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Tampa Bay SDS disrupts USF president’s inauguration

By Gia Davila

Tampa, FL – On Thursday, January 19, members of Tampa Bay’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held a banner drop disrupting the inauguration of the new University of South Florida President Rhea Law. Students stood atop chairs in the auditorium holding a banner that read “We won't wait, increase Black enrollment now!'' as Will Weatherford, the Board of Trustees chair presented Law as the new president.

Students chanted “Increase Black enrollment now!” and “Rhea Law shame on you, Black students matter too!” before they were escorted out of the building. Weatherford stopped his speech in attempts to quiet protesters, saying, “Ladies and gentleman we hear you. Thank you, please, thank you.” As students continued to call for administration to make real changes towards equality Weatherford dismissed their cries saying, “You just never know what’s going to happen on a USF campus. We promised you excitement today and you are going to get it”.

SDS members were removed from the building by university police, all while the new president and administration looked on. This clear difference between the demands of students and administration does not go unnoticed. Student Lauren Pinero stated, “SDS has made repeated attempts to be heard by President Rhea Law throughout our campaign to increase Black enrollment on our campus. Instead of creating actionable steps to show us how she is working towards this goal, she has ignored us and allowed the campus police to threaten us with criminal action.”

The disproportionate lack of Black student enrollment has been a long standing fight between students and administration. SDS Member Victoria Hinckley spoke more about USF’s historical lack of Black enrollment saying, “Black enrollment at USF has been around 9% for years despite the area of Tampa having a Black population of 23%. We are here to demand that USF administration finally take action to support Black students.”

Attempts from past administration to increase the rate of Black enrollment have been unsuccessful, such as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees resigning after noting their lack of power to make any real change at the university. There is a statewide threat to shut down similar programs after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis demanded budgets from all public colleges and universities related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This intimidation from the governor has been met with pushback from faculty unions and student groups across the state.

“Tampa Bay SDS will continue to fight for equal opportunities for all who wish to attend colleges and universities,” said SDS member Lauren Pinero. “If this event shows us anything, it’s that Rhea Law and her administration will do more to protect the university’s donors and business contracts than the students who attend this school. We refuse to back down in the face of this repression and will continue to fight for Black students until our demands are met.”

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