Dear Faculty, Students and Staff,
Welcome to a historic start to our fall semester at the University of South Florida.
Historic because we begin the academic year as One USF, officially unified in our commitment to academic excellence. The consolidation of our campuses – which became official in July – is an extraordinary opportunity for us to strengthen our position as one of the nation’s premier research universities and a leader in student success. It brings immense potential for new collaborations for students and for faculty. And the benefits of preeminence will extend to all of our campuses, as well as the communities we serve.
We also begin the year unified by a shared set of principles that expresses the character of our community and the behaviors we aspire to consistently demonstrate. Our Principles of Community emphasize equity, diversity and inclusion, respect and transparency.
As a university community we are putting these principles into action in our response to the prolonged and deeply disruptive conditions caused by COVID-19.
Our phased plan is evidence-based and emphasizes a gradual and careful return to campus and prioritizes the health and safety of our community. We have adapted our facilities, campuses and course offerings to support a modified on-campus experience and student and academic success. This is thanks to the hard work and dedication of you, our faculty, staff and students.
I urge you to again review the steps to take as we return to campus. If we are to ensure that every member of our community has the opportunity to succeed this semester, we must take personal responsibility for our individual behaviors both on campus and off campus. We must be vigilant in our efforts. A wish for a return to normalcy will not make it so. Your actions will determine our success.
Wear face coverings, maintain physical distance and avoid gatherings – both on campus and off campus. And, because our mental health and emotional well-being are extremely important too, I encourage each of us – particularly our students – to stay connected, communicate with one another and reach out when in need.
We have the resources, expertise and clarity of intent to help us meet the challenges ahead. But to do so means choosing to consider the impact of our behaviors on others. It means choosing community as our priority.
This is true not only in response to COVID-19, but also in our commitment to work against systemic racism. This summer, repeated acts of violence in our nation against Black men and women demanded that we – as a nation and as a university community – reflect more deeply and talk more honestly about our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.
We have taken initial action steps. These include elevating voices and expertise at the level of university leadership; developing new efforts to support recruitment and retention of Black students, faculty and staff; strengthening support of Black-owned businesses as vendors to the university, and funding interdisciplinary research projects that explore the perpetuation of systemic racism in society.
This year, our work will continue by establishing and implementing new institutional policies and practices designed to curtail systemic inequities.
Dismantling systems of racism and bias will take sustained effort, but it is our responsibility as an institution of higher education to propel the momentum toward change with intentional purpose and sustained action. We will strive to continue to actuate meaningful change.
This will be a unique semester, but we’re in this together. As One USF, we will prevail!
Have a safe and productive semester.