UF, Gainesville community keeps Black and Latinx history alive with ‘Tale of Two Houses’ dialogue

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(Left) The Institute of Black Culture, the IBC. (Right) The Institute of Hispanic and Latinx Cultures, La Casita. Photo By: The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program

The two houses that once stood on University Avenue in Gainesville were homes to University of Florida black and latinx students, faculty and staff during their time at the university as well as a home to the Gainesville community.

The two houses were condemned due to repairs the two buildings needed in December 2016. They were demolished in August 2017, but their history will live on.

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program hosted ‘Tale of Two Houses: A Dialogue on Black and Latinx History at UF’ on Friday.

The dialogue focused on starting a discussion on the histories of the Institute of Black Culture (IBC) and the Institute of Hispanic/Latino Cultures (La Casita). Speakers Dr. David Horne, Cal State Northridge faculty member and one of the organizers of the Black Thursday protest, Dr. Maria Masque, former La Casita director (1995 – 1997), UF student Daniel Clayton and UF student Christopher Garcia-Wilde were invited to answer questions from the UF community in a open dialogue.

The creation of the event came from a new course called ‘A Black and Latinx History of the University of Florida’ that is being offered at the university based on student movements this past summer.

“The idea is to essentially to talk about why those institutes are important historically but why they’re also have continuing importance for students and the campus and the university at large,” said Dr. Paul Ortiz, the Samuel Proctor of Oral History Program director. “The courses came out of the student movement this past summer and that student movement led to a demand for more coursework and more research on the origins of the two institutes.”

Juliette Barbera, graduate assistant for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s African-American History Project and the African-American studies program, opened up the event with a few words on what types of things would be discussed and the purpose of the dialogue.

“Spaces like the Institute of Black Culture and the Institute of Hispanic and Latino Culture were not always wanted,” Barbera said. “They did not want us to have it then. How about now? Depends on who you ask.”

She went on to say, “Do most people on this campus even hear about Black Thursday? What about the origins of La Casita? If this information is not readily available to you, like the stories of campus landmarks like the “Potato” or University traditions like the words to ‘We are the Boys,’ this is a problem.”

The first thing discussed between the panel and attendees was the history of Black Thursday and its impact on the university.

In April 1971, the Black Student Union at UF submitted a list of demands to former UF President Stephen O’Connell stating how there should be a number of programs and initiatives to improve the climate for black students.

When administration failed to act on the student demands, students protested, demonstrations occurred and the occupation of the President’s office on April 15, 1971 called ‘Black Thursday’ is where students were arrested and suspended for occupying the President’s office.

An influx of withdrawal slips from black students and their supporters were submitted to the university once amnesty requests for the students who were arrested and suspended were denied.

The protests led to the establishment of the IBC in Fall 1971 and was officially dedicated February 11, 1972.

“We had a real collective,” Black Thursday organizer Dr. David Horne said. “Everybody has his or her particular job to do.”

Dr. Horne graduated from the University of Florida in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1973 with a master’s degree.

As Horne was organizing the protest in 1968, the outcome they were fighting for was “how do we get something tangible out of this university so other students who are coming would have more than we have when we came, and it worked,” he said.

“I’m glad to be back to see what progress has been made and what progress has not been,” Horne said.

Horne shared how he heard about the noose being found on campus last year and remembered the treatment he received as a student.

“There was one night they tried to do it to all of us—it didn’t work. It didn’t run us away either, but they tried,” Horne said.

The dialogue transitioned to La Casita when an a female audience member shared how the institute is a resource that students should have and should be continually fought for.

La Casita once was the international center to help students from other countries to help them adjust to life on campus and in the U.S. In 1994 students of the Hispanic and Latinx community noticed their growing numbers on campus and petitioned for the space.

“Si se Puede,” said former La Casita Director Dr. Maria Masque after hearing the woman’s testimony.

The phrase is translated to “It can be done.”

Masque graduated from the University of Florida in 1986 and graduated from graduate school at the university in 1994.

She learned of La Casita’s current state when speaking to one of the coordinators of the event, Juanita Duque, and was moved about what happened to it.

“I was asking about La Casita when I learned that the place had been demolished,” Masque said. “It was shocking first to hear that because I know how much work it had done for so many different generations of students into building that institute.”

Coming back on campus brought back memories during her time at UF.

“It was emotional because it revives all of the struggles that you live as a student here and of course I am Latina and I’m White and I have certain privileges, but you still have to go through a lot struggles and ropes and things to be able to survive in a very White campus,” she said.

