(GAINESVILLE,Fla.) — The University of Florida apologized on Sunday after students complained about the behavior of an usher who they claimed manhandled graduates during a spring commencement ceremony over the weekend.
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs acknowledged that the school had been “inappropriately aggressive” while rushing graduates across the stage on Saturday as video of the incident stirred controversy online.
“During one of this weekend’s commencement ceremonies, we were inappropriately aggressive in rushing students across the stage,” Fuchs said in a tweet on Sunday. “I personally apologize, and am reaching out to the students involved.”
Fuchs reiterated those comments during a speech at another one of the university’s spring commencement ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.
Oliver Telusma, a part of UF’s nearly 10,000-member spring 2018 graduating class, said he was one of those who was manhandled while celebrating with his diploma on stage, according to The Gainesville Sun.
“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,” the 21-year-old Telusma told The Gainesville Sun.
Telusma, a member of the Beta Sigma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said he had to shove the usher in order to break free of his grip.
Fuchs said the hands-on removal process would be banned from future ceremonies.
“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,” Fuchs said.
University of Florida graduate Christopher Garcia-Wilde said the usher appeared to only shove black students who wanted to celebrate on stage “by strolling, which is a cultural tradition in historically black fraternities and sororities.” Other students who took slightly more time on stage were rushed, but not in an aggressive manner, he said.
“It’s a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years,” Garcia-Wilde, 22, told The Gainesville Sun on Sunday. “I was actually too afraid [to stroll] because I saw him shove other people.
“But my two friends who graduated with me really wanted to do it, so they tried. They both were pushed and one of them got an entire bear hug,” he added.
Telusma, one of Garcia-Wilde’s friends who was manhandled on stage, said the usher’s behavior was undoubtedly racist.
“It’s a situation where time and time again the university has made black bodies feel unsafe,” Telusma told The Gainesville Sun.
The university, which said it would investigate the matter, didn’t immediately respond to ABC News’ request for additional comments on the matter.
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