By Erin Timmons
President Judy Bense’s pursuit of greater cultural diversity at the University of West Florida is extending beyond the perimeters of campus and into the community of Pensacola.
Bense shared breakfast with a crowd of about 50 African-American activists and educators at the Greater Little Rock Baptist Church on Aug. 30 and discussed the outlook of the university and its leaders’ desire for a more multicultural student body.
“It’s high time we were here, and it’s high time we come back,” Bense said in a presentation to the group. “UWF has grown so increasingly diverse in the last few years, and it’s time we share that with the community.”
Utilizing development plans that highlight structural changes on campus, re-energizing the staff, and increasing the efforts towards visibility of the university outside the area of Northwest Florida, Bense and other faculty members encouraged the audience to get involved and invested.
“Our student body is now almost 30 percent diverse, and we want to be a better reflection of our community,” Bense said. “If you don’t think big, you won’t get big.”
Interim Vice President for University Advancement Brendan Kelly echoed the call for outreach between the university and the community in which it resides and serves.
“UWF is known for its community engagement,” Kelly said. “There are 19 million people in Florida, and only one million of them are in this area. UWF is an economic engine that we want this community to be a part of.”
The increase in minority enrollment on campus has been encouraged by university administrators who are taking initiatives to prepare the faculty and staff for the increase in diversity and the necessity for awareness and tolerance.
Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Bailey introduced multiple initiatives the university is taking in order to ensure that campus life is an enjoyable experience for all who attend UWF.
These initiatives included mandatory training for all employees that involves “education on multicultural competence for student affairs,” Bailey said. “Bias response protocol is also being generated to allow for reporting of incidences of bias and discrimination to be handled in the best practice possible.”
Kasha Brown attended the event as a member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women of Pensacola and said she was inspired by the changes that UWF has made and are looking to make in the future.
“I had always assumed that the university had a negative environment for people of color,” Brown said. “So after I graduated from Pensacola State College, I thought about moving elsewhere to get my degree. But now I think I want to stay and go to UWF.”
Bense said, “If we can make more of those moments happen, where people consider UWF. Then we won’t have anything holding us back from achieving our goals.”