The Legacy of Diverse Leadership at FSU and its Impact for Equity and Inclusion Going Forward

A few weeks ago, I attended a speech given by Doby Flowers at the Multicultural Leadership Summit hosted by The Center for Leadership and Social Change at Florida State University. Doby Flowers is one of three individuals featured in FSU’s Integration Statue on the Legacy Walk pathway that runs through the heart of campus. Doby Flowers is featured as the first African American homecoming queen alongside her brother Fred Flowers, the first African American athlete at FSU, and Maxwell Courtney, the first African American to graduate from Florida State University. The university has a unique history with strides towards civil rights as students were able to make monumental achievements without the devastating effects or backlash of the historic violence that characterized a number of civil rights initiatives throughout the 1950s-70s. While these achievements were made without a history of violence it is important to note that the students involved in the integration movements at FSU faced extreme challenges that threatened their academic, athletic, and social successes at the university.

The impact of the efforts of students in the integration era are still present in the university today due to their continued work. Doby and Fred Flowers have recently been involved in the creation and planning of the Civil Rights Institute at FSU, implemented for the study of civil rights and social change. Initially, the siblings met with the Provost, Sally McRorie, and the President, John Thrasher to propose the idea, which was approved and began with a few individuals involved in a planning committee. Eventually, this endeavor grew into an interdisciplinary collaborative effort between the Office of the Provost, FSU Libraries, the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, the College of Communications and Information, and the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The idea was to share the Institute with the campus instead of it belonging to one academic department.

The role of the Institute is to have a space to learn from one another and to engage and discuss ideas for fostering understanding and civility. The Civil Rights Institute’s purpose is to serve as a reminder of the impact and legacy of the civil rights movements so that current and future generations do not forget the impact of civil rights historically and at FSU. The Institute is housed in Strozier Library and features civil rights collections including archives of African American newspapers, FSU Black Student Union and PRIDE Student Union records, files from the Emmett Till Trial, microfilm from the NAACP and ACLU organizations, and research archives from various civil rights pioneers. The Institute also offers two fully funded fellowships for FSU students who are interested in studying or working in civil rights. The fellowships begin starting the summer of 2019. Future plans for the Institute include curriculum support for the university, hosting conferences, and collaborating with different groups in the greater Tallahassee community.

During her speech at the 2019 Multicultural Leadership Summit, Doby spoke about a few things including her personal pathway from undergraduate education to how she built her career and what it meant to be a leader, then and now:

On not Separating Academic Development and Social Development

Doby talked at length how back then students were equally excited to participate in social development endeavors as much as academic endeavors. She talked about how those in the Black Student Union would purposefully collaborate with the Athletics department to make sure student athletes were being represented at FSU by ensuring official participation on the team and being represented at home and away games. She discussed how athletes were very committed to getting the full value of their education which she expressed seemed to be more polarized now. For example, she stated she doesn’t see leaders of the football or basketball teams pushing for academic initiatives within their own colleges or making efforts to continue to enact positive change like she did when she was a student here. She talked at length how the different student leaders across campus would find times to meet to discuss each organization’s pressing issues and how they could possibly work together to achieve a common goal.

Granted there are a proliferation of campus organizations now, but similar collaborative efforts are needed and there is space to make this possible. One area of collaboration for diversity efforts is the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) at FSU. This organization is affiliated with FSU and aims to diminish prejudice and discrimination throughout the broader society as well as locally. One way student leaders as well as faculty and staff who understand the value of equity and inclusion can ensure FSU students are excelling academically as well as socially is by learning how to build coalitions across campus organizations and strive for similar goals.  

On Seeing more FSU Leaders Engaging the Community

In the spirit of building coalitions and putting collective effort towards similar valuable goals of diversity and inclusion, one has to recognize that structures that individuals and organizations operate within exist under an established status quo. For example, while Florida State University has created strategic plans for diversity and has recently won its 3rd national “Diversity Champion” award from INSIGHT Into Diversity, we need to acknowledge that efforts to achieve equitable and inclusive experiences of students, faculty, and staff, are still very much needed. We as individuals must push the status quo to not be complacent with increased numbers of demographic groups but must continue to strive for equitable opportunities and inclusive experiences. Where diversity efforts do a phenomenal job of increasing representation of various status groups, we need to do the other work that ensures these groups feel comfortable and confident enough and have the resources they need to excel once they arrive at our institution.

On the opening night of the Civil Rights Institute, Doby stated that the idea of change is an arduous process, but it can be done and is possible to do when people act as agents of change for the greater good. Similarly, Doby also talked at length during her speech at the Multicultural Leadership Summit how she would like to see more community engagement from the leaders around FSU. We are in a unique situation in Tallahassee where we have a historically White university, a historically Black university, and a community college that has historically served working class populations. Each of these institutions serve a multitude of identities and serve a separate function within the broader community. Doby called for the need of groups that push to include the goals of these institutions as well as those involved in organizations around Tallahassee. One area for this type of collaboration is through the Diversity and Inclusion in Research and Teaching Organization (DIRECTO) at FSU. DIRECTO strives to host events and engage in prolonged conversations among faculty, students, staff, alumni, and executive leadership at FSU as well as community groups and leaders in Tallahassee to engage in discussions and best practices on what we are doing well and how we should improve our efforts for promoting and ensuring diversity and inclusion.

FSU has a legacy of initiatives from its diverse leaders over the years and this is an accomplishment to be proud of, in the same vein though, it is imperative that we understand the demands of the time and strive for more than just diversity. FSU has a strategic plan for diversity that is a worthy and honorable plan but let us continue to see how efforts can be improved. For example, many colleges and departments have adopted versions of FSU Strategic Goal III while some have not. We should strive towards institutional goals that reflect this initiative. Individuals within their own departments should push for diversity and inclusion efforts or projects that serve as a reminder that the work of equity and inclusion is daily work.

While we should applaud the various centers, programs, departments, and colleges around FSU for planning diversity events, much of this work is isolated; other departments are often not aware of when these events are happening. We should push within our departments, colleges, and university to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a centralized effort. The work has been started, evidenced by the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Council which currently works with a number of undergraduate and faculty groups that advocate for veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, and racial and ethnic minorities. However, as Fred and Doby Flowers indicated, let us not forget the work of the civil rights movements and continue to push ourselves to reach for real progress.

Brittney Dennis is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Florida State University with research interests in race, gender, and higher education. She also sits on the board of DIRECTO- The Diversity & Inclusion in Research & Teaching Organization at FSU. She is looking forward to completing a dissertation on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

The feature image is from the FSU Black Alumni.

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