2016 OCEP Spring Events
At the conclusion of this busy spring semester, we wanted to share with you a recap of the events and programming of the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships.
Late last year, Florida Campus compact named USF the Most Engaged Campus in the state; and we have been busy all semester building on that momentum and steadily increasing USF's reach into the community. At thirteen OCEP sponsored events since January 2016, attendance reached over 800 participants.
We launched our Poverty, Equity, and Social Justice Conversation Series at the Robert W. Saunders Library. These events are designed to highlight the co-constructed knowledge developed when USF academics collaborate with community partners. For each program, two facilitators were selected to provide a community perspective and ensure that a mutually beneficial dialogue with the audience would come out of each discussion. The audience participants have also begun to make recommendations for the direction that future university–community partnerships should take. Thus far, Dr. Susan Greenbaum, Dr. Angela Stuesse, and Dr. Aisha Durham have given presentations that have addressed the structural violence of institutionalized poverty and racism as well as the lack of solid labor movements to represent the needs of working people. Additionally, USF Theatre Professor Fanni Green presented a series of monologues from the Suzan-Lori Parks play "In the Blood," which highlighted the stigmatization and negative stereotyping experienced by African-American single mothers.
Durham, in her talk "Between Death and Life: Why Communication Matters When It Comes to Social Justice," stated that racism is a "state sanctioned system that marks black people for a premature death." She said that we can use the "technology of power to reinforce or disrupt" how we talk about race, and she and her co-presenters Toni Young and Lena Young-Green posited that we must look critically at the messages we receive from the media, which is dominated by five major companies.
Young, a USF doctoral student in Communications, said that as scholars it is our role to bear witness to injustice and reflect on the dominant messages in the media, where the blame is often placed on the victim. As Young-Green said of a young boy killed in Tampa, "He made no choices. He was a mother's child caught in the cross-fire of a bullet." She continued, "This conversation is so important. We don't have the answers, so we have to talk about it."
Young-Green concluded the event by praising USF and exhorting the institution to do more: "Dr. Keller (referring to OCEP director Harold Keller), your department is doing a tremendous job even by having this event. This is a major step. How can we continue to work to deliberately to join the academy and the community?"
The discussion portion of the event was remarkable in that participants ranged in age from Young's ten-year old son who spoke about the death of his grandfather in police custody and his own experience with law enforcement, to Judge Mathis, a long-standing television judge who said he owed his success to service in the community. The entire audience—from USF faculty to students, community partners, and even people who just happened to be visiting the library that day—joined in the fruitful discussion.
At a recent University–Community Match Up event, Sarah Ogdie of Community Tampa Bay and Jennifer Webb, OCEP Director of Community Partnerships, co-facilitated a discussion about ensuring that the values and principles of social justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity are reflected in every university–community collaboration. As Ogdie stated, "Equity is about everybody getting what they need even when things were not equally distributed in the 'lottery of life,' and inclusion is about everyone who is impacted or affected getting a say in what happens in their own community."
As Evangeline Best, former chair of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership, stated, USF is focused "on what the community wants, and not just what the system wants for us." She continued, "The fact that we are able to call upon our major local university and the knowledge that the university provides—it makes a difference." She believes that through OCEP's programming and guidance, faculty and community partners are able to come together to improve the quality of life in our local community.
To that end, OCEP co-sponsored a TBX forum with the Departments of Anthropology and Sociology so that USF faculty, students, and staff, as well as local community members would be able to hear from scholars and experts in transportation, history, cultural studies, and media as well as community activists and government officials to learn about the proposed highway expansion planned by the Florida Department of Transportation. This event resulted in a discussion that was intended to get to the root of what has happened in the past when the highway has been expanded in Tampa as well as what the likely impact will be on local communities. The packed house had the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives on the proposed project, including DOT's assessment of why they believe the project is necessary as well as learning about how and why this project could have a damaging and dramatic effect on progress made to underserved local communities.
Another theme this semester was the role of scholar/activists. OCEP partnered with the 2014-2015 Outstanding Community-Engaged Teaching Award winner Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman for a dialogue with her global partners from Brazil to help "shift these lenses" and bring a global understanding of scholar activism. She said "it was a call to push harder and do more and to think strategically about how we can continue the connection" between her partners, The Steve Biko Institute and Brazil Cultural.
As its director Jucy Silva stated, the Biko Institute was created to provide "access to quality education denied to the black population in Brazil." USF students who traveled to Brazil with Hordge-Freeman during her service-learning class, for which she received an OCEP mini-grant, learned about institutional racism from their counterparts and simultaneously helped Brazilian students develop their conversational English skills. Silva continued, "Thank you for the reception, I will leave a little part of my heart with you."
OCEP also helped sponsor two major Research that Matters events, which will be covered in greater depth.
OCEP is thrilled with the diverse and widespread USF faculty, students, and community partner participation in its programming and looks forward to an exciting fall semester.