Voices of Change
After the pandemic forced the UCF campus to move to remote instruction, the staff of Pegasus changed the focus of the summer issue to be a celebration of the Class of 2020 and a tribute to this moment in history — one defined by physical distance rather than the annual end-of-year celebrations, basketball playoffs and commencement ceremonies.
As we worked to wrap up this issue, the national conversation quickly shifted. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd embroiled the nation in protests and riots. And UCF was called on to reckon with its own challenges when Associate Professor Charles Negy and comments made on his personal Twitter account became the center of controversy around racism, free speech and what behavior is acceptable — and unacceptable — for tenured faculty.
As we go to print, the university is in the midst of an investigation into Negy for accusations of how he treated students of color in his classroom. In a recent virtual forum, intended as a place for students, faculty and staff to discuss issues ranging from the pandemic to the protests, the conversation quickly shifted to Negy, university administrators, and how UCF could be and do better.
Rather than speak on behalf of the participants, Pegasus presents here what they had to say.
Today, I’m here to speak as the voice of the Black students at UCF. We’re angry, to be honest. We’re irritated. This is a conversation that we’ve had in our communities for years. We have meeting after meeting, biweekly, in the Black Student Union, NAACP, in the Caribbean Students’ Association and the African Student Organization — about these very issues that we’re facing every single day. And now all of a sudden when there are protests, when there are riots, now we can have a conversation with our university about it.
The Black students have been here. We’ve been here. … We just need everyone else to join court. We’re tired of preaching to the choir.
— Derreasha Jones, psychology major
I am Black. I am multiracial. I am a transgender woman. I am currently doing my master’s in film. I teach. I work extremely hard to make sure that my students are OK and make sure that my class is a safe space. And I’m doing that for the peanuts you guys pay the MFA grad students. The fact that I put in so much work as a student is not fair. … So excuse me if what you guys are saying falls on deaf ears. It’s not enough. …
I used to really love UCF. UCF is so important to me. But it’s hard to tell people to come here.
— Alejandro Watson ’17, emerging media graduate student
I’m speaking out with my voice trembling not out of fear but out of anger that [the Asian-American] community has gone largely unseen from this institution for a very long time. I’m now taking this space — this space that should be used today to promote Black voices and Black communities … — [to point out that] this conversation is only going on now [because of] all the attention turned on our university. There are numerous news sources, such as BuzzFeed, The New York Times and NBC News, that have reported on [Charles Negy] to criticize our institution, and I think rightfully so.
You asked us to be respectful, and I’m doing my best, but I think we must also acknowledge the deep upsets and frustrations from our students when we have been speaking out about these types of issues — and especially professors like Charles Negy — for a very long time. …
I no longer want to hear things like, “We stand with our students,” when you have been actively suppressing students and our Student Government as well.
We need to see more solidarity within our communities, but we also need to see more acknowledgment and recognition of the different racial groups. Blanket diversity is not diversity. It is not a celebration of diversity. In fact, it is the suppression of diversity.
— Adrian Lee, international and global studies major
When faculty teach race, racism and issues of ethnicity, it is a big responsibility. It is a level of competency.
— Nessette Falu, assistant professor of anthropology
I was super excited to come here. … I start in the fall, and to be completely honest, this situation with Mr. Negy has made me lose a lot of faith in the school, and I haven’t even started yet. … It makes me ashamed that I’m going to a school that allows such prejudice to happen.
— Savannah Dawson-Hamilton
I would really like to see some sort of mandatory diversity training and workshops and inclusion efforts for staff and faculty. … I’ve always been disappointed that between my work at Valencia and my work at UCF, there’s never been any kind of mandatory effort to get people to understand the diverse population of students that we’re working with, especially in Orlando.
— Samantha Ramos, student success coach
I grew up in lower Alabama and I’m used to being black in a white space, but right now I’m tired. I chose the University of Central Florida over FAMU for a doctorate program and your responses right now are making me truly regret this decision.
Waiting and being patient is precisely how we are where we are right now. As a diversity, equity and inclusion expert who taught in Pine Hills and in Parramore where UCF is gentrifying right now, having someone on payroll like this is completely antithetical to what it means to be anti-racist. As a public health expert, my community is hurting because of an already racist system that has pathologized them rather than address the racist system that exists. For example, COVID and how it disproportionally affects the black community — right now we have to choose between risking our lives to protest or risking our lives by doing nothing. …
Additionally, why did it take this long to recognize that Black Lives Matter when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012 30 minutes down the road? In regards to Dr. Negy, can we please consider how many potential black psychologists have been deterred from the field as a result of experiencing racism in a psychology classroom? With a field like psychology that is already historically racist and dismissive. We are tired.
