University of West Florida President Judy Bense used an April 18 student forum to address the hate crimes on the campus, specifically the two nooses found on her main campus.
“I’m not a happy camper,” Bense told the crowd of about 100 students, faculty and community leaders. “I care about this university and each and everyone of you.”
Around noon on Wednesday, April 11, a female student discovered a noose outside Martin Hall on UWF’s main campus. The campus police were called and an investigation was opened. A second noose was found around 10:20 a.m. on Monday, April 16. It was draped over a campus map sign at the tennis courts in parking lot J.
In a fact sheet given to the IN, the university stated that the persons responsible for the noose would be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” UWF is treating the incidents as hate crimes. When a suspect is arrested and charged, UWF can ask for an enhanced penalty.
The university’s Inclusion Services and Programs’ Common Ground Diversity and Inclusion Training group had organized the forum to discuss the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Bense used it as an opportunity to address concerns on racism on her campus.
In the crowd was the “old guard” of civil rights leaders: Rev. H. K. Matthews, Dr. Calvin Avant (Pensacola-Escambia Human Relations Commission), Elvin McCorvey (NAACP), Ellison Bennett (SCLC) and Jerry McIntosh (Movement for Change). The only elected official in attendance was Escambia County School Board member Linda Moultrie.
Two candidates, Lumon May (Escambia County Commission, District 3) and Rev. LuTimothy May (School Superintendent), were also in the audience, talking with the students. Rev. Lonnie Wesley, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church, and Rev. Joseph Marshall, pastor of St. John Divine Baptist Church, joined them. All four men have been working with students. Lumon May was president of the Black Student Union when he was a student at UWF.
Bense said at the forum that UWF should be a neutral territory that is inclusive and free of harassment. “These are our bedrock values,” said Bense. “We must protect them and pay attention to them. I work on it every day to make sure we have an environment free of harassment of any kind.”
She said that the nooses were deplorable acts. “I hate it,” she said, assuring the students that the university is actively investigating the crimes. She pledged her full support to the investigators. “Anything they need, they’ve got.”
Bense announced that she was forming the Presidential Policy Council on Diversity. The council will meet regularly with her to discuss policies and keep her informed of diversity issues on campus.
“We are not trying to push this under rug,” said Bense. “We will talk about this more than ever. And if we find out who is behind [the nooses], someone better hold me back.”
The House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, which included provisions of the RESTORE Act. Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), along with representatives from the Gulf states, introduced the RESTORE Act to require a portion of the fines paid by BP and other responsible parties for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill be set aside for use along the affected shores of the Gulf Coast.
The House voted on the transportation bill which included language requiring that 80 percent of civil fines from the 2010 oil spill be reserved to help Gulf states rebound from the disaster.
“Nearly two years after the accident, the Gulf Coast continues to feel the economic impacts of the Gulf oil spill, and BP must be held accountable,” Miller said. “This language will ensure the fines paid by BP for their mistake would be returned to our area and promote the economies of the local communities still reeling from last year’s disaster.”
The passage of this bill is the next step in the process to restore the Gulf Coast from the damages suffered as a result of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Under the Clean Water Act, BP is expected to pay between $5 billion and $21 billion in fines, based on estimates of the flow of oil from the Macondo well.