JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a virtual candlelight vigil Wednesday honoring victims of racial injustice, David Szymanski, the president of the University of North Florida, announced that the school would be making strides to address racism.
“Today, we’re going to make a commitment to abolishing racism as best as we can and taking the first steps,” Szymanski said. “We’re going to make anti-racism, education, mandatory for all incoming freshmen, for all transfer students.”
The UNF president said it will become an “integral part of the first day experience.” He said all new faculty and staff will undergo the course.
Additionally, Szymanski said the university will create a new position -- the chief diversity officer, who will report directly to the president.
The university announced Thursday that the first vice president of diversity and inclusion will be UNF alum Whitney Meyer.
“I am so excited to begin in this new role that will help our university to grow as an institution that strongly values the input of diverse ideas,” Meyer said in a prepared statement. “I hope to uplift underrepresented voices in our community and act as an agent of positive, united change.”
Meyer, a Jacksonville native and Avondale resident, currently is working in the president’s office at UNF, managing key programs aimed at promoting diversity, including the Community Alliance for Student Success (CASS) program and the Fearless Woman initiative.
The CASS aims to ensure that underrepresented students have opportunities to become successful business and community leaders and the Fearless Woman initiative strives to empower and prepare UNF’s next generation of women leaders. Both the CASS and Fearless Woman programs bring traditionally separated groups of people together to promote a shared sense of pride and community for UNF and Jacksonville, the university said. Meyer will continue to direct these programs in her new role as VP.
She will also oversee the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, Department of Diversity Initiatives, LGBT Resource Center, and OneJax, and work with diversity and inclusion liaisons throughout the University to support inclusive excellence.
“This elevated position has been created to affirm UNF’s unreserved commitment to student success within a diverse and supportive campus culture,” Szymanski said in a news release. “I am confident that Whitney will serve as an integral member of our leadership team with valuable input to help uphold the University’s core values of mutual respect and civility.”
The president said during the vigil that change begins with creating a dialogue and then taking steps to move forward.
“UNF is not tolerant of racism. It doesn’t support it in any form of fashion. We denounce racism. We want to make sure everybody knows that black lives matter, and we’re going to try to make that difference," Szymanski said. “The action steps that we were talking about today are the first two steps that we’re taking, but there’s many more steps that we’ll take as we learn more."
His comments came during a virtual vigil that allowed students and faculty a chance to express their feelings freely. You can hear their comments by clicking the video below.
During the vigil, there was a pause for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd, who died while in custody of Minneapolis police.
UNF reaffirmed its commitment to a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff.