University of South Florida


Taking action to address societal racism

Dear University Community and Friends of USF:

In June, I shared a message with you denouncing the deeply troubling events occurring across the country that reflected the systemic racism that continues to plague our nation. Today, I’m writing to provide you with an update on important actions USF is taking as we work to become an even greater force for positive change. Our specific actions are outlined below.

To reinforce USF’s enduring commitment to diversity and inclusion, I have appointed Dr. Haywood Brown, USF’s vice president of institutional equity, as a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the university’s top leadership team. As a member of the ELC, Dr. Brown will be involved in all major decisions made at USF.

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, associate professor of Sociology, has accepted my, and the Provost’s, offer to become the Senior Advisor to the President and Provost on Diversity and Inclusion. In this newly created role, Dr. Hordge-Freeman will advise and support university leadership in our efforts to foster anti-racism, access, equity, cultural inclusivity and cultural intelligence. She will partner with campus-wide groups working on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion such as curricular development, professional development of faculty members and staff, and helping to ensure that hiring practices for administrators and faculty are free from bias and reflect USF’s commitment to diversity. Dr. Hordge-Freeman will also work in concert with Dr. Brown, as well as other campus leaders, faculty members and staff.

To advance research on racism in society, the Office of the Provost and USF Research & Innovation have committed $500,000 to fund a first round of interdisciplinary research projects. Guided by a newly formed task force of USF faculty and staff from our three campuses, we are pleased to announce a Call for Proposals for Research Grants for Understanding and Addressing Blackness and Anti-Black Racism in our Local, National and International Communities.

To further support the participation of Black-owned businesses as vendors to the university, we have updated language regarding our standards of conduct for employees that encourages more supplier contracts for Black businesses and other diverse supplier categories.  We have also mandated that a senior member of the Office of Supplier Diversity hold a “voting” role on the decision-making team for supplier opportunities of $75,000 and above. Moreover, informed by recent feedback from regional economic development organizations (e.g., the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs and others), I have recently sent correspondence to the USF Office of Supplier Diversity that describes additional specific actions we are taking to strengthen our partnerships with Black businesses. 

To continue to inspire thoughtful dialogue across all three USF campuses, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Equal Opportunity (DIEO) is holding a virtual forum titled Black Lives and the Police featuring a panel of individuals offering distinct perspectives regarding progressive policing. A link to the recorded event will be released for viewing next week.

Looking ahead to the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, DIEO staff and the Office of Multicultural Affairs will embark on an initiative designed to give individuals an opportunity to candidly discuss and address matters of race and racism, including structural and systemic racism. This initiative, begun on USF’s St. Petersburg campus last academic year, involves creating Dismantling Racism Study Circles – diverse groups of 10-14 individuals discussing all aspects of race and racism, including their personal experiences. All viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences will be welcome and the discussions, led by two trained facilitators of opposite gender and race, will take place over a six-week period. The participants then will prioritize new ideas, which may entail proposals to the university’s leadership.

Dr. Brown and I, along with other members of USF’s faculty and staff, have also held several meetings with members of the Bay Area Legislative Delegation of the Florida Legislature and community-based advocacy organizations. We have discussed the implementation of several innovative strategies and we will continue those meetings on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, our offices of Student Success and Admissions have begun developing targeted plans to attract more Black students to all three USF campuses. Many of those initiatives have been introduced during the recruitment process for this fall’s class. For example, we have expanded our marketing efforts to prospective high school students in the seven-county Tampa Bay service area and are working to develop closer ties to selected high schools to strengthen the pipeline from local schools into USF. We plan on expanding our partnerships with local Title I programs by adding key high schools to our Guaranteed Admission Partnership Program, and conducting virtual high school events for application and FAFSA completion. 

We also are holding regularly scheduled meetings with the Black Leadership Network (BLN) to recruit more students and raise additional scholarship funds. For those who are not familiar with the BLN, it includes passionate alumni, donors and USF staff who play a critical role in supporting academic scholarships and enhancing Black student success through programs focused on personal and professional development. Since its inception in 2016, the BLN has raised nearly $2.3 million, and during the upcoming academic year, 63 students will benefit from that support. 

I hope you will join me in supporting these important actions as we continue to strive to fulfill our responsibility to provide leadership and demonstrate our active commitment to creating a civil, humane and compassionate society in which racism is not tolerated. The need for change is ongoing, and I will continue to provide you with updates as further actions are taken and progress is achieved.


Steven Currall
President and Professor 

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