— Trinity Johnson, integrative anthropological sciences doctoral candidate
What I want as a student, and a lot of us do, is accountability and transparency from you [the administration].
— Dylan Mungal, health sciences major
One of the issues, even with [anonymous reporting], is that a lot of these students who are impacted by [Negy’s] racist words are in minority groups — people of color, black people, queer people — and those are people who are not used to having safe spaces. Some places may claim to be a safe space, but if they aren’t taking action to hold [people accountable], how safe can they really be for us?
At the end of the day, students have the ability to share their stories, but it can’t just fall on us. There needs to be more accountability within the faculty and administration to make sure professors are doing their due diligence in teaching … the actual curriculum, rather than … spewing racist remarks that put students in really uncomfortable situations.
— Colin Crabtree ’19, communication and conflict major
It shouldn’t take a racial injustice to have these kinds of conversations. We should continue these conversations in townhalls, not just [organized] by cultural [student] groups but supported by UCF as a whole.
— Gabby Rodriguez, photonic science and engineering major
I’m not saying there aren’t teachers [at UCF] that don’t care because I know there are. I know my teachers care. I just would like to see more — more diversity in the administration and the Board [of Trustees]. I would like to know that there is someone that represents a percentage of us on campus.
— Khayah Peters, physical therapy doctoral candidate
There is something about systemic racism that works a good nerve for me, It loves us being divisive and fighting one another because when [we do that] the machine that it is stays afloat.
When we talk about anti-racism, we are talking about people doing some deep soul searching in the stories they were told in their lifetime that made them see [other] people differently from how they are. How do we get people to recognize that I am an individual? That I am not a Black community. That I am an individual within a Black community in the United States of America, and you [should] treat me as an individual, like you want to be treated. I shouldn’t have to fear for my life every day walking down the street because I am a Black man. No one should have to do that.
So I invite people to help me and support me because I cannot have every idea. I do not have the capacity to [know] what other people’s life experiences have been. In order for me to try and fight for anyone that feels they aren’t at home on this campus, which is what I promise to do, I need to hear your stories to inform my narrative.
I’m all about difficult dialogue, that is my mission, and I am bringing them full steam ahead to UCF — and not just dialogue but action.
— S. Kent Butler, interim chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion officer
Your tears will not be in vain.
— Edwanna Andrews ’99 ’05MA ’17PhD, interim assistant vice president for Community Support
I want you to know that this is your institution. It is not my institution. It is your institution. You’re the students. You’re the faculty. You’re the staff. And we want you to feel that this is your institution. Let’s all figure out a way to make that happen. I don’t have the answers. These are deep-seated, deep-rooted challenges — systemic challenges we’re going to have to fight. And we’re going to fight them together.
— Alexander N. Cartwright, UCF President
Private companies can in fact fire people for saying things that are offensive and harm the reputation of the company, public universities can’t. UCF is a public institution, which means UCF is viewed as though we are an arm of the government. That means all constitutional rights have to be upheld by us. That means what anyone says in their life as a private citizen is protected by law and the university could not act against me, you, [Charles] Negy or anyone else based on comments in their personal lives, even if offensive, even if terrible. That’s a very hard thing for people to hear.
On the other hand, if our faculty members are offensive, discriminatory [or] bullies in their work, workplace, classroom or interactions with students and employees we have the capacity to act. [But] I have to say it will never be immediate because there is a right of due process. Just like every public entity, we have to follow that process in which we look at the facts and accusations and evaluate them [to] make a decision. I think that is both right, and [acknowledge] that means nothing that is a serious matter will ever happen overnight.
— Michael D. Johnson, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs
UCF has been receiving complaints alleging bias and unfair treatment and takes every report seriously. If any student, current or former, believes they may have experienced abusive or discriminatory behavior by any faculty or staff member, we want to know about it. Concerns can be reported to UCF’s IntegrityLine, which also takes anonymous complaints, at ucfintegrityline.com and 855-877-6049.