Diversity – Reality, Not a Buzzword

Inspiring 9th Annual Diversity Summit at USF attracts 200 for workshops, Columbia Restaurant president’s keynote address and more.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 23, 2012) – The University of South Florida’s Diversity Summit serves a very important purpose. It captures the essence of a massive community undertaking.


What became increasingly evident during the March 20 day-long event was that diversity doesn’t just happen by accident at USF and that the word itself embodies many layers of meaning and experience.


A Tampa Bay icon, informative workshops, an emotionally powerful reflection activity, a Community Expo and presentation of the Diversity Honor Roll awards brought home the message.


“This special celebration – now in its ninth year – reminds the university community about our commitment to diversity and rededicates us all to what it means in our lives, academically, professionally and personally,” said Patsy Feliciano, director of diversity and inclusion. She organized, with assistance from diversity coordinator Joseph Anastasio, the USF System-wide event, which attracted more than 200 attendees, including staff from USF St. Petersburg, USF Sarasota-Manatee and USF Polytechnic.


After breakfast and networking, Provost Ralph Wilcox, standing in for President Judy Genshaft, and Ted Williams, associate vice president for diversity and equal opportunity, welcomed guests during the opening ceremony. They both emphasized that the commitment to promoting diversity extends from the administration throughout USF. Student Government President Matt Diaz, who introduced Wilcox, added students to that commitment. He and various SG members participated in the program during the varied and enlightening breakout sessions that followed.


A “cultural moment” provided a change of pace. Performance of Dioses del Olvido based on Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda’s poem, by College of The Arts School of Theatre & Dance students in Paula Nuñez’s class, preceded a luncheon where participants continued discussions started in the workshops. 


After lunch Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group earned a standing ovation with an engaging keynote address. The fourth generation family member recounted how his forebears brought diversity to Tampa Bay and expressed diversity through their community involvement, employment practices, right down to their menu. His description of the restaurant’s award-winning Cuban sandwich – with its imported salami, cheese and other ingredients made a case in point.  


Familiar faces from around campus were among the 35 panelists which also included guests from the business world.


In a panel discussion on “Positioning Tampa to Succeed Globally,” USF Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation & Global Affairs, Karen A. Holbrook, Cheryl Hawkins, Tampa International Airport, Rob Higgins, Tampa Bay Sports Commission, JoLyn Lokey, Tampa Bay & Company and Nealy Wheat, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, stressed the value of a college educated workforce that is prepared to interact with the diverse community that makes up the Tampa Bay region. They left Janet Rojas, the Student Government moderator and a public administration major, with a positive impression.


“I have hope for Tampa,” she said. “My whole life is here. Many of my peers have left the area but lots of us, including those who aren’t from here want to stay. This panel showed that employers are actually staying on top of the quality education we’re getting here and want us to work for them.”


Monica Christopher, M&I/ BMO Financial Group, Orlando Nieves from the Tampa Tribune/CENTRO Tampa and Amy Rettig, Nielsen, took part in “No More ‘Business as Usual’: Thriving in a Changing Global Economy.”  They, too, acknowledged the necessity for a diverse workforce to mirror the area’s increasingly multicultural and multigenerational demographic and talked about how they are capitalizing on this trend.


Numerous faculty and staff contributed to the workshops. Associate Professor Deirdre Cobb-Roberts, Psychological and Social Foundations, Vice Provost for Student Success Paul Dosal and Donna Elam, director of Tampa Bay Educational Partnership,  joined Claire Noguerol, a guidance counselor from Leto High School for a discussion on “Educating Today’s Student: Demographics, Challenges and Initiatives.”


The Office of Multicultural Affairs was represented by Director Aziz Talbani and Assistant Director Stacy Koshko. They presented at “Educating Students for a Global Society: Success and Challenges.”


Raquel Peverini, associate director of the Office of Students with Disabilities Services, presented “Simple Steps to Sustainability – Building Effective Independence and Advocacy” to explore the concepts of universal design in relation to sustainability – within the environment, the economy and society at large.


