Students on Social Issues

Prior Letters from the Director

Response to Election, Part 2 - Nov. 8, 2020

Hello Hatters,

Our great leader John Lewis once said, "What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible."

We stand united. We're repeating the harvest that was promised to us. We're taking back what was stolen from us. We shall rejoice today and recover it all. We will unite against hate. We will unite against violence. We will unite! Unite! Unite! As I mentioned in my previous letter, the puzzle pieces have fallen into place and we will walk into the streaming light and honor the university’s mission and values. We are all responsible for keeping our community together and staying strong in our love as Hatters. We have entrusted our country to an individual who holds the presidential medal of honor. Someone who is humbled by the trust in which many of us have bestowed upon him. And…someone who he has chosen someone who he trusts to lead by his side. As someone who looks like many of us.

What does it mean to unite, to include, to come together? Our fearless civil rights leader, Stacy Abrams reminds us that "We must use words to uplift and include. We can use our words to fight back against oppression and hate. But we must also channel our words into action."

As we watch Americans dance and celebrate in the streets in Washington D.C., around our country and around our world, we see a reaction that mirrors our mission at Stetson University. We promise to provide an excellent education in a creative community where learning and values meet, and to foster in students the qualities of mind and heart that will prepare them to reach their full potential as informed citizens of local communities and the world.

Our university promises to uphold the qualities of mind and heart. Mind and heart…What is the true meaning of the word university? A university is not simply a place of higher learning, but rather a community of curious minds and, yes….hearts. Hearts seeking more understanding of the truth. The truth of kindness and unity.

Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris' mother once said to her, "Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last." To every single woman of color please know you are not alone. You are represented. You are leadership. You embody the power of our ancestors who bore the brunt of brutality, violence and pain to ensure you may also be the first, but definitely, not the last. You too are in the White House.

"No fundamental social change occurs merely because government acts. It's because civil society, the conscience of a country, begins to rise up and demand - demand - demand change." – President Elect, Joe Biden

In Solidary,

Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,

Response to Election, Part 1 - Nov. 4, 2020

Last night, as we watched the election results roll in like pieces of a puzzle coming together, I was reminded of the strength and unity of our Hatter community. We are one and will always move in the streaming light of our mission and values. We are all responsible for keeping our community together and staying strong in our love as Stetson University.

During times such as this, I am reminded of the true meaning of the word university. A university is not simply a place of higher learning, but rather a community of curious minds seeking more understanding of the truth. Many Hatters awakened today hoping for the promise that our university values will drive us forward towards achieving continued resilience and strength. Our community beholds kindness and peace and we will continue to hold fast to these principles. Kindness is very powerful and can feed hope. I believe that Stetson University is uniquely situated to lead the way in the march toward restoration.

I encourage all Hatters to foster compassion, understanding and patience towards each other during these unpredictable times. We want our collective voices to send the message that our country is everyone’s country. We are one.

"What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible." - John Lewis


Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,

Response to Racist Social Media Post - Sept. 28, 2020

Hello Hatters,

Our community has been rocked with chaos recently over the most recent controversy regarding a staff member’s egregious racist social media post image that was shared broadly to many student activists on campus who are committed to diversity and inclusion. We understand that this image coupled with the pain that many of us are feeling with the outcome of the grand jury not charging any of the Louisville, KY police officers with killing Breonna Taylor in her apartment is especially difficult.

ODI has always acknowledged the unequal burden that our communities of color face while striving to excel at Stetson while battling bias, discrimination, isolation, and legacies of racial trauma. We stand with students confirming that our beloved university must do better to create a climate where students of color are safe, respected, heard, and valued.

ODI has always acknowledged that silence and inaction contribute to the maintenance of ongoing institutional racism and other structural inequalities. Therefore, we are overwhelmed with pride of the message from President Chris Roellke on Friday evening. We appreciate not only his swift response, but his straight forward, open and honest account of the social media image in which was posted. We appreciate that he respectfully responded to students’ requests of an attempt at reconciliation and healing for the entire community of Hatters and our families. We appreciate President Roellke’s apology and commitment to being an agent of change in our community. His admiration for our strength and hard work to keep each other uplifted in our everyday life, but especially when we are presented and challenged with shocking images of racism such as this particular social media post.

