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2017-11-03 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

November 3, 2017  RSS feed
Schools

Text: T T T

Campus unity drowns out hate speech by white supremecist at University of Florida

By JAMIE SHAPIRO Special to the Jewish Press

In the three years that I have been a student at the University of Florida I have seen and become a part of the large and extremely accepting Jewish community on campus.

With a whopping 6,500 Jewish undergraduate students making up almost 20 percent of the undergraduate population, I had never once felt like the Jewish community was unwelcome or disliked. This dynamic began to change on Aug. 12, the day the student body received an alarming email from University President Kent Fuchs. The email, titled “Potential Speaker on Campus,” was the beginning of a period of uncertainty and fear for many of my fellow Jewish students.

Over the next few months, we received an abundance of emails from Fuchs and other university officials. We watched as they unsuccessfully tried to prevent white supremacist Richard Spencer and his followers from coming to the city we called home and we realized, with resignation, that there was little the university could do for us. Spencer’s speech was eventually confirmed and the amendment that allows us to speak freely was used as ammunition against us.

The day was fast approaching, Oct. 19. More emails flooded our student accounts. We were informed we’d be required to show student ID cards to gain entry to certain buildings on campus. We were asked to stay away from the event. We learned that certain parts of campus that we went to on a daily basis would be shut down.

We were told the university did everything it could to stop the event, and that much I believed.

At no point during this entire ordeal did it feel like the University of Florida didn’t care about its Jewish students. It went to great lengths to keep its students safe and remind us all that hate speech was not acceptable.

In anticipation of demonstrations, police from across the state appeared on campus. Members of the Highway Patrol traveled around in large groups and some were stationed on the campus’ free speech zone, Turlington Plaza.

Oct. 18, the day before Spencer was set to speak, was the day everything set in. Seeing the extra security measures in person, having to dig out our student IDs just to go study in one of the campus libraries, it suddenly became very real and very alarming.

As a Jewish student at the University of Florida, I had never felt afraid or even remotely discriminated against, not until the week of Oct. 19. We were prepared for the worst, but we hoped for the best.

The speech came and went, Spencer was shut down by a group of protestors who were inside the Phillips Center, shouting “Orange” and “Blue” between one another and chanting “It’s great to be a Florida Gator” over his speech.

In the days leading up, students, Jewish and non-Jews, were spreading messages of unity and acceptance across campus. Students stood up to Spencer supporters and made it clear that their hate had no place on our campus. The University of Florida and its students showed the world that there was no room for discrimination or hate in Gainesville.

On Oct. 19, it was truly great to be a Florida Gator.

Jamie Shapiro of Pinellas County served as a 2017 Jewish Press summer intern. A journalism major, she plays piccolo in the Gator Marching Band.


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