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The University of Florida will no longer use its “Gator Bait” cheer at its sporting events, UF president Kent Fuchs announced in a letter to the university community on Thursday.
The letter detailed actions the university aims to take “toward positive change against racism.” Fuchs, in his letter, said the “horrific racist imagery” associated with the “gator bait” phrase caused the school to immediately discontinue using the cheer.
“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase. Accordingly University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer,” Fuchs wrote.
According to Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, black babies were “used as alligator bait” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The museum’s website cites an array of newspaper articles (as does this 2016 piece from The Undefeated) and imagery of the time period and says the term “Alligator bait” was “used as a racial slur toward African Americans.”
The “Gator Bait” cheer and song have been popular at Florida sporting events for decades and is often accompanied by the Gator Chomp gesture. The famous chomp is not mentioned in Fuchs’ statement.
Fuchs, who specifically pointed to the killing of George Floyd as the impetus for change, said Florida plans to require training for students and staff on racism, inclusion and bias and focus the 2020-21 academic year on “the Black experience, racism and inequity.” Added emphasis on “representation, inclusion, opportunity and accountability” were also stressed in Fuchs’ letter.
Additionally, a task force will be established to document the history of the university’s relationship with race and ethnicity, particularly African Americans and Native Americans. Another task force will be tasked with reviewing the naming of buildings and monuments on campus. Specifically, Fuchs said he is “personally committed” to removing monuments or namings that “celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders.”
“It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work. We know that we cannot undo lifetimes of injustice and racism, but we believe we can make progress - in education, in advancing truth, reconciliation and justice, and in anti-racism, equality and working to eradicate inequities,” Fuchs wrote.
Like Florida, universities such Georgia, UNLV and Virginia have made some changes related to racial inequality. Meanwhile, athletes at schools like Texas, Texas A&M and South Carolina have called for changes to decades-long traditions or longstanding campus monuments while football players at Iowa and Oklahoma State have called out their coaches.
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