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Student Government releases statements on new diversity-focused initiatives

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Student Government leaders announced initiatives to make USF a more inclusive campus. ORACLE PHOTO

After days of the student body pressing for change, Student Government (SG) issued two formal statements regarding the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and what actions it will be taking to better the school for the black community by advocating and holding meetings to amplify black voices.

SG released the statements on its Instagram, one signed by Student Body President Claire Mitchell and the other signed by Spencer McCloskey, the Tampa governor, and Zach Blair-Andrews, the Tampa lieutenant governor. They addressed how SG and USF will be working to improve community building among black students and educating students, faculty and staff on bias to support and show solidarity with its diverse population.

Mitchell’s statement was released June 1. It addressed the injustices that have been occurring due to racism and “the need for continued fight for equality.”

She said the purpose behind the statement was to show support to black students and student protesters at USF and to express that SG is planning initiatives to help them.

“As your student representative, I promised to fight for equality, inclusivity and justice for all students,” Mitchell said in her statement. 

“USF Student Government is here to support the black student community. We are working to cultivate conversations with state representatives in addition to the USF Black Student Union [BSU] on how we can better support our entire student body.”

To do this, Mitchell and SG Vice President Gustavo Spangher had a discussion with the BSU, as well as other students from the black community. From this, they have come up with a few initiatives, one being mandatory anti-bias training modules, which would be similar to the academic integrity modules every USF student must complete before starting college. 

“This would not only be for students, but also staff and faculty,” Spangher said. “I think it is important for everyone to be aware of these things.”

Christina Stokes, a senior who holds the Miss USF title, is grateful for this action.

“I’m proud of the initiatives USF SG has taken by working with the leaders of the current USF BSU,” Stokes said. “I look forward to seeing those initiatives carried out.”

The statement mentions that McCloskey and Blair-Andrews have reached out to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to hold a conversation to ensure support for the BLM movement and to better the USF community.

Mitchell said that Castor has reached out to her and they are working on setting up a date and time to have a town hall meeting where students can ask the mayor questions in a monitored environment.

After Mitchell’s initial statement, SG posted a second statement with some details of what SG is working toward.

The statement by the governor and lieutenant governor began by addressing George Floyd’s death and went on to discuss how racism and discrimination are still present in the U.S.

“The purpose of our statement is to address what is going on in the world, how it is affecting students here at USF Tampa and how Student Government wants to take a stand against these egregious injustices toward the black community,” Blair-Andrews said.

McCloskey and Blair-Andrews’ statement had a list of actions SG will be doing to support the black community.

They include open meetings with state representatives; mandatory SG workshops facilitated by black students, faculty and staff; hiring their assistant director of diversity and wellness within the Tampa executive branch; increased transparency; and organizing an SG diversity and inclusion council.

USF students had conflicting feelings on the statements. Some have expressed their praise and some had concerns.

Yusuf Fattah, a senior majoring in economics, said he initially was pleased with Mitchell’s statement, but after looking into it further, he had questions.

“I believe that there were some nods in the statement to causes which were not supported by the student body,” Fattah said. “Overall, statements are great, but what is support when it’s not translated into action?”

Fattah said he found the second statement put out by the Tampa leadership to be more effective and overall made him feel like his voice was heard.

Curtis Gaskins, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he was happy with the statement.

“I believe the SG statement encompasses everything that shows solidarity for the black community along with acknowledging the systemic racism that is currently in our country,” Gaskins said.

Though he said he loved what the statement stood for, it could delve deeper.

“I wanted to see this statement further develop into completed action items,” Gaskins said.

Stokes was also pleased with the SG statements.

“The SG statement directly supports Black Lives Matter,” Stokes said. “As a member of the black community at USF, I feel as if my school stands in solidarity with the movement to end police brutality. I was proud of the statement.”

Feeling as though her voice was heard through the statement, Stokes said to fully be heard there has to be action.

“To fully support black students, plans must be executed,” she said.

Genesis Barber, a junior majoring in interpreting, said the statement did not make her feel as though her voice was heard.

“My reaction to the statement was disappointing because all they simply did was copy and paste students’ posts and say ‘We heard you,’ but I personally feel like it was a cop-out,” Barber said.

The president and vice president both said they want to do what the black students think is best for them and not just what SG thinks is the best. 

To form new ideas and create action, SG is asking students to contact it via direct messages, email and through meetings with organizations.

Mitchell said she hopes she made it clear in her statement that SG is looking to help the black student community during this time.

“This moment specifically is for Black Lives Matter and we are lifting up our black student community, but I also very much want our community to feel support no matter who you are,” she said. “It was more looking into the future about how I want our community and every single person to feel.”