Higher education consortium announces inaugural Racial Justice Student Fellows

Aaron Rose and Destiny Gomez from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus have been selected to participate in the SPHERE consortium.

ST. PETERSBURG — A consortium of higher education institutions focused on racial justice in Pinellas County has selected its inaugural cohort of Racial Justice Student Fellows.

The St. Pete/Pinellas Higher Education for Race Equity (SPHERE) consortium chose eight students, two each from four Pinellas County universities and colleges, for the year-long fellowship.

“Through our consortium, we seek to acknowledge the unique responsibility of institutions of higher education in seeking systematic change,” said Michelle Madden, campus diversity officer at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, one of the partners of the consortium.

The fellowship will put college students at the center of creating systemic change by providing opportunities to shape policy and systems through a racial justice lens. Students will learn about mechanisms that enable racial healing and serve in summer internships to work on projects that support racial healing and transformation in the local community. Each student will receive up to $2,000 during the 2021-2022 academic year.

“With the fellowship, our hope is that students will gain the knowledge and tools to actively engage in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts and see themselves as a part of, and not apart from, the work that is needed to move EDI forward,” said Tashika Griffith, provost at St. Petersburg College, another partner of the consortium.

The eight fellows selected include Trey Daniels and Kayla Rendon-Torres from Eckerd College; Audrie Brinegar and Na’Keidra Perez from St. Petersburg College; Blake Radford and Megan Holmes from Stetson University’s College of Law; and Aaron Rose and Destiny Gomez from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.

“I want to be a public service lawyer who offers pro bono services to at-risk communities,” said Brinegar, a history major at St. Petersburg College. “This fellowship position will help shape my career.”

Fellows will participate in biweekly planning meetings with consortium institution representatives to help shape the vision, goals and activities of a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Center for Pinellas County. This will include participating in other meetings at their home institutions as well as engaging with community members.

Over the course of the academic year, students will also be involved in at least seven approved activities, events or discussions related to race equity and racial justice. Students will complete a six-week internship in the summer of 2022 that focuses on deepening their understanding of systemic racism and developing opportunities to drive healing and transformation.

“As we build the work of the consortium, the student voice is critical,” said Judith Scully, a professor of law and director of the Social Justice Advocacy program at Stetson College of Law.

“We’re excited for this inaugural cohort and hope to grow the program in the future.”

SPHERE is a joint initiative among Eckerd College, St. Petersburg College, Stetson University College of Law, USF St. Petersburg campus, and the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. The collaboration emerged out of a community task force convened to connect efforts in addressing inequalities in the region.

These institutions, which collectively serve more than 40,000 students, have been collaborating since the fall of 2020 to create a consortium working to dismantle racial hierarchies in the region.

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