Vice Provost for Diversity and Community Engagement Message: What is BERT?


Dear USF Community,

We write to provide you with a more complete explanation of the Bias Education and Resource Team’s (BERT) role on our campus, provide further details about the recently circulated, racially charged photograph and related emails, and to invite you to participate in a community conversation next Wednesday, Oct. 19.

What is BERT?
The intent of the Bias Education and Resource Team is to educate the USF community and support those who experience bias and harassment. Actions taken by BERT in pursuit of these goals are grounded in the university's mission and values as a Jesuit Catholic institution committed to equity and social justice. BERT was launched this academic year as a campus resource and has already been providing support to affected individuals and communities across multiple identities.

On Oct. 5, BERT received a report stating a photograph was taken in a USF residence hall showing a female Asian Pacific Islander student holding a rope around the neck of a male student who is perceived as African American and self-identifies as half black. The photo was taken by a white male student who sent the photo to his roommate, an African American male student. The student who received the photo then shared it in hopes of seeking support and starting a conversation about its impact. Through meeting with these USF students involved with the photo, and discussing what took place, we sincerely believe the students in the photo did not have malicious intent. However, this does not negate the impact of the photo.

From our many conversations, meetings, and social media interactions with members of our community, we know this photograph has sparked a variety of emotions. This photograph conjures a history of racism, acts of intimidation, and terror experienced by African Americans. It has triggered a range of feelings, including hurt, anger, and a deep sense of frustration for our black and African American community, as well as the larger campus community.

We have received feedback from students, staff, and faculty that the initial campus-wide email sent on Oct. 5 by USF administration created significant negative impact. The email caused additional hurt and feelings of marginalization within the black and African American community by not describing the photo or identifying this community as being directly impacted by the content of the photo. The vagueness of the email also created greater confusion and anxiety for the broader campus community.

The USF administration takes accountability for the hurtful impact the communication caused. We are committed to: creating spaces to gain a deeper awareness of our impact; engaging in both personal and institutional knowledge and skill development to address bias on our campus; and working in partnership to meet the needs of those most marginalized in our community.

As part of meeting this commitment, we are hosting a space for further community discussion.

Community Conversation, Oct. 19
On Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. in McLaren 251 and 252, the university community is invited to join USF President Fitzgerald, Provost Heller, and Vice Provost Wardell-Ghirarduzzi to continue the conversation that many of you have already started about the far-reaching effects of this incident.

This community conversation is an opportunity to listen to one another and collectively identify the next steps necessary to help heal our campus community.

We encourage all to attend as we strive to make the USF environment one that is more inclusive, merciful, just, and respectful of everyone.


Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi
Vice Provost for Diversity and Community Engagement

Maisha Beasley, Student Life/Dean of Students
Michele Centrella, Human Resources
Alejandro Covarrubias, Cultural Centers
Ria DasGupta, Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach
Erin Echols, Cultural Centers
Ryan Garcia, Student Conduct, Rights, and Responsibilities
Daniel Lawson, Public Safety
Golden Thomas Venters III, Student Housing and Residential Education
Peggy Yang, Counseling and Psychological Services