By Alex Butler
Police officers in full Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) gear greeted Taneisha Archer, senior chemistry major at The University of Tampa, at a downtown Tampa protest in early June. As her friends kneeled in front of the police, Archer watched as they were shot by rubber bullets and pepper sprayed.
The protest was held for the murder of George Floyd, an incident that has created a call for justice and inclusivity worldwide. The UT community is not exempt.
“I would like UT to simply put in the work to help the students that make them so diverse,” said Archer. “Take the time to make these students feel comfortable rather than just slapping them on the front cover of magazines and calling themselves diverse.”
According to Sabrina Griffith, UT director of student care and advocacy and chair of the Bias Education Resource Team (BERT), BERT receives an average of three or four bias reports a month.
“Since the George Floyd incident, within a week I received approximately 80 emails, some duplicates, but at least 15 different reports within a week,” said Griffith. “I am starting to see questions and calls for more action and different processes.”
UT has added several initiatives in the past 20 years to work towards a more inclusive community
BERT is an on-campus committee that facilitates dialogue and education for students involved in bias incidents. Instead of discipline, BERT provides students with books, articles, or videos to help them understand different perspectives.
“I invite them to have conversations with me and participate in different educational sessions,” said Griffith. “I’ll connect targets with other people who have been through it and give them support. Sometimes you need someone who looks like you to tell you, ‘It’s okay I’ve been through it.’”
In the past year, BERT has worked to facilitate diversity training around campus, including with Campus Safety.
“Some of the things we’ve talked about with the officers are how to try to avoid bias in your interactions,” said Griffith. “Campus Safety has committed themselves to having more sessions and having them more often so that every officer will be a part of these conversations that people are concerned about.”
The Dean of Students Diversity Advisory Group allows students to directly discuss diversity with faculty. Students can apply to be in the group, which meets monthly.
“We never struggle to get a diverse group of students,” said dean of students and vice president of Student Affairs, Stephanie Russell Krebs. “We specifically need more white male students involved. We need to be talking about privilege a lot and how it shouldn’t just be on the marginalized groups to break down racial injustice.”
In preparation for the Fall semester, the Office of Residence Life has included new staff training. All Residence Life area coordinators and assistant directors participated in summer training on inclusive supervision, according to director of Residence Life, Nora Jarmon.
The Bias Incident Response Protocol currently relies on an expectation of all students and staff members to report an incident.
“It is difficult to know how often bias incidents occur in the residence halls as they are not often reported,” said Jarmon. “I would encourage students to report bias incidents to a resident assistant (RA), Bias Education Resource Team member, or utilize the Spartan Support form.”
Students can reach the spartan support form at https://www.ut.edu/campus-life/vice-president-for-student-affairs-and-dean-of-students/spartan-support-program.
Sustained Dialogue training has been offered to all RAs. Most of UT’s professional staff have also taken part, according to Jarmon. The training creates skills for people to have open conversations about potentially sensitive topics.
“Learning how to incorporate diversity [in RA training] is kind of present from the beginning,” said sophomore nursing major, Jack Dodds. “During our interviews it was brought up a few times and as a resident it’s consistently encouraged to be accepting of diversity.”
The murder of George Floyd has brought heightened awareness of racial injustice to the UT community. However, UT’s Black Student Union (BSU) has continually pushed for inclusion on campus.
“Every BSU meeting holds the understood idea that black lives have always mattered, and we will continue to make sure we voice the importance of treating every race as equals,” said sophomore biology major and BSU community service chair, Morgan Redding.
According to Redding, BSU plans to highlight police brutality in upcoming Fall meetings.
UT’s Student Government has added a director of diversity position and a diversity chairperson. Student Government President, Abigail Byrne said the director of diversity will work to increase diversity at on-campus events.
While UT has added initiatives to promote diversity, some students still feel that more can be done.
“When I first came to UT, I didn’t expect to be the only person of color in almost every single one of my classes,” said Archer. “It’s not terrible, but there is always room for improvement.”
UT’s faculty has acknowledged the unrest and are ready to move forward during the Fall semester.
“We’re very excited,” said Griffith. “There are a lot of people, including Dr. Vaughn, that are looking to see what we can do to make our environment more inclusive for everyone.”
Students can contact BERT by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (813) 257-3564.
The Dean of Students Diversity Advisory Group can be reached at email@example.com for further concerns about diversity and inclusion.