The University of Florida apologized after students complained about an usher who aggressively dragged several graduates — many of whom were black — off the stage during their commencement ceremony on Saturday.
Students shared videos of the unidentified school official manhandling black students who were celebrating getting their diplomas by strolling on stage — a tradition practiced by members of black Greek organizations, which involves performing a celebratory dance.
The usher — who was a faculty member — was put on paid administrative leave pending a review of "appropriate administrative steps," university spokesperson Margot Winick told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. She did not identify him, citing university policy.
The university later admitted that students of color were "disproportionately" affected the by the usher's actions.
Christopher Garcia-Wilde, a 22-year-old graduate, told the Gainesville Sun that two of his friends wanted to celebrate getting their diplomas by strolling "which is a cultural tradition in historically black fraternities and sororities."
"It’s a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years," he said, adding that he was "too afraid" to stroll because he saw the usher shoving other people.
University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs acknowledged that the employee was "inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage" and apologized to the students involved.
He also said the practice had been halted for all future ceremonies.
"We will work to make sure all graduating students know we are proud of their achievements and celebrate with them their graduation," Fuchs said in his statement. He repeated the comments at another commencement ceremony on Sunday.
Winick said Fuchs had personally called each of the students impacted to apologize and "to let them know that the practice of physically interfering with students’ celebrations to rush them across the stage has been stopped from the graduation ceremonies thereafter."
In a tweet, the university said it "regrets that any celebration of the day may have been diminished by those monitoring a graduation ceremony."
"Almost fell when he pushed me," one graduate said, sharing a video of the usher pushing her off stage.
Nafeesah Attah, who was one of the students pushed off stage while she was dancing, told ABC News that her family had come from South Florida and London to watch her graduate and that the official "took that moment from me."
Attah said she had planned what she wanted to do on stage "to celebrate my story, all of my hard work I'd done at the University of Florida."
"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," she told ABC News. "So I was definitely disappointed they took that moment from me because I can only get my bachelors once."
Oliver Telusma, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity who was dragged off stage, tweeted, "I have a whole thing I wanna write on how cavalier society can be with Black bodies."
Describing his experience to the Gainesville Sun, Telusma said, "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. It was just really uncalled for, especially for anyone not martially trained to do that."
Telusma said he believed the situation was racially motivated.
"It’s a situation where time and time again the university has made black bodies feel unsafe," he said.
One of Telusma's fraternity brothers tweeted, "imagine your school ruining your moment like this without prior warning."
Other students and alumni also voiced their anger, with one saying the employee was "clearly discriminating and "rough housing" only the black graduates at the ceremony.
"UF is racist and the students are tired of it," one student tweeted.
"It's hard to have pride for your school when trash like this occurs," another student said.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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