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Campus Insider: USF researchers from Sarasota-Manatee campus launch anti-racism projects

By Rich Shopes

Friday, September 25, 2020


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University of South Florida professors from the Sarasota-Manatee campus Denise Davis-Cotton and Kelly Cowart are joining other USF faculty in the fight against racism through two unique projects funded by the USF Research Task Force on Understanding and Addressing Blackness and Anti-Black Racism in our Local, National and International Communities.

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected by the task force for funding, and this is such a critical issue, and not just at universities but throughout our communities,” said Davis-Cotton, director of the Florida Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching (PAInT) at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.

Davis-Cotton is working with the Circus Arts Conservatory to introduce a program at a school in Sarasota that highlights the contribution of Black artists.

Cowart, an associate professor of marketing in the Muma College of Business, is partnering with other researchers to examine the harm caused by negative portrayals of Blacks in the media.

Cowart notes that while companies and other organizations are quick to announce their support for diversity, equity and inclusion, many aren’t dealing with systemic racism within their own organizations.

kelly cowart

Kelly Cowart, PhD

“Many companies say things such as, ‘We stand together’ and ‘We’re united,’ to appear inclusive to the public, but I think it’s inauthentic and opportunistic,” she said. “It means nothing to say Black lives matter and do nothing to improve the treatment of Blacks in your own companies. Consumers are demanding action, not just words.”

To explore the issue deeper, including the intersection between racism and marketing, Cowart is partnering with Leila Borders, professor and assistant chair of the Department of Marketing & Professional Sales at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and Monica Allen, an assistant professor in the College of Education at North Carolina A&T State University.

Their project, “Mad Men: Using Cultural Competency to Reduce Racist Portrayals of Blacks in Advertising,” creates a cultural-competency learning module for marketing professionals to improve understanding, communication and awareness across cultures and to reduce racist content in marketing.

Cowart is enlisting help from students from her marketing promotions class and working with two companies – condiment maker WillMoore’s Twangy Wing Sauce and Fully Promoted, a branded products and marketing services franchise – to allow students to apply their new knowledge. As the students learn about media portrayals of Blacks, they’ll use what they’ve learned to create culturally sensitive promotional plans for the companies.

Cowart frequently collaborates with small businesses, but this project has taken on special significance, she says.

“I want my students to learn not only how to develop a promotional plan, but also to understand what implicit bias is, its destructive effects, and how to reduce it in their business and personal lives,” Cowart said.

After studying the companies and developing their promotional plans, the students will present them to the companies at the end of the semester. In addition, Cowart, Allen and Borders are conducting research to present at academic conferences.

Davis-Cotton’s project, “Dismantling Drivers of Racial Disparities,” takes a different approach: She’s developing a curriculum for a new program at Booker Middle School in Sarasota that spotlights Black artists’ contributions.

The curriculum, which aligns with the Cambridge Educational Program, emphasizes creativity, innovation and scholarly discourse. The Sarasota-based Circus Arts Conservatory is helping to implement the program, and Davis-Cotton plans to engage other artists and lead a few classes and teacher workshops as well.

Denis Davis-Cotton

Denise Davis-Cotton, EdD

Eventually, the curriculum will examine specific arts movements, including the Pan-African movement and Harlem Renaissance. Davis-Cotton says that too often the contributions of Black artists are misrepresented or ignored altogether.

“The aim of the curriculum is to focus on information not usually found in textbooks,” she said. “We’re looking at performing arts, visual arts and digital media through the perspective of Critical Race Theory, and we’re examining the influences of African-American art and the inequality experienced by Black artists.”

Davis-Cotton said she hopes the program leads to more culturally relevant content becoming integrated into the school curricula. Additionally, she wishes the program will influence teachers to become more culturally sensitive to improve "how the school identifies with the student, versus how the student identifies with the school.”

“This is not only about transforming students, but about transforming teachers and looking at information omitted from textbooks, as well as the misinformation in textbooks, to fill in the gaps, bring in cultural understanding and advance inclusion,” she said. “I’m very excited about this project.”

To assist with curriculum development and program implementation, Davis-Cotton is working with Booker Middle School Principal LaShawn Houston Frost, Assistant Principal Rebecca Coleman, theatre teacher Christine Hawkins, and Circus Arts Conservatory representatives Jennifer Mitchell and Karen Bell. 

To help with research and analysis, she’s partnering with Cowart and two other USF professors: Kyaien Conner of the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy and Omotayo Jolaosho of the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies.

USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, Manatee Chamber of Commerce partner on ‘Shadow Day’ program

Laura Kulcsar learned what it takes to become a pediatric therapist at Manatee Memorial Hospital while across town Robin Readle was busy learning about human resources at Bealls Inc.

The two students from the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus were joined by two others on Sept. 18 – Yolanda Woody and Nicole Ritenour – as part of a program with the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce that connects executives with students to help learn about potential new careers.

“Our belief and goal is that the more opportunities we can present to students on the Suncoast, then even more students will want stay right here in our area to start their careers, and we believe that is so important,” Manatee Chamber President Jacki Dezelski said as she kicked off a virtual meeting about program.

Called “Shadow an Executive Day,” the initiative pairs USF students with Manatee and Sarasota businesses. Typically during the program, students shadow a CEO for two or more hours then gather with their mentors and other students at the chamber’s offices for lunch and a discussion.

Robert Boxley

Dr. Robert Boxley

This year, because of safety concerns around COVID-19, Friday’s event – the fourth involving the Manatee Chamber – was capped at an hour and held virtually. However, students and their mentors seemed no less enthusiastic about the experience.

