A day of joy and celebration spurred complaints of racism after a college graduation marshal pushed and propelled several black students off the commencement ceremony’s stage, prompting an apology from the school.
The University of Florida graduates were walking across the stage on Saturday after their names had been called out when they took a moment to revel in their accomplishments while featured on the arena’s jumbotron.
Videos taken at the ceremony show each individual performing a roughly three-second dance or wave before they were grabbed by a white man wearing a ceremonial robe and forced out of the jumbotron camera’s view.
Nafeesah Attah, a graduate who said she was grabbed by the marshal, told HuffPost Sunday night that the experience left her “disappointed.”
“I had family fly all the way in from London and they didn’t want to see that,” Attah wrote in a message. “It definitely was a race thing because other students were doing backflips and received no repercussions because they were white. Only the black students were contacted.
She added: “I’m disappointed in my university’s response. Too little, too late.”
The videos posted on social media ignited an immediate uproar. While some showed the marshal guiding students of all races off the stage, people accused him of more aggressively manhandling the black graduates.
University President W. Kent Fuchs, who attended the ceremony, released a statement on Sunday that apologized and called the behavior “inappropriately aggressive.”
“I personally apologize, and am reaching out to the students involved,” he said in a Twitter post. “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.”
The university also released a statement saying it “regrets that any celebration of the day may have been diminished” by the incidents.
This article has been updated to include comments from graduate Nafeesah Attah and more details about the ceremony videos on social media.