Implementing diversity falls to key USF staff members who participated in “Strategies for Building a Diverse Community.”  INTO’s Director Glen Besterfield and Director of Recruitment, Marketing and Communications Sarah Kay were on hand with the international perspective and were joined by Graduate School Assistant Director Rod Hale, Human Resources Manager Beverlyn Samuels and Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions Bob Spatig. They each explained their efforts to ensure that the whole world as well as minority communities learn about USF and are encouraged to apply to become students and staff.


With 2100 international students, a number that is growing through INTO’s efforts and  substantial minority enrollment increasingly fueled by transfer students from two-year colleges, the future is looking increasingly multicultural.


Once on campus, the people who add diversity to the student mix have many resources to help them succeed as attendees to the workshop “The Faces of Success” learned. Associate Professor Patty Alvarez-McHatton, from the College of Education, Associate Professor Autar Kaw, College of Engineering, Assistant Professor Will Tyson, Sociology, and International Studies student Victor Florez discussed a variety of issues and strategies they used or saw used to overcome the challenges of being different in an unfamiliar environment.


Diversity can become part of everyone’s life on a daily basis. The workshop on “Experiential Learning” offered plenty of examples. The panel included Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement Director Jennifer Espinola, Co-Director of the Bulls Service Breaks Board Kiaraliz Castro, College of Business Corporate Mentor Program Director J. R. Haworth and USF Poly Multicultural Education and Engagement Director Nathan Thomas who were joined by corporate mentor, TCM Bank Vice President Pamala McCoy and a mentee, Shauna-Kay Campbell.  They discussed the importance of integrating classroom learning with learning experiences outside the classroom. 


And the workshop “ibuddy: Making the World a Little Smaller Through International Friendships” showed how to bring diversity home. The International Buddy Program is just getting started with a plan to help form partnerships between international and domestic students for cultural exchange and friendship. Koshko joined Brooke Cutler, assistant director of progression for the Graduate School and Undergraduate Studies and Monica Rochon, a graduate intern in the Office of Multicultural Affairs to explain how.


From the printed program, no one knew what to expect from the “Diversity Walk,” though the parenthetical “no walking shoes required” was a hint. Participants stood in a circle and were asked to enter the center of the circle – by choice only – if they were answering “yes” to one of several questions. No talking. No questions. 


The short, simple, neutral questions – read by facilitators Lisa Costas, from USF’s Counseling Center, and guest Katherine McKay – pertained to membership in groups that ranged from gender, to religion, to ethnicity, language, sexual orientation and experience of discrimination. As people entered the center, they were instructed by the two psychologists to look around to see who was with them and who was not. After each question they returned to the circle. Some entered several times. Some entered alone. Some entered with several others. Some entered with only a few. Everyone entered the circle at least once.


Renee Svec, director of communications and marketing in the Division of Student Affairs said, “Participating in the Diversity Walk was a stirring experience. The opportunity to share identity with a larger group of people or to stand on one’s own was very powerful. In spite of our differences in ethnicity, religious views, physical traits, and sexuality, it was also clear we all had a lot in common."


The program wrapped up with awards presented to people, departments and programs that excelled at promoting diversity and inclusion: Associate Professor Norma Alcantar and Diversity and Outreach Programs Director Bernard Batson from the College of Engineering, Megan Pugh from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, USF Athletics Director Doug Woolard, Assistant Director of Development, Jessica List, University Advancement, and USF St. Pete College of Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Judithanne Scourfiled McLachlan. Also receiving awards were the Center for Student Involvement, the Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the Counseling Center’s Committee on Diversity, the Department of Educational Leadership, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Status of Latinos Presidential Advisory Committee and Students with Disabilities Services.

Community recipients included O. Rex Damron, president of the Sant’Yago Education Foundation and Maritza Rovira-Forino, current chair of the USF Latin Community Advisory Committee who also serves as chair of the City of Tampa Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council and is a board member of the Glazer’s Children Museum.


“We are always encouraged when we see so many of our colleagues and so many students take the time to learn how they can do more to support all the wonderful work being done on our campus to promote diversity,” said Williams, who also works as associate dean for diversity initiatives at USF Health and is a professor of molecular medicine.


The summit was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, Nielsen, M&I – A part of BMO Financial Group, USF Student Government, Status of Latinos Presidential Advisory Committee, ENLACE, INTO USF, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the American Association for Affirmative Action. All were part of the Community Expo with tables of information about their programs and services.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.