A year in review: Anti-racism and equity at USF

By Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman

Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman

Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman is interim vice president of institutional equity, senior adviser to the president and provost for diversity and inclusion, and an associate professor of sociology.

IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE that we find ourselves finally emerging from a global pandemic and a year after the murder of George Floyd. Many may be eager to return to “business as usual,” but USF leaders recognize that the most successful universities are those that leverage lessons from the past year to refine their institutions. USF’s flexible approach to the future of work is just one way our leaders are thinking creatively about our future and with a focus on equity. Similarly, in order to institutionalize anti-racism and equity, we cannot return to traditional approaches, but rather must consider innovative shifts to our organizational structure.

In a critical organizational change, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, with substantial financial support from USF student government, is hiring more staff to serve as coordinators who are assigned to underrepresented students, including racial and ethnic minorities. This year, USF admitted both its largest class and the largest number of Black and Hispanic students in its history. This proactive organizational change will help maintain our high retention and graduation rate and, as well, ensure that our campus culture promotes inclusive excellence and a sense of belonging.

Similarly, President Currall announced organizational changes to the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity (DIEO) whereby functions related to Title IX, equal opportunity and Disability/ADA compliance have been unified under a separate Office of Compliance. This shift will allow the compliance office to respond more quickly to grievances, and it creates an opportunity for the remaining diversity and inclusion office to focus on more proactive efforts. Insights from recent DIEO virtual town halls have engaged over 250 campus and community leaders and will inform both the new structure of this office and the search for the permanent vice president of institutional equity.

Likewise, the creation of a Department of Diversity Initiatives within the USF Foundation has included the hires of two staff members who will work to enhance fundraising and programming for Black and Hispanic alumni. The management of the thriving USF Latino Scholarship Program has moved back to the Foundation, where it will be coordinated by Keila Ló­pez, a 2015 USF graduate and USF Latino Scholarship recipient.

Other organizational developments include the establishment of the USF Faculty Senate’s Council on Racial Justice and new discussions about resource groups for Asian and Hispanic/Latinx faculty and staff. Beyond the campus community, the College of Business has leveraged organizational capacity to launch a record-breaking Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Certificate program, attracting over 120,000 registrants from across the globe!

I am most encouraged by my experience on the President’s Strategic Renewal Task Force, where equity and anti-racism were discussed across all strategic initiatives and included in the task force’s recommendations. When President Currall presents the final Institutional Strategic Plan to the community, I believe the institutional commitments and strategic initiatives will give us the support to empower us to rise to new heights.