Racial justice program at USF gives students tools to advocate for equity

Students are often at the helm of social change, and that’s what some Tampa Bay universities want to tap into through a new racial justice fellowship at the University of South Florida.

The program aims to give students the tools to advocate for diversity and equity in their communities and learn about systemic racism and racial injustice.

"I immigrated from Jamaica to America and getting used to the society in America of being a black man and having to understand that. I want to make a difference in my community so I decided this program would be the best fit me," said Aaron Rose, a USF freshman studying global business.

The racial justice fellowship is a pilot program with eight students this year with Stetson College of Law, Eckerd College and St. Peterburg college to teach students about diversity and shaping policy with the help of nonprofits in Pinellas County.

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"I’ve been learning about racism embedded in the systems so specifically the education system, the healthcare system, the judicial system," said Destiny Gomez, a USF junior studying psychology. "We have already spoken to people who are implementing policies in the community, and we’ve seen what they’re doing. They’ve shed a light on how they’re doing it."

The goal is for the students to add to the social justice work and help dismantle racial injustice. Gomez and Rose said the protests last year centered their hearts on making a difference.

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"I helped organize a George Floyd protest when I lived back in Broward County," said Rose. "Having to organize it and then having everyone there, getting the police involved and then having people who did not want the protest there, I feel like it brought a lot of adversity and I was able to go through it and overcome it."

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The program expands their experiences and gives them tools, so they can put what they learn into action on community projects next summer with nonprofit organizations.

"It means a lot to me because I feel like I represent my community in a very big way, and I know how much they struggle. I just want to be the change for them," said Gomez.