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Eckerd College Inclusive Excellence Office honors graduating Diversity Leadership Scholars

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published May 12, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Alumni, Awards, Communication, DEIB, Environmental Studies, Psychology, Stewardship, Student Life, Students
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Left to right: Associate Dean for General Education and Associate Professor of Classics Heather Vincent, Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Beverly Warren, President Jim Annarelli, Dominique Lazarre ’06, Assistant Director for Inclusive Excellence Blanca Catalina García ’03, senior Joe Salcedo; photos by Zach Franco ’23

Students gathered in Fox Hall dressed in their best and ready to celebrate. They signed in on the guest list and greeted one another with smiles. Round tables were decorated with teal and white napkins with silverware tucked inside. A jazz band played smooth music from the stage. The room was energized with excitement; May 1 was a special night.

Students, faculty, staff and Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College members had been invited to the first Diversity Leadership Scholarship Banquet to celebrate and honor graduating recipients of the scholarship. The banquet featured short speeches given by three graduating students and a keynote from alumna Dominique Lazarre ’06.

Psychology student Cedrica “CJ” Jackson, the very first Diversity Leadership Scholar at Eckerd College, spoke to the audience about starting the First-Gen Club to support and celebrate first-generation students who choose to call Eckerd College home. The goal of the club is to recognize this group of students and bridge the gap between them and the rest of the world, she says. She left the audience with one final sentiment: “Do something different.”

Left to right: VP for Inclusive Excellence Beverly Warren, Cedrica “CJ” Jackson ’23, President Jim Annarelli

Environmental studies and communication student Aaron Chimelis stood behind the podium to speak about what diversity at Eckerd has meant to him. He learned to code-switch at a young age, a result of his education at a mostly white school. He learned to “act white” in order to be liked by his peers. It came with a cost: He suppressed his culture and lost confidence in himself. At Eckerd, though, he felt comfortable breaking out of the shell he had built. Slowly, he reconnected with his culture and found confidence again through connections with the people around him. He recently traveled to Colombia, thanks to the travel abroad stipend provided by the Diversity Leadership Scholarship. He wrote about the experience in an article published in the May 12, 2023, print edition of Cat 5., a student-run campus magazine.

Left to right: Vice President Warren, Aaron Chimelis ’23, President Annarelli

Finally, communication student Joe Salcedo took the stage to talk about how his Eckerd experience has prepared him to be a good global citizen, amplifying voices all over the world through his talent of content creation.

Left to right: Vice President Warren, Joe Salcedo ’23, President Annarelli

In 2018, the Diversity Leadership Scholarship was introduced with the intention of supporting underrepresented students with financial need. Now it is evolving from a merit-based scholarship award to a four-year leadership experience.

It will soon be recognized as a scholarship program on the same plane as the Eastman Citizenship and Leadership and the Ford Apprentice Scholars programs. The DLS Program, however, will begin in the first year of a student’s matriculation with a full-year diversity leadership course. The objective of the course is to equip students to be successful leaders during and after their Eckerd careers.

“The short history of this program is truly extraordinary,” said President Jim Annarelli, Ph.D., in his opening remarks. The Diversity Leadership Scholarship now supports 73 Eckerd students across many disciplines.

A theme of the night (and the program as a whole) was “legacy.” Alumna Lazarre began her speech with the dictionary definition of this word, boiling it down to “what you leave behind.” She talked about the perception that Eckerd lacks diversity, but her involvement in Eckerd College Search and Rescue allowed her to “settle into her skin” and show the people around her who she really is without shame. She found that community a safe place to be herself, and she thanked the DLS students for creating more safe spaces on campus. Beyond Eckerd, Lazarre got a job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration doing fisheries research. Her path looked different than she thought it would, but she made it to her dream. She hopes her story inspires others to be brave too.

Assistant Director for Inclusive Excellence Blanca Catalina García ’03 says she is committed to stewarding the program in a way that upholds the Eckerd College Organization of Students’ Together4Campus pillar of advocating with passion. She wants students to know that their stories and words are important. Eckerd holds itself to a high standard of community and discussion. Listening to each other is in the institution’s foundation, she says. This program is an extension of that. The DLS Program consists of various elements—including an academic course, mentorship, and programming that will facilitate conversations and provide students with resources to advocate for themselves and the students in their communities. They begin together as a cohort and bring their perspective into every aspect of campus life, be it a resident advisor position, a club head, a sports team or anything else—creating brave and safe spaces, García says.

“Extending this invitation to diverse leaders poses a pivotal question to the campus as a whole,” García adds. “We have to work together to cultivate a new dimension of students and commit to this community. Are you ready to work together?”