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Eckerd College alumna delivers message of perseverance at Diversity Leadership Scholars banquet

By Hilary Lehman
Published April 25, 2024
Categories: Alumni, Awards, DEIB, Students

Stacey Burke ’10 shares her career journey with Eckerd College’s Diversity Leadership Scholars at their annual banquet on April 16. Photos by Julie Guardiola ’25

From bouquets presented, certificates awarded and hugs exchanged, the mutual admiration and respect were evident and overflowing at the second annual Diversity Leadership Scholarship Banquet, which honored graduating seniors on April 16.

Students in the program heard their peers speak about what the program meant to them and enjoyed an address by alumna Stacey Burke ’10.

Deenah McFadden, a junior biology and anthropology student from Cleveland, Ohio, said that participating in the DLS program and working as an ambassador for the Office of Inclusive Excellence has been a crucial part of her Eckerd experience. She got emotional thinking about the graduating seniors.

“DLS has given me a platform to not only do what I’m passionate about, but has also given me a safe space,” she said. “It’s caused me to meet people that I consider my family now.”

The Diversity Leadership Scholarship was created in 2018 as a merit-based scholarship with the intention of supporting underrepresented students with financial need. Now, it is a four-year leadership experience, with cohorts of students moving together from their first year to Commencement. As the program has grown—to a current number of 77 students—so has the Office of Inclusive Excellence.

When discussing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts at Eckerd, Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Beverly Warren, Ed.D., quoted this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

“It’s through our collaboration and work with others that we often can attain a greater level of success than we ever envisioned,” Warren said.

Students spoke about the sense of community that being Diversity Leadership Scholars allowed them to tap into, including a project interviewing alumni from diverse backgrounds—“legacy stories”—and documenting their stories. Graduating senior Kayla Rendon-Torres, a biology student from Arizona, told the group that the DLS program had allowed her to create deeper connections with her fellow students.

“Being able to understand the intersectionalities of my identity was something that I wanted to be able to explore with other students and see, are they also going through these things?” Kayla said. “And the answer is absolutely, 100% … I saw inclusive excellence as a way for us to tap into that—to be able to build that community and that relationship.”

Student at podium that reads "Eckerd College"

Kayla Rendon-Torres ’24 speaks at the DLS banquet.

Building community through connections across diverse identities and generations was echoed in the evening’s keynote address. An assistant district attorney for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, Burke returned to speak to students about her own Eckerd experience and offer words of encouragement for their journeys and efforts against injustice. Burke earned her bachelor’s degree from Eckerd in political science and modern languages and her J.D. with Pro Bono Distinction from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in 2017.

Her visit was made possible through the Al Robbert ’66 and Birgit Robbert ’69 Endowed Fund for Alumni. The fund was established in 2021 by the Robberts, an alumni couple who realized the potential benefit to current students of interacting with graduates.

Burke spoke about traveling far from her home in New York City to attend Eckerd in turbulent times, recalling that while she didn’t always agree with her fellow students or professors, Eckerd taught her to have difficult conversations.

“Conflict is good. Conflict breeds creativity. Conflict is part of the human experience,” she said.

She noted that today’s times are no less turbulent.

“One of the things that I recognized and I understood is that the fight has to continue,” Burke told the group. “If something’s not right, and it compromises your integrity, you fight and you learn when to take a step back. Gather your things and get back in there.”

Deenah said that though Burke attended Eckerd before the DLS program was created, she was a shining example of the program’s values.

“Knowing that someone that’s so successful is willing to come back and talk to us and loves Eckerd the way we do … is super exciting,” Deenah said.