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Four St. Petersburg Schools Joining National Conversation On Racial Equality

University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Four St. Petersburg higher education institutions are combining forces to educate and take control over the racial barriers that students face.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, Eckerd College, Stetson University College of Law, and St. Petersburg College serves over 36,000 students.

After months of planning and exchanging ideas, the American Association of Colleges and Universities have invited the group -- the only consortium so chosen -- to be among the 78 institutions attending the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Summer Institute, which will be held virtually June 22-25.

“I think this institute is going to give us some concrete steps and some examples of how things have been done in other places,” said Michelle Madden, campus diversity officer of USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “That will allow us to really think through what our resources are here, what are some challenges that we have, what are some things that we probably haven't thought of.

“I’m just really excited to be able to go through this institute, and get some of that knowledge, and think about how we can synergize within USF and within our partners and the community.”

Members of the consortium say they’re not afraid of any potential backlash that might come with attending TRHT.

They believe that teaching faculty members how to have difficult conversations about race, as well as adding courses such as critical race theory to the curriculum of public schools, will help them give students a realistic idea of history, while also educating them on topics that are often avoided.

“I think there comes a point when citizens understand fully what they must do and those who are elected understand fully what they must do also. So you move ahead. You have to do what you believe you are called to do,” said Carl Lavender, chief equality officer at the FOUNDATION FOR A HEALTHY ST. PETERSBURG.

“There may be criticism, there may be concerns, and we will address those when they come up and build that into the long-term side of this. I don’t believe you should hold it up because there may be some concerns.”

In 2020, officials from USF’s St. Petersburg Campus, along with St. Pete and Pinellas County community leaders, formed a task force to address racial inequality in the area. Task force members met monthly to discuss possible initiatives and opportunities for collaboration.

The consortium is hoping to also create seminars within the community related to racial justice, become a safe place for victims of racial injustice to heal, and to develop organizations for students that involve racial justice elements.

“Where does courage show up and with whom? That's one of the aspects that we continue to look at when we think about policy,” said Julie Rocco, director of strategic investments at the Foundation. “It can’t be dependent upon one does it get dispersed within the many footholds of opportunity to bring the anti racist practices forward?”

Each institution of the local consortium will send three members to the Summer Institute. They will present an action plan at the end of the week.

More information about the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Summer Institute, as well as other attendees, can be found here.

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Carica Astrel