Features November 2018

UF Committed to Improving Diversity and Inclusion

Written By: Chris Eversole, Photo by: University of Florida

The University of Florida is working to become more diverse and inclusive.

UF President Kent Fuchs commented on this commitment in May when he appointed the university’s first inclusion and diversity officer, Antonio Farias.

“We created this position because UF, like many other southern universities, has a legacy that includes not always welcoming people of diverse backgrounds,” he said. “This is a significant step in addressing the cultural changes that must continue to take place at the University of Florida.”

In September, Farias challenged the University Faculty Senate to help with his work.

“The university is not some faceless entity; you and I are the university, and unless we’re committed to treating each other, under the worst conditions, with dignity and respect, which is a fundamental human right, we won’t be successful at living up to our values or the mission of the university,” he said.

Farias is focused on collaboration, including creating a network of diversity liaisons from all colleges and business units.

Improving the environment for minority students, faculty and staff is important as UF strives to become a top five public university, Farias believes.

“Organizations that return the greatest shareholder value and do the most social good are organizations that are able to tap into the diversity of their people as a catalyst for the next generation of innovation,” he said.

Progress is being made, he noted. For example, the incoming class at the Levin College of Law School has the highest LSAT scores ever, and it’s the most diverse class ever.

Making UF more diverse and inclusive goes far beyond increasing minority enrollment, Farias said.

“I’m more concerned about what the lived experience is now and if students are saying they feel excluded, that they don’t feel like they are welcome.” he said.

Farias has a strong track record. He headed inclusion and diversity efforts at the Coast Guard Academy and then at Wesleyan University from 2013 until coming to UF.

At Wesleyan, Farias created a strategy on inclusion and diversity that the board approved, strengthened efforts to hire faculty and staff of color and helped create a resource center.

At the Coast Guard Academy, he developed retention programs for minority faculty and minority and LGBTQ students.

In addressing the UF Faculty Senate, Farias noted that a survey showed that 24 percent of faculty and staff found their work environment was incivil.

“Can we continue to function that way? I would say we can’t,” Farias said. “That’s a cancer that keeps growing unless we figure it out.”

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