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USF St. Pete teams up with local leaders to address racial inequities

Jaymi Butler

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USF
The diversity and inclusion task force at USF's St. Petersburg campus includes members of both the USF and local communities.

Issues surrounding racial inequities have dominated conversations at both the national and local level, and University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus is aiming to keep the dialog going in hopes of bringing about change. 

Through the formation of a diversity and inclusion task force, which includes university administrators, faculty members, students, city officials, nonprofits and business leaders, USF aims to connect with the local community to seek solutions to pervasive racial injustice. 

“As a campus absolutely committed to the values of diversity and inclusion, we have an obligation to dedicate financial resources as well as resources of people and time to further those values and to live our lives in accordance with those values,” Martin Tadlock, task force member and USF St. Petersburg’s regional chancellor said in a statement.

According to The Tampa Bay Partnership’s recently released 2020 Regional Equity Report, dramatic inequities exist for Black residents both within Tampa Bay and in comparison to 19 other cities across the U.S. Tampa Bay’s Black residents are far more likely to be paid less, live in poverty and attend underperforming schools when compared to the region’s white residents.

Related content: ‘These trends are not new:’ racial equity issues continue to impact Tampa Bay as leaders search for solutions 

“The economic disparities really drive two distinct livelihoods in St. Petersburg that almost exactly fall on the racial divide,” said Michelle Madden, USF St. Pete’s campus diversity, inclusion and equity officer and a member of the task force. “Addressing diversity and equity concerns is not a job for one person and if there are no resources and people in place to help move this along, it won’t happen.”

That’s where the task force comes in. Its members will be examining the campus’s current policies and practices, along with the ones in place in the city as a whole, with the goal of championing measures that promote equality and inclusivity. They’ll also research best practices, develop collaborations and seek to adapt programs that have been successful in other cities.

Some ideas already in play include raising money to nurture grassroots efforts within the African American community to use art and activism against injustice, bringing African American youth to campus to start building connections and establishing a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation campus center, which would be the first of its kind in Florida. They’re aiming to present their findings and plans on how to implement them by the end of the year.

The creation of the task force represents another step in USF’s pledge to address racial inequities. In August, USF president Steve Currall announced the school would invest $500,000 to fund faculty research projects that explore systemic racism, increase spending with minority-owned businesses and create safe spaces to discuss the sensitive topic of race. 

“The work of this task force will have lasting impacts on our community that resonate far beyond the obvious intersections between the university and broader city,” said Kanika Tomalin, St. Pete’s deputy mayor and city administrator, who serves on the task force. “We expect the thought leadership, innovations and outcomes produced by the task force will serve as an example of integrity and prioritization of systemic inclusion that lifts us all.”

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