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UNF SDS wins major demands, creation of a African American/Diaspora major

By Ryan McClure |
February 28, 2018
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Jacksonville, FL - University of North Florida (UNF) Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) launched a campaign focused on the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement last year, and recently won several of its core demands. SDS fought for demands that the campus include a major in African American Studies, for the university to hire more teachers of color and for the university to increase the enrollment of students of color.

While students were waging this campaign, a local neo-Nazi and former leader of the KKK threatened SDS and students in the Black Student Union (BSU) with gun violence. SDS and many students then pushed for the neo-Nazi to be expelled. Through diligent work and pressure on the administration, SDS and the student body at UNF have won significant victories. The neo-Nazi was expelled and is no longer at UNF.

In October 2017 UNF SDS held a Black Lives Matter rally and advanced a list of demands on the university, including that the university further diversify the faculty, staff and student body and create an African American/Diaspora major among other demands. Reactionary students tried and failed to disrupt the rally, and in frustration, those students posted a racist video to social media linked to the university. In light of these events, students demanded the university take action. This social media storm put UNF in the national spotlight. Students led by SDS knew social media action would not be enough and took to the campus.

Progressive students led by SDS took action in light of the university’s weak stance on racism and marched to university President John Delaney’s office for a sit-in. These students demanded the university respond to the culture of racism on campus and again put forth their multiple point plan demanding the university show it was willing to stand strong against racism. The sit-in was led by SDS and amplified the voices of women of color. These women called on the university’s president to take a stance against racism on their campus.

The university failed to respond. This emboldened other racist students to act, which led to a Nazi student boldly posting gun threats on social media directed at SDS and BSU. The Nazi student was a former local grand dragon of the KKK and is currently a member of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) - which is a Nazi organization that has nothing to do with socialism. The university suspended the Nazi student and planned a conduct hearing. In response, local Nazis called a rally on UNF’s campus to support the Nazi in his conduct hearing.

Students led by SDS acted. They came out to oppose these Nazis on their campus. Progressive students marched, rallied and chanted demanding that the university protect students by getting rid of this Nazi. Progressive students outnumbered the Nazis 25 to 1. This event showed the power of a united front against racism and how students can work together to achieve a better campus and successfully counter racism on their campus.

After a hard-fought struggle, the university has listened to students demands. These include expelling the Nazi, creating an African American/Diaspora major and creating a plan to increase enrollment of color and hire more teachers of color. UF students have led the way in creating a powerful movement to counter white supremacists recruiting on their campus. These students have shown a better way is possible and that we must dare to struggle and dare to win.

SDS President Monique Sampson said, “Students worked hard even with pushback from administration. They were able to win their demands with a united front of students and professors. Power to the students!” Students will continue to organize and fight for a more just world that is inclusive to all students. This important victory happened in light of resistance from the UNF administration and in a southern city like Jacksonville. These students show us even in the Deep South it is possible to organize against white supremacy and win.

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