She also had her fair share of memories at La Casita.

“It was home away from home. That’s why we call it La Casita. I’m still emotional about it. But it was a place—and the IBC—where you can go and feel safe and feel like you’re not losing it,” Masque said.

Many emotions ran through her once she heard that both institutes were demolished.

“I was angry,” Masque said. “It was a center for empowerment, a center for coming together on numerous issues, a center for discussing how we move forward, and also a center to relax and have a potluck and talk to each other and bring people of our communities to the campus so that we can celebrate who we are.”

After students learned about the demolition of the two institutes, there were also talks about the reconstruction of the two buildings. The first plan had both buildings being conjoined into a single U-shaped building instead of remaining separate.

UF student Daniel Clayton was one of the student organizers for ‘No La IBCita,’ a student coalition created to promote awareness of UF’s plan to conjoin the two institutes. On July 2017, No La IBCita protesters marched to the Reitz Union where a renovation committee was there to discuss the construction of the new buildings.

“One resounding thought—No,” Clayton said. “It wasn’t an entertaining thought. It wasn’t a ‘trying to figure out how to make it work.’ It wasn’t a ‘this is just going to be the way it is.’ It was a resounding ‘No.’ That’s what my thought was.”

Daniel Clayton had created many memories when he was at the IBC..

“The IBC was a special place for me,” Clayton said. “It was the first place I was able to go on campus where I was just like, ‘This is it. I am seeing Afrocentric art, I am seeing African-American literature, I’m able to talk to people who are being candid about how they feel.”

Clayton also shared how there is a bond between the two institutes without the need of conjoining the buildings.

“Because La Casita was right there, people had this thing where if the buildings are not conjoined then we’re not meshing together as a culture, but that’s not true,” he said. “We understand we have a shared oppression and we understand that we have a shared responsibility to each other.”

Before the protest march in July and the creation of ‘No La IBCita’ a petition, started by Adebola Adedoyin, halted the construction to conjoin the institutes.

“Adebola Adedoyin played an integral part,” said Christopher Garcia-Wilde, former La Casita ambassador and one of the lead organizers for ‘No La IBCita.’ “Whenever I interview or whenever I talk to someone, I make sure to say her name because the university put the project on pause after she wrote the petition but they still tried to push their design. If they had not put it on pause, they would’ve started building with it.”

Although the petition garnered signatures, Garcia-Wilde witnessed something that sparked the creation of No La IBCita.

He explained that “the petition got 1,000 signatures but the university didn’t listen to the petition. They still wanted to create one multicultural center. So, then the university held a webinar where they presented the design that they wanted students to like. And I was in the room and they gave me a different agenda than the agenda that they used.”

“They didn’t let me speak even though they promised that they will let me speak so I interrupted the meeting,” he said. “I went to the front of the room, cut them off, and told everyone that it’s a show. And at that point I realize, they could no longer be worked with, they had to be worked against [the administration].”

“So, I reached out to a few people and Daniel Clayton reached out to other people and I reached out to people I worked with. And we only picked people who we knew we could trust. We created a small cohort of like 10 to 12 people who are all familiar with the spaces and who are organizers. And we knew we were in for the long haul and it paid off. It worked out for us,” Garcia-Wilde said. “That’s why we had to form the organization just to combat the university because they weren’t listening,” Garcia-Wilde said.

Christopher Garcia-Wilde enjoyed listening to those who paved the way for where he is today at the event.

“There’s really a long road of activism and to meet the people who paved the road that’s behind us and that has helped us to where we are, [it] was great to meet them and to hear their stories,” Garcia-Wilde said. “To hear that a lot of things we’re experiencing are things that they’ve experienced already makes me feel that I’m not alone and it really encourages me and motivates me to keep going because when we organize, a lot of times we burn out and you feel like you’re alone or maybe it’s just a small cohort of radical people.”

Juliette Barbera talked about the importance of identity even within the marginalized groups and the need to keep the buildings separate at the event.  

“For instance, for someone who is of the African diaspora and who rejects their colonizer, what does the merging of these two institutes represent?” Barbera said. “Spaniards participated in the enslavement of African people and their descendant(s) continue to benefit in the form of social capital at the expense of people of the African diaspora.”

The event closed with closing statements from each of the panel members.

After the event they each expressed what they hoped for the future of UF. Christopher Garcia-Wilde said he hopes to see the two institutes remain separate after construction is over. Daniel Clayton said he wants  the history of the institutes and the fight to preserve their history to continue. Dr. Maria Masque shared that she wants to have a space where students can be safe at the university.

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