by Candi Churchill
Dr. Hernán Vera-Godoy—loving and devoted spouse of 51 years to Maria Vera, father, grandfather, friend, law school graduate and sociology professor and United Faculty of Florida leader—died peacefully at home in November at age 77, surrounded by his family. He will be greatly missed by the UF and Gainesville community and beyond.
I cannot possibly convey all of the love and warmth, humor and history shared in the overflowing banquet room for Hernán at the Vera Family Memorial service last fall. Please carry on his work in whatever way you can. All I can try to do is convey some of the things I learned from him and why he was so special to so many.
I first met Dr. Vera as his student in Principles of Sociology in 1996. He assigned us to interview a living grandparent. I learned so much from my grandmother about her life, and it brought to life world events, particularly around the Depression, Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation Movements, which we’d studied in class. Hernán taught me right then to ground myself in history and in such a stunning way—look at your own history! This sparked something in me that I still use: listen and ask questions, investigate history, understand the world by exploring where you fit into it.
Hernán got me to speak up and articulate my questions or confusions; no question or analysis was stupid, we did not have to try to prove something. He could bring out the best in any student’s point. He respected and admired the activist work I did on campus for the NOW; we talked about campaigns and actions, he connected me to other people and lent me books. We were barely twenty, protesting the UF police and state attorney for sexism and UF housing for racism. He took us seriously and made us take ourselves seriously. He mentored with love and support, even when we had strong differences of opinion.
Hernán Vera was an esteemed critical race scholar and liberation sociologist. He not only taught and wrote about white supremacy and its impact on nearly every aspect of life in the U.S., he promoted social justice movements and mentored organizers and students doing research on oppression. Hernán valued what I wanted to do with my own life: study freedom movements and help make social change. Today, few faculty do that, and the ones that are need colleagues to support the young people who want to make UF and the U.S. a better place to work and live.
When I began working for his union (UFF) in 2002, Hernán helped me learn about faculty work issues and never hesitated to be involved in organizing drives, provide feedback on published material or stuff envelopes when needed. And Hernán was an incredibly bold and sharp union strategist. He encouraged me to subpoena UF President Bernie Machen after a highly-published internationally recognized woman of color faculty member was denied tenure by UF. He always asked the tough questions of those in power and tried to hold them accountable.
He loved students, he shared empanadas with us at his home. He pushed us and gave us confidence, helping us produce better versions of ourselves well past our college years. Students long before me named him our “Beloved Master” and he was, always will be. I thank Hernán for giving me confidence and making me feel capable. And I will honor his memory by encouraging and supporting people around me in my own work, and encouraging faculty to do what he did as a professor and UFF leader.
The family encourages donations in his memory to the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) Foundation https://give.psp.org/ or to Haven Hospice of North Florida https://havenhospice.org. If you are a UF faculty or graduate employee at UF, please get active with United Faculty of Florida or Graduate Assistants United in his honor.
You can learn more about Hernán’s life at http://oral.history.ufl.edu/2014/12/02/remembering-dr-hernan-vera/.