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Pinellas County higher education consortium creates Racial Justice Fellows program

Students from the Office of Multicultural Affairs on the USF St. Petersburg campus

A new Racial Justice Fellows pilot program aimed at putting college students at the center of creating systemic racial change is being launched by a coalition of Pinellas County higher education institutions and a non-profit organization.

Eight students will be selected to participate in the pilot program. They will receive up to $2,000 each during the 2021-2022 academic year. Participating institutions include USF’s St. Petersburg campus, St. Petersburg College, Eckerd College and Stetson College of Law.

Together with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, the organizations formed the St. Petersburg Higher Education Consortium for Racial Justice last year, which is working to dismantle racial hierarchies in the region. 

The fellowship program was created to support the consortium’s efforts to create a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Center. Two students will be selected from each of the consortium institutions and work to develop a TRHT center for Pinellas County. Applications are being accepted through September 13. To learn more or apply, students can visit this site.

“The idea for the fellowship started because we wanted to have a strong student voice through the process of creating a consortium for higher education focused on racial justice,” said Caryn Nesmith, director of community relations at USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “Our vision is that it will equip students to advocate for systemic change.”

The fellows will learn about shaping policy and systems through a racial justice lens. They will also discuss the mechanisms that enable racial healing and work on projects that support racial healing and transformation.

Fellows will participate in biweekly planning meetings with consortium institution representatives to help shape the vision, goals and activities of a TRHT Center. This may likely include participating in other meetings at their home institutions as well as engaging with community members.

Over the course of the academic year, students must participate in seven approved activities, events or discussions related to race equity and racial justice.  Students will find and complete a six-week internship in summer 2022 that focuses on deepening their understanding of the impact of systemic racism and influential opportunities to drive healing and transformation. 

In addition, each institution may offer specific opportunities to its fellows, such as assisting with the creation of student activities or participating on advisory boards.

“It is our hope that the Stetson law students involved in this fellowship will develop a deep commitment to diversity, equity and activism with a keen understanding of the need for cultural humility in our society,” said Judith Scully, a Stetson Law professor and director and co-founder of Stetson’s Social Justice Advocacy program. “Ultimately, it is our hope that these students will become leaders in our profession, blazing the way forward for a more equitable and just legal system.”

“Eckerd students already have a strong desire to make a positive impact on the world,” added Beverly Warren, executive director of inclusive excellence at Eckerd College. “We hope that this fellowship will provide them an opportunity to develop into conscious leaders who understand the challenges to and importance of working toward racial equity and inclusivity within our campus and surrounding community.”

"SPC students represent a wide array of diverse backgrounds and perspectives," SPC Provost Tashika Griffith said. "Through the fellowship, our hope is that students will gain the knowledge and tools to actively engage in equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI) efforts and see themselves as a part of, and not apart from, the work that is needed to move EDI forward."

The St. Petersburg Higher Education Consortium for Racial Justice was created in 2020 when USF’s St. Petersburg campus and community leaders in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County convened a task force to explore how to connect efforts to address inequalities that exist in the region. Through their discussions, the task force members identified the TRHT framework as a beneficial tool that could help strengthen each campus’ commitment to community and inclusion.

In addition to launching the Racial Justice Fellows program, the consortium is working toward other shared goals, including creating a professional learning community for faculty on incorporating issues of race into curricula and providing more truthful narratives about racial history, while developing community seminars related to racial justice from a national, state and local perspective.

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