Diversity committee campaign addresses school equity issues

The 11-by-17-inch poster, taped to a women’s bathroom door in Norman Hall, offered a sad-but- true fact about sexual orientation and tolerance–or lack of same–in America’s public schools.

The bright orange-and-white poster’s message read: “Did you know. . .Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth hear anti-gay slurs on average once every 14 minutes at school?”

Members of the COE Faculty Policy Council's Diversity Committee display posters they developed for a collegewide diversity awareness campaign. Pictured, clockwise from left, are: Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, Bridgett Franks (chair), Maria Coady, Theresa Vernetson, Elayne Colon and Erica McCray. Not pictured are Shelley Warm and Michael Bowie. (Photo and story by Nicole La Hoz)

COE assistant professor Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, member of the college’s diversity committee, had hung the poster recently as part of a collegewide campaign, but found it in a hallway trash can the next day.

“I don’t know who took it down or why,” said Kennedy-Lewis, an instructor in curriculum, teaching and teacher education. “It justifies further that we need to be raising these issues.”

The poster is part of a diversity awareness campaign coordinated by the COE’s nine-member diversity committee, including eight faculty (chair Bridget Franks, Kennedy-Lewis, Maria Coady, Ana Puig, Erica McCray, Theresa Vernetson, Elayne Colon and Shelley Warm) and Michael Bowie, director of COE recruitment, retention and multicultural affairs.

The committee, charged by the College’s Faculty Policy Council, makes recommendations concerning diversity at the college and in the community.

Eight sets of six “Did you know…” posters have been placed throughout Norman Hall. Each poster targets an issue of inequity in public schools, such as access for students with disabilities or high-quality schooling for at-risk youth and minorities, and promotes projects of faculty committee members addressing those issues. Featured projects include Coady’s Project DELTA, a grant-funded study that looks at how well graduates of UF’s Elementary ProTeach program do at teaching English-language learners in Florida’s schools, and Franks’ collaboration with the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida on an anti-bullying initiative in Alachua County public schools.

The “Did you know…” project began last year when committee members discussed creating posters that detailed ongoing projects in the college. They then agreed to broaden the focus to include intersections between diversity-related programs at the college and concerns in public education.

The Diversity Committee first met as a task force in 2009, advising the college on creating a safe and accepting environment for all faculty, students and staff. Now, the committee hopes to gather other faculty members’ work—and even projects by graduate students—to include in the next academic year on a new set of posters.

“These issues of equity,” Kennedy-Lewis said, “are what we’re all about as a college of education.”

Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, asst. professor, UF College of Education, 352-273-4041; email bkennedy@coe.ufl.edu

WRITER/PHOTOGRAPHER: Nicole La Hoz, communications intern, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449; nicdyelah@coe.ufl.edu

Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu