A consortium of higher education institutions focused on racial justice in Pinellas County has selected its second class of college students to be Racial Justice Student Fellows.
The St. Petersburg/Pinellas Higher Education for Racial Equity (SPHERE) consortium chose eight students, two each from four Pinellas County universities and colleges, for the year-long fellowship.
"Working with leaders in the community and the SPHERE consortium, this class of Racial Justice Fellows will build on the work of the first cohort and help to establish real change through projects focused on shaping policy and transforming systems to create more equitable outcomes for all,” said Michelle Madden, campus diversity officer at USF’s St. Petersburg campus.
The fellowship will put college students at the center of creating systemic change by providing opportunities to inform policy and address barriers 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 2022-2023 academic year.
“We hope that SPHERE’s one-year fellowship and summer community internships will introduce our students to a lifetime commitment of addressing racial injustices,” said Judith Scully, a professor of law and director of the Social Justice Advocacy program at Stetson College of Law. “Our curriculum is merely a foundation for our students to stand upon as they begin to see themselves as courageous leaders with a focus on racial equity.”
The eight fellows selected this year are: Marizzol Medina and Jordan Nielubowski from Eckerd College; Katherine Mack and Dean Mucaj from St. Petersburg College; Zenea Johnson and Jessica King from Stetson University’s College of Law; and Dala Daniels and Kima Sibayan from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.
"I'm so proud to see our second cohort of SPHERE Racial Justice Fellows stepping up to this challenging and rewarding program," says Amanda Hagood, an Eckerd College Animal Studies instructor and SPHERE curriculum committee member. "It helps our students engage deeply and courageously with the problems of systemic racism at both campus and community levels, and builds the leadership skills needed to take all of that heart-work and headwork forward. We, as the faculty and staff supporting this process, can learn so much from our student fellows."
Fellows follow a curriculum that covers issues on racial history, diversity, equity and more, have regular meetings with mentors and will complete a six-week internship in the summer of 2023 that focuses on deepening their understanding of systemic racism and developing opportunities to drive healing and transformation. Last year, Racial Justice Student Fellows completed internships with organizations such as the NAACP, the city of St. Petersburg, the St. Pete Youth Farm and Community Tampa Bay.
Over the course of the academic year, students will also be involved in several approved activities, events or discussions related to race equity and racial justice and are able to 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 can include participating in other meetings at their home institutions as well as engaging with community members.
“It is important to create translational opportunities between what students’ are learning in the classroom and activating their interests and passions to have an impact in the community,” said Julie Rocco, director of strategic investments with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. “Race equity work is hard, but it is uplifting when you believe there are others who are eager in joining this effort and aspire to what many in our community and the foundation strive to achieve.”
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:
Marizzol Medina – Eckerd College – Animal Studies Major
“I believe by learning about everyone’s culture, race, or background it will help all of us better understand each other and we won’t be so quick to make assumptions based on appearance.”
Jordan Nielubowski - Eckerd College – Human Development Major
“The significance in building these interpersonal relationships lies in active and empathetic listening to the needs of those we are aiming to serve, not just assuming what is in their best interest. Actively practicing advocacy and empathy will immensely strengthen my ability to better support my future clients and their families.”
Katherine Mack - St. Petersburg College – Public Policy & Administration Major
“There comes a time in everyone’s life where the call to action rings in our ears like church bells. The person can choose to ignore the call to action and continue to live in a superficial world or answer the call and become part of the legacy of change. I want to be part of that legacy. Being part of the Fellows Program will allow me to be exposed to mentors and teachers who will continue to cultivate the flame of resistance that lives in me.
Dean Mucaj - St. Petersburg College – Business & Entrepreneurship Major
“I believe this fellowship will help me become a better leader.”
Kima Sibayan - USF St. Petersburg campus – Psychology Major
“This opportunity would be exceptionally beneficial to my career and leadership development because, as a psychology major, my career will revolve around helping all people, of all cultures and races.”
Dala Daniels - USF St. Petersburg campus – Political Science Major
Zenea Johnson - Stetson University’s College of Law - Juris Doctor Candidate, concentration in Social Justice Advocacy
"I have been inspired more than ever to start advancing my career in racial justice and equity."
Jessica King - Stetson University’s College of Law - Juris Doctor Candidate
“I believe this fellowship would direct me and keep me focused on my ultimate goal, to make America a more equitable place for all regardless of color, identity, or any other social label.”