“I was hoping it would go longer than an hour. I thought we were just getting started,” said Dr. Robert Boxley, director of clinical training at Centerstone, a Bradenton non-profit that provides mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Boxley spoke with psychology student Ritenour about Centerstone’s services and how the agency has used telehealth to connect with clients during the pandemic. For Ritenour, the experience offered guidance as she decides between a career in neuro-research and clinical psychology.

“We spoke about a typical day, about his mornings supervising interns and helping with other cases, and then in the afternoon he sees clients,” Ritenour, a senior, said. “He also shared his career path for how he got to where he is today. I think programs like this are so helpful to help students understand different career options and as they look toward graduation.”

Likewise, Liz Brown of Manatee Memorial Hospital, was complimentary of the initiative. She talked with Kulcsar, a biology major, about her career and how she transitioned from a speech pathologist to director of outpatient pediatric therapy.

“Programs like this are so important,” Brown said. “We know that there is a large talent base out there and programs like this help to put us in contact with students like Laura.”

Shadow an Executive Day was organized by Jay Riley, director of business outreach and community engagement, and career advisor Toni Ripo. Dezelski and Amy Farrington, vice president of public policy and small business at the chamber, coordinated with businesses to facilitate the event and set up the virtual meeting.

The shadowing program occurs annually in partnership with the Manatee Chamber and the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. It’s open to any student, but ideal for those discerning a career and open to meeting with local professionals. Through the shadowing experience, students learn which professions align with their interests and career goals.

Riley said the program’s aim is to help students recognize the potential for high-paying, meaningful careers in the Sarasota-Manatee market and to remind employers about “the level of talent right here in our backyard,” he said.

“It’s important that our students to remain here in Sarasota-Manatee after they graduate so they can support our businesses and our community,” he said. “There are a tremendous amount opportunities for them right here on the Suncoast.”

Joan Nixon, longtime study abroad scholarship supporter, thanked by USF with ‘virtual luncheon’

The University of South Florida held a virtual luncheon last week to thank Joan Nixon and her family for supporting study-abroad scholarships that benefit students at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

The event coincided with Nixon’s birthday and included balloons, flowers and a card to ensure it was festive.

“Joan’s longtime support has been so important in helping our students to discover other cultures, expand their understanding of the world and themselves and to graduate as well-rounded individuals ready to enter the workforce and begin new lives,” USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook said.

Attending the event, in addition to Holbrook and Nixon, were Nixon’s three children, Regional Vice Chancellor of Advancement at the Sarasota-Manatee campus Lee Williams, Associate Director of Development Clara Reynardus de Villanueva and Director of USF World Sarasota-Manatee and President of the Mid-Florida Chapter of the Fulbright Association Amela Malkic.

“Our study abroad programs prepare students to succeed in today’s interconnected world and thrive in all sorts of situations, whether they involve diverse places, challenges, opportunities or events,” Malkic said. “Through study abroad experiences, students become more resilient and knowledgeable about the world, and employers and graduate schools seek those qualities in their candidates.

“Hence, we express our utmost gratitude to the Nixon family for their continuing support of the Endowment Fund, which provides once-in-a-life-time opportunities for many of our students,” she said.

maggie dougherty

Maggie Dougherty

Also attending were scholarship recipients and USF alumni Maggie Dougherty and Michelle Teeter, who thanked Nixon for supporting study abroad opportunities. Nixon scholarships have helped students from the Sarasota-Manatee campus travel to Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and many other countries.

“Being able to study abroad has not only opened my eyes to different ways of life, but also helped me gain the confidence to know I can succeed in new and challenging environments,” said Dougherty, who traveled to Italy and Ireland in 2018 and 2019 after receiving two Nixon scholarships.

“I have always dreamt of traveling to new places and the Nixon scholarships enabled me to do so with less of a financial burden,” she said. “I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Nixon and her family for their continued generosity and for enabling me to have some of the best summers of my life.”

USF World administers the study abroad program to provide unique opportunities for students from each USF campus to learn and explore other cultures as they pursue their education. Study abroad classes typically offer three to four credits each and last several weeks. Visit https://www.usf.edu/world/ to learn more.

Coming up next summer, provided COVID-19 conditions allow for the resumption of more travel, the Sarasota-Manatee campus will sponsor trips to:

  • Barcelona, Spain (criminology, 10-12 days)
  • The Galapagos Islands (biology and ecology, 10-12 days)
  • Iceland (social sciences and economics, three weeks)
  • Singapore (biology and urban ecology, three weeks)
  • Mysore, India (honors students only, sustainability and gender studies, three weeks)

Nixon’s husband, Clyde G. Nixon, served as chairman of Sun Hydraulics Corp. and a member of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board before he passed away in 2007. His innovative approach to global and regional business development inspired friends and family to establish the Clyde G. Nixon International Business Endowment Fund in his memory in 2010.

Research Readiness Day set for Oct. 22

The USF Office of Undergraduate Research for campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee have collaborated to organize “Research Readiness Day 2020,” a special online interactive event to equip students with the knowledge and tools to become involved in research and deliver presentations at the 2021 Spring Research conference.

The virtual Teams event is scheduled for Oct. 22, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.All USF undergraduate students are encouraged to attend.

In addition to understanding why students should get involved in research, attendees will learn about faculty-mentored research, hear from student researchers about their projects and view examples of past conference presentations.

Faculty members who teach during the event are encouraged to consider a “virtual class field trip” to the Teams meeting or share this opportunity with their undergraduate students.

Visit https://usf.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2giY957VeM0x381 to RSVP to the event.

For more about the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, visit https://www.sarasotamanatee.usf.edu.


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