As the director of development in the Office of Advancement on the University of South Florida’s sunny Sarasota-Manatee campus, Clara Reynardus de Villanueva has little need for the black wool sweater emblazoned with a crimson “H” she received for lettering in football at Harvard University.
“It was a million years ago,” said Reynardus de Villanueva, who served as the varsity football manager while majoring in psychology. “Not the football manager who plans plays,” she clarified. “The football manager who gets the field ready and does the communications and plans away games.”
Born in New York to Cuban immigrants and raised in Puerto Rico, Reynardus de Villanueva joined USF’s advancement team in 2019. Of the many places she’s lived, Sarasota is the first to feel like home. She has committed herself to making the most impact in the community as possible by focusing on her unique ability to bridge the gap between the general population and underrepresented communities — including the Latinx community.
Earlier this year, she donated an original painting to Sarasota’s Child Protection Center, raising over $40,000 for the prevention, intervention and treatment of child abuse. She also joined the board of directors for CreArte Latino Cultural Center, whose mission is to connect the Latinx, Hispanic and larger community through performance, education and service. This summer, CreArte hosted a performing arts workshop in which children ages 7 to 13 were tasked with staging a play in Spanish.
“Latinx identity is complex. We represent many countries; we have different cultures. And then we have intersectionalities. We have folks whose parents may have immigrated here, but who grew up only speaking English. And just because you don’t speak fluent Spanish doesn’t make you any less Latino. Your identity is your identity,” she said. “It can be confusing for those on the outside who want to be inclusive — who want to do the right thing.”
In addition to her role as director of development — in which she is responsible for aligning donors’ philanthropic goals with USF’s mission to deliver competitive programs, generate knowledge, foster intellectual development and ensure student success in a global environment — she is director of USF’s Latino Scholarship Program, played an integral part in the founding of the Alianza Latina Faculty and Staff Association, serves on the Advancing Latino Access and Success Task Force as well as the Status of Latinos USF Presidential Advisory Committee and is deeply invested in USF’s commitment to increasing Latino undergraduate student enrollment, which has tripled over the past 20 years, from 2,750 in the fall of 2000 to 8,375 in the fall of 2021.
Diversity and inclusion make up one of five primary goals in USF’s five-year strategic plan, which was unveiled in January of this year. The plan emphasizes the recruitment of diverse faculty, staff and students and the inclusion of diverse perspectives in the classroom among other objectives.
With a campus diversity index of 0.65, USF is considered a majority minority institution, wherein white students make up less than half of all students in the Fall 2022 cohort, and recently received the 2022 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award, which recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, for the third time.
Today, USF is well on its way to reaching 25% Hispanic student enrollment and being federally designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
“We’ve surpassed 22%,” Reynardus de Villanueva said, referring to the percentage of Hispanic-identifying undergraduates currently enrolled at USF. “That’s still hundreds and hundreds of students, she added, “But we’re on the verge.”
With Hillsborough County Public Schools projected to reach 50% Hispanic enrollment within the next five years, she’d like to see increased representation at every level.
“I know our faculty and staff don’t necessarily come from the Tampa Bay area, but right now only 5% of the faculty and 12% of the staff identify as Latinx. It’s not a complaint,” Reynardus de Villanueva said. “It’s just an acknowledgement that there’s an opportunity.
“University leadership has expressed a genuine interest in prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion. My goal is to continue inviting diverse communities into that conversation as genuine partners in the future we’re building — a future that’s reflective of the community at large so that when students come here, no matter what their background is, they see themselves in the faces of faculty and staff and are walking into a culturally competent environment,” said Reynardus de Villanueva.
This fall, Reynardus de Villanueva enrolled in the Professional Weekend MBA program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus — a move she anticipates will provide her with the credentials and the skills necessary to furthering her mission.
“I don’t think there’s any better way to support the community than through education,” she said.
Boundless Bulls is a collection of stories about what truly makes USF great — the people. It is a focus on our community footprint, our impact and the trajectory of where we can go together. To nominate a member of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus community for Boundless Bulls, please fill out this submission form.