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Diversity Matters at USF Systemwide

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity’s open house Dec. 12 welcomes everyone who wants to know more about its services to the USF community.

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity staff: Equal Opportunity and Compliance Director Camille Blake, Executive Administrative Specialist Chai Demoulin, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Consultant Devona Pierre,  Americans with Disabilities Coordinator David Owens, USF System Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jose Hernandez, Equal Opportunity Consultant Marshelle Brooks, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Patsy Feliciano, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Joseph Anastasio and Equal Opportunity Consultant Rhonda Ferrell-Pierce.   Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

By Barbara Melendez
      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Dec. 8, 2014) – Going through life with the philosophy of “live and let live,” and accepting people as they are, sound easy enough. However, differences – whatever they may be – can produce a variety of reactions, from interest to fascination, at best, from discomfort to outright violence at worst – and everything in between.

USF System Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer José Hernandez and his staff in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity (DIEO) focus on the ways the great variety of people at the University of South Florida system-wide get along. They work to help maintain an atmosphere that is welcoming to all and invite everyone – faculty, staff and students – to stop by their offices Dec. 12, between 2 and 4:30 p.m. to learn more about what their work entails. They are located in the John and Grace Allen Administration Building, 172.

“People may have set ideas about what diversity means, but there is more to it than most realize,” said Hernandez. “Some think it applies only to race and gender.”

Devona F. Pierre, diversity and equal opportunity consultant added, “Diversity encompasses all that makes us unique and it includes race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability level, that is, persons with disabilities, age, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. All of these things can be subject to negative reactions and harmful behaviors, but they don’t have to be.

How people appear and sound as well as where they come from and what they believe also can have an impact when there are differences.

“Prejudices can affect hiring, salaries, grades, and the very atmosphere and environment where we share space with our fellow human beings. By learning about our own preconceptions and each other’s struggles, we become better at calling on our abilities to be objective and civil.”

Many Ways to Learn About Diversity

Devona F. Pierre with first Diversity Lecture Series speaker Tamara Bertrand Jones.

DIEO has begun offering a series of lectures to provide opportunities to learn more about diversity issues. Two were held this year with more to come in 2015 (see sidebar). “It is my hope the Diversity Lecture Series creates the opportunities for our campus community and the community at large to engage in conversations centered on diversity,” Pierre said. “I would also like for them to become a staple in the USF community, something people look forward to on a regular basis.”

The office also holds an annual Diversity Summit that presents a major keynote address, workshops and awards to faculty and staff who exemplify inclusivity.

The DEIO website has a wealth of information about diversity and inclusion and affirmative action and look for a new and improved website in the months to come as ODIEO continues to reflect Hernandez’s new direction. He rejoined the DIEO staff in his new role last year after eight years with USF before taking the position as associate provost for institutional diversity and inclusion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He hit the ground running on his return.

“My return to USF felt like coming home,” he said. “I continued to support previous work of our staff and we have also begun to develop additional system-wide collaborations to contribute to USF’s strategic directions.”

Hernandez earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State Univesrity and his doctorate in education from the University of Central Florida. He is a Florida Licensed Mental Health Counselor and is a member of the National Association for Diversity Officers in Higher Education, the International Society for Diversity and Inclusion Professionals and launched the Latino Alliance for Southeastern North Carolina. Among his many honors are the Hispanic Pathways Award from the Latin Community Advisory Board and the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Man in Education Award.

Pierre grew up in Pensacola, graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in education from Auburn University. Working in diversity, “is my passion,” she said.

Facilitating a Respectful Workplace

Hernandez explained, “Our efforts contribute to a positive institutional climate and a respectful workplace. Through diversity education and training, the diversity lecture series, the annual diversity summit, and customized workshops we can provide dialogue and interaction that facilitates connections and a feeling of belonging that makes us ready to provide our best service to the USF community.”

When issues of discrimination come up, as they occasionally do, DIEO staff encourages people to come in to talk and if the matter rises to a formal complaint, they assist with the process.

Ready to help are Director of Diversity and Inclusion Patsy Feliciano, assisted by Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Joseph Anastasio; David Owens, the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator concentrating on people with disabilities; Equal Opportunity and Compliance Director Camille Blake who works with Equal Opportunity Consultants Marshelle Brooks and Rhonda Ferrell-Pierce; and Executive Administrative Specialist Chai Demoulin who keeps the office on track.

“You won’t meet a more dedicated group of people anywhere,” said Hernandez. “We all feel we’re helping to make the world a better place for everyone and we’re looking forward to meeting and talking with whoever comes by to visit our open house but everyone should know, our doors are always open. We also have a library of books and publications that we’re happy to share with people as well.”

Blake said, “It is our hope that we can settle problems between people amicably wherever possible.”

“And we hope that people think of us not only as a place for complaints,” said Feliciano. “We also offer Diversity Education Seminars that can work to prevent cultural clashes. They help clarify matters of difference, inclusiveness, cultural competence, sexual harassment, disability etiquette and much more.”

“In the workplace, in the classroom and all the places where we interact on the three campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, we are all challenged to be as fair and equitable as we can possibly be,” said Hernandez. “It is the responsibility of everyone who works here and we set the example for the students who come to us for an education.”

Pierre added, “My hope however, is that we begin to treat all people with respect and learn to accept and embrace people for who they are.”

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563


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