‘You Belong Here:’ Prioritizing diversity and inclusion at USF’s St. Pete Campus

“Being part of a diverse campus helps students learn to communicate with a variety of others, better preparing them for an increasingly diverse workforce that stretches around the globe,” said Martin Tadlock, Regional Chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus.

BY MARTIN TADLOCK, Regional Chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus

Back in 2019, the student government leaders at USF’s St. Petersburg campus launched a campaign they called “You belong here.” It means that you are part of our family and are valued no matter your race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, or age.

It’s an initiative we continue today, and I love it because it embodies the core of who we are as a campus. I have watched students adhere to these principles in the way they stand up for each other, form clubs and organizations together, and reach out to be inclusive in hundreds of small acts every day.

We know that diversity enriches us as we learn and work side by side with those whose experiences, beliefs and perspectives are different than our own. It promotes critical thinking as we confront preconceived stereotypes.

Being part of a diverse campus helps students learn to communicate with a variety of others, better preparing them for an increasingly diverse workforce that stretches around the globe. We know these things, and we value those things at USF St. Petersburg’s campus.

That is our commitment to our community. I will also add that this is an issue that I personally care about very deeply.

I’m pleased to say we had the largest increase in enrollment of underrepresented students in the 52-year history of the USF St. Petersburg campus this past summer/fall, although we’re still not where we want to be. Also, our student success numbers show that our African-American students have the highest retention rates across all racial groups on our campus.

In light of this, I wanted to share with you some of the strides and investments in the area of diversity and inclusion we have made over the past five years. Here is just a quick overview of some of those initiatives.

Expanding access to our campus

We are Pinellas County’s only research university, and we are here to serve all members of our community. We take that commitment very seriously and have taken several notable steps to increase access to our campus.

The Pinellas Access to Higher Education or PATHe program, Guaranteed Admissions Pathway Program (GAPP), the Campus/Community Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, and the Call Me MISTER programs were all created to prioritize diversity and inclusion at USF St. Petersburg Campus.

In 2019, we launched the Pinellas Access to Higher Education or PATHe program. This provides a seamless transition and scholarship benefits for students who want to start their college career at St. Petersburg College and finish at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. We currently have 59 students enrolled in this innovative program, which also places counselors in local high schools to guide students and parents through the complex journey toward higher education.

Last year, USF nearly doubled the size of a program that guarantees admission to any of its three campuses for students who attend local high schools serving historically underrepresented communities. Through the Guaranteed Admissions Pathway Program (GAPP), students at 17 Title I high schools can secure their place at USF by sustaining a 3.7 GPA by the end of their junior year and earning a score of 1100 on the SAT or 22 on the ACT.  This program includes Gibbs High School and Boca Ciega High School in Pinellas County.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion

Following the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other innocent Black Americans, I knew our campus had to take action. So we developed a Campus/Community Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, which resulted in creating a higher education consortium.

This group, which consists of USF’s St. Petersburg Campus, Stetson University, Eckerd College, and St. Petersburg College, is working together to bring a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Center to St. Petersburg. This center will implement an action plan to move toward the transformative goals of erasing structural barriers to equal treatment and opportunity on campus, in the community, and for the nation.

In addition, the consortium has created a Racial Justice Fellows program aimed at putting students at the center of creating systemic racial change. Two students from each institution were selected to participate in the pilot program and will receive up to $2,000 in scholarship money. They will learn about shaping policy and systems through a racial justice lens and work on projects that support racial healing and transformation.

Creating programs that celebrate diversity

In partnership with our Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), our Housing and Residential Education department created the King Suites Living/Learning community in our residence halls. King Suites is named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and focuses on the lived and campus experience of our Black and African-American students. The students in this residential community live on the same floor and participate in programming developed with OMA.

Also, this fall, our campus launched the Call Me MISTER program, which is designed to increase the number of male teachers of color in local elementary schools, particularly those with populations of poor or at-risk students. In exchange for mentoring opportunities, tuition assistance, and academic support, participants in the program agree to teach at urban or low-income elementary school classrooms after graduation.

These are just a few of the many programs we have created to foster diversity at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. You can read more by visiting our Diversity and Inclusion page at stpetersburg.usf.edu/diversity-and-inclusion/.

Though we are proud of our efforts and successes to this point, we recognize there is still more to be done. Community support is essential as we work to address these critical issues throughout the Tampa Bay region.

Stay engaged with us as we continue this vital work, and let us know how we can continue to improve. It will take our collective voices and sustained effort to advance this worthy cause and create a just and equitable society.

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