A Warm Fulbright Welcome

Fulbright Scholarships and travel abroad are the focus of a night of discussion and a one-woman performance on growing up in South Africa.

By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 18, 2013) – “I am so amazed at the large turnout and the diversity of the audience,” said Darlene DeMarie, associate professor of educational psychology, as she looked around the crowd that filled the University of South Florida’s School of Music’s lobby.

“And seeing all the students gathered around the Fulbright table is even better than I had hoped.”

She organized last night’s presentation of a one-woman show, “Crush Hopper,” followed by a dialogue and discussion, and a reception complete with exhibits and food. The fundamental message throughout was the importance of cross-cultural understanding, with the added benefit of being able to connect with the Fulbright program.

As the president of the Fulbright Association’s Mid-Florida Chapter, and a Fulbright Scholar herself, DeMarie also had the honor of hosting the organization’s new national Executive Director Stephen Reilly on his first official engagement outside of Washington, D.C. 

Also an alumnus of the Fulbright program, Reilly praised the program as “nothing short of awesome. It changed my life,” he said in his brief opening remarks. He welcomed the opportunity to “celebrate what Fulbright can do,” and informed the audience that joining the Fulbright Association is open to everyone, not only Fulbright Scholars.

DeMarie and Karen Holbrook, senior vice president for Global Affairs and International Research, welcomed guests and spotlighted VIPs in the audience including former USF President Betty Castor who was appointed to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board by President Obama in 2011.

They also acknowledged sponsors that included the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Center for International Education at Hillsborough Community College and the Office of International Programs at the University of Tampa as well as USF’s Colleges of The Arts and  Education, USF World, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Institute of Black Life, Honors College, the College of Education’s Diversity Committee, the Office of National Scholarships, the Graduate School, the Department of Psychological and Social Foundations and the Black Heritage Month Committee.

USF President Judy Genshaft and USF Provost Ralph Wilcox made it back from the Board of Governors meeting in Gainesville just in time to see the main event, the play written and performed by Mandisa Roeleene Haarhoff.

The star, whose name is a combination of Xhosa and Afrikaans, captivated the audience in the next hour with a “journey of identity” she experienced growing up amidst the conflicting stresses of her combined Black, White Afrikaans and so-called “coloured,” meaning "mixed race," heritage in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Afterwards, Patrick S. De Walt, a researcher and instructor in the USF College of Education replayed a few scenes from the play to illustrate the stages of Black racial identity development according to the Nigrescence Theory put forth by William E. Cross, Jr. De Walt explained the stages and invited the audience to guess what each scene represented.

In preparing for his role in the evening’s proceedings, De Walt said he was surprised at how parts of “Crush Hopper” worked with what he teaches in his class, Introduction to Diversity for Educators. “The clips just spoke to me and her narrative fit so well, it was pretty amazing.”

He was then joined onstage by Haarhoff who answered questions from the audience.

De Walt found the questions, “open-ended enough and varied enough for Mandisa to be able to elaborate and help the audience gain a better understanding of her performance. I really enjoyed seeing so many different people here, receiving so many really good questions and the great energy of this event.”  

Haarhoff enjoyed interacting with audience members at the reception. A few parents brought their children over to meet and talk with her, one saying that her daughter was inspired to learn Spanish, which is part of her heritage, after Haarhoff spoke so eloquently about how she learned to love all the languages that make up her identity – Xhosa, Afrikaans and English.

This was Haarhoff’s second U.S. performance. She explained that different audiences in her home country laugh at different parts, depending on their racial composition, and regret’s that her South African-specific jokes can’t be appreciated in America.

“The reason I do this is to get people to understand who I am and accept all that I am and I hope they will learn to embrace all the different parts of everyone and allow everyone to be themselves,” she said.

That idea is in harmony with De Marie’s goals for the evening.

“Study abroad and being part of the Fulbright program can play such a powerful role in one’s life,” she said, noting how her own Fulbright experience in South Africa impacted her. “Every student and all faculty members should look into Fulbright and all the programs that support exposure to different cultures and different ways of seeing and understanding the world.”

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