A consortium of higher education institutions focused on racial justice in Pinellas County has selected its inaugural cohort of Racial Justice Student Fellows.
The St. Pete/Pinellas Higher Education for Race Equity (SPHERE) consortium chose eight students, two each from four Pinellas County universities and colleges, for the year-long fellowship.
“Through our consortium, we seek to acknowledge the unique responsibility of institutions of higher education in seeking systematic change,” said Michelle Madden, campus diversity officer at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, one of the partners of the consortium.
The fellowship will put college students at the center of creating systemic change by providing opportunities to shape policy and systems through a racial justice lens. Students will learn about mechanisms that enable racial healing and serve in summer internships to work on projects that support racial healing and transformation in the local community. Each student will receive up to $2,000 during the 2021-2022 academic year.
“With the fellowship, our hope is that students will gain the knowledge and tools to actively engage in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts and see themselves as a part of, and not apart from, the work that is needed to move EDI forward," said Tashika Griffith, provost at St. Petersburg College, another partner of the consortium.
The eight fellows selected are: Trey Daniels and Kayla Rendon-Torres from Eckerd College; Audrie Brinegar and Na’Keidra Perez from St. Petersburg College; Blake Radford and Megan Holmes from Stetson University’s College of Law; and Aaron Rose and Destiny Gomez from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.
“I want to be a public service lawyer who offers pro bono services to at risk communities,” Brinegar said, a History major at St. Petersburg College. “This fellowship position will help shape my career.”
Fellows will participate in biweekly planning meetings with consortium institution representatives to help shape the vision, goals and activities of a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center for Pinellas County. This will include participating in other meetings at their home institutions as well as engaging with community members.
Over the course of the academic year, students will also be involved in at least seven approved activities, events or discussions related to race equity and racial justice. Students will complete a six-week internship in the summer of 2022 that focuses on deepening their understanding of systemic racism and developing opportunities to drive healing and transformation.
“As we build the work of the consortium, the student voice is critical,” said Judith Scully, a professor of law and director of the Social Justice Advocacy program at Stetson College of Law.
“We’re excited for this inaugural cohort and hope to grow the program in the future.”
SPHERE is a joint initiative among Eckerd College, St. Petersburg College, Stetson University College of Law, USF St. Petersburg campus and the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. The collaboration emerged out of a community task force that was convened to connect efforts in addressing inequalities that exist in the region. These institutions, which collectively serve more than 40,000 students, have been collaborating since the fall of 2020 to create a consortium working to dismantle racial hierarchies in the region.
Student testimonials for wanting to be a fellow
Trey Daniels - Eckerd College - Political Science Major
“As an aspiring civil rights defense attorney, I would like to do as much as I can to spark change while being a student. This opportunity will give me hope that I am being a strong advocate for the people in my community that I believe need me the most.”
Kayla Rendon-Torres - Eckerd College - Animal Studies and Environmental Studies Major
“By participating in this fellowship, my efforts to support each and every community will blend into the work I do today as a program manager of the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) as well as my role as DEIB coordinator for the Eckerd College Search and Rescue (ECSAR) team.”
Audrie Brinegar - St. Petersburg College - History (Pre-law) Major
“This fellowship position will help shape my career. I want to be a public service lawyer who offers pro bono services to at risk communities.”
Na’Keidra Perez - St. Petersburg College - Paralegal Studies
“I believe this fellowship will shape my leadership journey and my career by not only giving me the tools and education necessary to set out to close the wealth gap racial divide but it will also allow for many networking opportunities to get my ideas in front of like-minded individuals who can further develop my talent and principles.”
Aaron Rose - USF St. Petersburg campus - Global Business
“I know that this fellowship will shape my journey and career because I am a global business major. I have to study abroad and meet people from all over due to my major and I feel that this will help me become more open to different perspectives and views in life.”
Destiny Gomez - USF St. Petersburg campus - Psychology Major
“I feel like through this amazing opportunity I would network with many individuals that would be assets to implementing my dreams for this nation. I am eager to correspond with like-minded individuals that share my same passions and have the same fire burning within them.”
Megan Holmes - Stetson University’s College of Law - Juris Doctor Candidate, B.A. in Political Science and Pre-law
"I came to law school interested in learning how to solve big, intractable problems, specifically those surrounding racial equity. I believe that this fellowship is the perfect next step in my career-long commitment to that cause. This fellowship will provide the opportunity to build a consortium that outlasts my time at Stetson."
Blake Radford - Stetson University’s College of Law - Juris Doctor Candidate, B.A. in Political Science, Psychology
“If I want to help end racism and change the environment my cousins will have to grow up in, I need to learn from more enlightened and experienced minds on the tools they’ve used as well as what they have found in their experience to work and not work. I believe this fellowship will give me an opportunity to learn, experience, and discuss the situations we face and have a hand in trying to fix some of the issues. The potential to work with other fellows from various academic institutions and with more experienced individuals who can part their knowledge onto me will undoubtedly grant me a vast array of experience that I can learn from and implement into my leadership style and take forward with me on my journey.”