage at graduation did not play well at the University of Florida on Saturday. Some of the graduates said they were ushered off too quickly.

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A university faculty member was caught on the big screen in the O'Connell Center rushing and manhandling students -- most of them African-Americans -- who were attempting to stroll or dance during Saturday's commencement ceremony, The Gainesville Sun reported.

Footage showed that while some students attempted to dance, they were grabbed by the usher, who rushed them offstage, WCJB reported.

University President W. Kent Fuchs issued an apology Sunday on Twitter, calling the actions “inappropriately aggressive.”

“During one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies, we were inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage,” Fuchs wrote. “I personally apologize and am reaching out to the students involved.”

Monday morning, one student told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the incident was "kind of embarrassing, kind of degrading."

"In general, I don't think I've ever been handled in that manner, not even by my parents," Oliver Telusma said.

Telusma, 21, who received his bachelor’s degree in political science, said the usher reached under his armpit as he danced and lifted him.

“I had just started ... and he picked me up and turned me around, which I thought was kind of embarrassing and degrading to be handled in that manner,” Telusma told the Sun. “It was just really uncalled for, especially for anyone not martially trained to do that.”

Christopher Garcia-Wilde, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, said he was “too afraid” to stroll because he saw the usher push one of his friends while putting another “in an entire bearhug,” the Sun reported.

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

Nafeesah Attah told “Good Morning America” that the usher’s actions were “not arbitrary.”

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

UF spokeswoman Margot Winick issued an apology Sunday.

“We very much believe that this was a time for celebration,” Winick told the Sun. “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.”

Winick said administrators will not release the faculty member’s name until they obtain more information and review the incident.

During Sunday’s 2 p.m. commencement, Fuchs addressed the issue to the audience and said the university “inappropriately, physically rushed a number of students across the stage,” the Sun reported.

“I want our students to know that we’ve changed that practice, and we also want each of you to know that we celebrate you, your graduation, and your accomplishments,” Fuchs said. “Congratulations all.”

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