Featured Speaker

The University Lecture Series seeks to inspire and promote engaging discourse through its choice of speakers.


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 5, 2012) – Designed to inspire and be intellectually stimulating, the University Lecture Series over the years has featured diverse, well-known personalities ranging from Desmond Tutu and Chaz Bono to Meghan McCain and Duff Goldman.


Open to students, faculty, staff and visitors, the series has grown since its start in 1986, always focused on finding relevant speakers to bring to the University of South Florida campus. A staff and student supported organization, ULS prides itself for being a catalyst to engaging discourse and conversation.


“Every time I go into a lecture, I just get awestruck by it all,” said Jenna Kelly, staff advisor for the lecture series this year.


Romel Boiser, ULS executive director and a fourth-year student majoring in Biomedical Science, said he is proud of the diverse group of speakers who are featured each year.


Just recently, actress Rosario Dawson (known for her roles in films such as Men in Black II, Kids, Rent, Clerks II, Josie & The Pussycats, and over a dozen others) visited the USF Tampa campus.


She will be followed on Oct. 9 by Giuliana Rancic, an entertainment journalist and breast cancer survivor, and her husband Bill Rancic. Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet, is scheduled to appear Nov. 15.


During her appearance Sept. 19, Dawson spoke about her active role in politics, as well as her personal life both before and during stardom.


Growing up in the Lower East Side of New York City, Dawson’s family lived in, “a slum lord apartment. That’s what we called it.” Then, at the age of 15, she was discovered dancing on the stoop of her apartment building and had the opportunity to play the role of Ruby in Kids.


From there, her career grew, as did her interest in politics and social issues. She learned that women do not always have an equal say in their rights. She learned that religion and skin color were at times the barriers that kept people from fair treatment. She learned that young adults were not taken as seriously as they should.


It’s what motivated her to get involved.


“I have been impressed and moved by so many people in my life, millions of activists,” Dawson said.


She recalled one moment when she was struck by Muhammad Ali’s decision to support gender equality. Though it went against his Muslim faith, he still supported the balance of the sexes, and that inspired Dawson. To this day, she lives by the motto, “Be the change”, and she said that it was a large part of the reason why she chose to speak as part of the ULS.


Dawson commits much of her time to her organization, Voto Latino. Founded upon the goal of encouraging the Latino community to increase their participation in politics, Dawson wants to see Hispanic poll numbers increase. During her visit to USF, she told the audience that Latinos comprise 16.8% of the vote in Florida, and that they need to take advantage of their voices.


The youth are also supported by Voto Latino as a whole, which is even holding a campaign called “Rep Ur Letters”. It gives a little friendly competition to the registration process, as each participating fraternity and sorority tries to have the highest number of registered voters in their brother- or sisterhood. The national parent organization with the highest number of votes will win a Voto Latino celebrity appearance. The winner will be announced later this month.


“This felt like an opportunity to reach out to the community at large,” she said. “What we’ve come across with Voto Latino is that the reason why people don’t participate is because no one asks them, and they feel like they’re not educated enough on the issues, and I wanted to be a part of rectifying that.”


Dawson’s goal was to inspire students to take control of their futures through the power of voting and making their voices heard. First-year student Holly Donovan, who is majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders, felt motivated after hearing what Dawson had to say.


“I was inspired by her description of the various organizations she works with,” Donovan said. “It made me feel like I should get involved in a cause, too.”


Dawson works around the clock to keep all of her projects going. She’s in the upcoming movie, Chavez, which connects to her community work since the movie centers on the civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez. Since this year is an election year, Dawson has been busier than usual.


“It’s an opportunity to engage and take advantage of the fact that the entire country is talking about voting,” Dawson said. “It makes our job that much easier.”


The ULS series continues on Oct. 9 with the appearance of celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic, who will be speaking for the most part about Giuliana’s recent battle with breast cancer. October is National Breast Cancer awareness month. On Nov. 15, animal and nature conservationist Jeff Corwin will make an appearance at USF, accompanied by a few of his animal friends.


The University Lecture Series website is uls.usf.edu, and although they are in the process of cementing their lineup for the spring 2013 semester, they do allow requests as to who they should try to book for an appearance.