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St. Petersburg higher education institutions form consortium to address racial inequities

The consortium, consisting of four higher education institutions in the St. Petersburg area, hopes to implement an action plan for dismantling racial hierarchies.
ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

In an effort to create an action plan to dismantle racial hierarchies on college campuses, representatives from four universities in the St. Petersburg area, including the USF St. Pete campus, are forming a consortium to address racial disparities.

Regional Chancellor of USF’s St. Pete campus Martin Tadlock said the goal of the consortium, which also includes Eckerd College, Stetson University College of Law and St. Petersburg College, is to provide a sense of learning and understanding among students and faculty about recognizing racist tendencies and providing support to people of color.

“Our goals as a partner in this consortium is to make sure that all of our students, faculty and staff are able to engage in understanding the racial issues that exist in this community, and how to be anti-racist,” Tadlock said. “[Students will have] many opportunities to educate themselves through a variety of workshops and seminars and opportunities to engage in the community.”

In order to put this plan into action, a team of three representatives from each university will be attending a four-day summer institute, from June 22-25, sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, according to Tadlock. 

The institute will be developing an action plan to address these issues, as well as bring teams from other colleges together to communicate ideas about different strategies in combating racial inequity.

“The summer institute will be an opportunity for those representatives from the task force to really decide what this consortium based center will look like for St. Petersburg,” Tadlock said. “We’ll be discussing what its goals will be, what the staffing needs to move it forward and what the funding support needed to make it sustainable will be.” 

The summer institute will also be an opportunity for representatives to learn about and utilize the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) framework, according to Judith Scully, co-founder of Stetson’s Social Justice Advocacy Certificate program and co-chair of the Florida Law Schools’ Consortium for Racial Justice. 

The framework consists of five pillars, including narrative change, racial healing and relationship building, separation, law and economy.

“We hope to achieve a strategic plan to implement those five pillars into our program,” Scully said. “We understand what the pillars are, so now the question is ‘What are we as a higher educational consortium actually going to implement in our first year, our third year and our fifth year?’ and ‘How are we going to build on this framework in order to really make a change in the way in which community members, as well as students, faculty and administration, interact around issues related to race?’”

The consortium holds meetings biweekly to discuss the initial plans for the TRHT summer institute and strategize which workshops to attend and action plans they hope to develop further along in the year.

“We meet biweekly as leaders and we go through updates and pertinent updates to share again what each of our institutions are working on, and right now we are focused on preparing for the TRHT summer institute,” Tashika Griffith, provost for St. Petersburg College’s Downtown and Midtown Centers, said. 

“We met this past Friday to talk about strategizing with our mentors who we’re going to select for which workshops we’re going to attend so that we can kind of divide and conquer so that we can capture as much information from the institute as possible.”

Robbyn Hopewell, director of media and public relations at Eckerd College, said the TRHT framework will give opportunities for Eckerd College’s activist students, as well as passionate students from the other involved universities. 

“Students will be better equipped to address the issues that trouble them because they will understand the history of where they have come from and where things could go in the future,” Hopewell said. 

One change the consortium hopes to tackle on university campuses is to fully create and implement racial healing circles, which are meetings that bring together a diverse group of people in a respectful environment that encourage participants to share their stories in an attempt to empower one another

“We’ve seen it on college campuses across the country, where students of color have been talking about the isolation that they feel on college campuses,” Hopewell said. 

“So when we give them an opportunity, space, a floor to actually express themselves and share their stories and then hear the stories of their classmates and colleagues, it forms this deeper connection and relationship that makes them more part of the community.”

Another student opportunity the consortium is establishing across its campuses is a racial justice student fellow program. The program plans to provide internship opportunities for students to get experience in this field of work, according to Griffith.

“We’re hoping to talk to the students to kind of see what they want, what they want to see, what their needs are and really turn that into some meaningful kind of events and program,” she said. 

Big plans are in place for the consortium to further the work of dismantling racial hierarchies, according to Griffith. She said they are pleased with the work they’ve accomplished so far and are working more consciously with students, faculty and the community to get projects moving forward. 

“We are definitely proud of the work we’ve done so far, but there’s so much more work to be done,” Griffith said. “We actually encourage all students to become more involved in community partners by asking questions, sharing their stories and truly playing an active role in changing the future.”