Dear USF Community,
Among the unexpected consequences of 2020 has been the challenge of finding words to adequately describe it. In so many ways it’s been a year like no other.
And yet, history reminds us that our nation previously has experienced years in which extraordinary turmoil disrupted daily life and norms. In fact, scholars have been comparing 2020 to 1968, another year that brought our country great convolutions and tragedies, including a hard-fought U.S. election, race-related and civil unrest, and a deadly influenza. I remember 1968, its trials and tribulations, and the new pathways the year fostered in many segments of American life.
No one remains unchanged from unprecedented times such as 2020. But I am confident that we can emerge stronger with relentless hope for the future and reliance on community.
As we turn the page on 2020 – if not all of its challenges – I’m so grateful for the many ways that USF has continued to demonstrate a commitment to community throughout this year. For all the ways the events of this year have physically separated us, our solutions have repeatedly been anchored in our service to community.
When prioritizing health and safety from COVID-19 meant being physically apart, our university community mobilized in innovative ways to quickly reconnect us.
For example, our clinical professionals (e.g., physicians, nurses, pharmacists and public health workers) have been heroic in their dedication to minimizing the transmission of COVID and treating those who suffered from it. Faculty and staff miraculously maintained academic and business operations to serve our students. Our brilliant IT team transitioned more than 5,200 courses for remote instruction and helped us adjust to the brave new world of Microsoft Teams to keep us collaborating in a secure environment. And students sustained their Bulls spirit by helping us reimagine important events and traditions such as Homecoming and Week of Welcome. Virtual commencements – now numbering three – gave even more USF alumni, families and friends around the world the chance to “show up” for our graduates. For the fall virtual ceremony, for instance, more than 51,000 people from 121 countries were able to help celebrate our 5,000 USF graduates.
USF Health has responded to community needs throughout the pandemic, collaborating in new ways to quickly address the shortage of medical equipment, conducting clinical trials, and assisting the Florida Department of Health with contact tracing.
To respond to the needs of students, the United Support Fund launched in March, raising more than $400,000 for food, rent and other critical needs. Thanks to so many in our community, our campaigns to meet COVID-19-related needs have raised a total of more than $1.1 million.
The pandemic reinforced the impact of our individual actions on those around us. In response, we renewed our commitment to taking personal responsibility for our actions to ensure the health and well-being of others. Our students have shown extraordinary personal responsibility in maintaining compliance with risk mitigation measures. Student leaders also led the charge by supporting our campaign to Stop the Spread.
Meanwhile, our student-athletes rode the waves of uncertainty of their seasons with resilience thanks to our USF coaching staffs and the support of our fans and donors.
Our community – and nation – was rocked by repeated acts of violence against Black people and communities. These acts prompted us to reflect deeply on the undeniable reality that systemic racism continues to exist in our nation. This is deeply troubling to a university with an historic commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity. The need for action is ongoing.
In response, USF developed and implemented a series of initiatives this year to address racism. These initiatives have included my decisions to appoint diversity leaders and advisors to my leadership team, USF’s steps to strengthen our partnerships with Black-owned businesses in our community, and committing $500,000 to fund a first round of interdisciplinary USF research projects focused on anti-racism. We have also created a website dedicated to anti-racism resources, events and news from our campuses. Importantly, the website is a mechanism to hear from you – our faculty, students and staff – with your ideas and actions we can pursue as a community.
Despite the tremendous challenges of 2020, we have not wavered in our aspirations for USF and in our commitment to building a strong future. To that end, USF will continue to advance our plan for strategic renewal, which I first introduced shortly after arriving in 2019. Although the pandemic has altered our timeline, it has not impeded our progress. I look forward to moving ahead methodically and expeditiously and will announce next steps soon.
I encourage us to look ahead to the New Year with a renewed sense of hope and optimism. Our mission as a public metropolitan research university to serve our communities is clearer, and more vital, than ever.
I hope you enjoy the well-earned winter break. Importantly, please take time to rest and renew. I look forward to our work together in the New Year. Thank you for all you do for the University of South Florida.
Steven C. Currall
President and Professor