Dancing college grads dragged off stage, school apologizes for being ‘inappropriately aggressive’

The University of Florida(GAINESVILLE, Fla.) -- The University of Florida’s apology has fallen short for the graduates whom an usher yanked off the stage this weekend as they danced to celebrate their achievements during a spring commencement ceremony.

"In general, I don't think I've ever been handled in that manner, not even by my parents," Oliver Telusma, one of the dancing students given the hook, told ABC News' "Good Morning America" today. "It's kind of embarrassing, kind of degrading."

Another student, Nafeesah Attah, told “GMA” that the dances were symbolic gestures of joy that had meaning rooted to their fraternities and sororities. She said the response of the white usher who grabbed her and the others and shoved them off stage "was not arbitrary."

"It was definitely contingent on your race... other white students who were dancing were not perceived as a threat," Attah said.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs acknowledged that the school had been “inappropriately aggressive” while rushing graduates across the stage Saturday, a videotaped incident that has stirred controversy online amid suggestions that the white usher was motivated by race because the students were black.

The usher has not been identified.

Fuchs apologized at another commencement ceremony Sunday.

"I want to personally apologize for us doing that on behalf of myself and also the University of Florida," Fuchs said.

He later tweeted that he was "reaching out to the students involved" to apologize.

But Attah and Telusma said Fuchs was on stage at the time of the incident and did nothing to stop the usher from ruining their milestone moment.

Attah, a part of the University of Florida’s nearly 10,000-member spring 2018 graduating class, told ABC News that her whole family had come from South Florida and London, and it was particularly hard for her younger sister to see her yanked off the stage.

"I kind of planned what I wanted to do on stage to celebrate my story, all of my hard work I'd done at the University of Florida," Attah said.

"I tried to do one of my stroll moves, but I was instantly like blocked by one of the officials on stage and they aggressively pushed me off the stage after that," she added. "So I was definitely disappointed they took that moment from me because I can only get my bachelors once."

Telusma, a member of the Beta Sigma chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a predominantly black organization, said he had to shove the usher in order to break free of his grip.

Fuchs said the hands-on removal process would be banned from future ceremonies.

“The practice has been halted for all future ceremonies and we will work to make sure all graduating students know we are proud of their achievements and celebrate with them their graduation,” Fuchs said.

University of Florida graduate Christopher Garcia-Wilde also said the usher appeared to only shove black students who wanted to celebrate on stage “by strolling, which is a cultural tradition in historically black fraternities and sororities.” Other students who took slightly more time on stage were rushed, but not in an aggressive manner, he said.

“It’s a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years,” Garcia-Wilde, 22, told The Gainesville Sun on Sunday. “I was actually too afraid [to stroll] because I saw him shove other people.

“But my two friends who graduated with me really wanted to do it, so they tried. They both were pushed and one of them got an entire bear hug,” he added.

The university, which said it would investigate the matter, didn't immediately respond to ABC News' request for additional comments on the matter.



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