ODI trusts that moving forward during the forthcoming series of virtual meetings that will be open to Hatters will be yet another opportunity to share stories of activism, strength, perseverance; even in the face of racism and prejudice of all kinds we’ve experienced at Stetson and in DeLand. We encourage everyone to participate and share not only your experiences, but creative and thoughtful changes we can make in the future; much like the 12 Demands presented to the University in 1970 by the Stetson African American Society.

We can overcome any challenge together because we embody a community of strength and pride. ODI encourages everyone to stay strong, stay together and stay Hatters!


Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,

Response to Dr. Gregory Sapp - September 9, 2020

Hello Hatters,

It gives me great sorrow to inform you that Dr. Gregory Sapp, Professor of Religious Studies and Hal S. Marchman Chair of Civic and Social Responsibility has passed away. Dr. Sapp had a great commitment to educating others about social justice and many of our students found comfort in him as a trusted ally. He will forever be in our hearts.

In 2019 Dr. Sapp welcomed and hosted Anthony Ray Hinton author of The Sun Does Shine, who offered a powerful presentation for the Social Justice Lecture series entitled, Surviving Criminal Justice in America. Mr. Hinton shared this quote that speaks to the power of Dr. Sapp's commitment to social justice, "Justice only happens when good people take a stand against injustice."

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion recognizes that death can be difficult for us to understand, especially when it is sudden. Many of us may be confronted with a variety of emotions which might include shock, sadness, and confusion. I want to assure you that we care about you and the feelings you may be experiencing.

Please know that Stetson University will support you during this time. We encourage community members to seek assistance from the following campus resources.

Religious and Spiritual Life

Stetson Student Counseling Services

Please join with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in offering our sincerest condolences to Dr. Sapp's family and friends and to all whose lives and careers were touched by the generosity and influence in which our community was offered.


Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,

Response to Jacob Blake - August 27, 2020

Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake,

There are so many questions that I've been asked recently from students and colleagues. What can we do? We know we're not alone, but we are alone right? We want to know, what do "they" see when we're present. What do "they" see when we are walking down Woodland Ave, around campus or in the office and residence halls? What do "they" see when we’re trying to get in our car? What do "they" see when we're outside, walking in the park, jogging and simply hanging out with our friends?

Who's "they" I ask? "They" are anti-black. "They" are hate. "They" are those who are silent. More questions. Do "they" only see us when we are on the field, on the court, or running bases? "They" are people who don't see us as equal. "They" are those who don’t think we are deserving.

We always knew the path to justice would be rocky. We knew that seeking justice would include roadblocks that we would need to climb over, under and around. We knew that there would even be boulders in the way that we'd have to drill through with the help of allies and their equipment that they were so fortunate to inherit.

What we didn’t know was that it would rain rocks on our head. We didn't know that roadblocks would be so far over our heads that it would feel nearly unreachable. We didn't anticipate that boulders would be thrown at our heads, killing us or our children. The boulders that even our strongest allies cannot break apart.

We didn't know that the abuse would continue to be the relentless horror of police brutality and murder of black men, women, and children, and those who have yet to be born.

"They" are those who believe we are not Hatters. "They" don't see us. “They” don’t hear us.

Well, Hello Hatters! ODI sees you. We see you. We hear you. Loud and clear. We are walking that rocky path with you. We are climbing over and under those road blocks beside you. We are dodging and breaking through those boulders in front of you. We are fighting for the justice of our Hatters who have yet to become a #hashtag.

With Grace,

Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,

Response to George Floyd - July 12, 2020

When I began working at Stetson, I was enamored yet a bit confused as to why our mascot was a Hatter. Understanding the history of the pioneering western hat designed by John. B. Stetson, with whom our institution is named after, is the foundation of being a part of the Stetson community. Yet, I thought, there must be more to the Hatter mascot, than the hat and its owner. I was determined to find out what the true meaning of a Hatter was.

Then, I met Stetson students, and everything fell into place.

I have the privilege of being surrounded by Hatters every day. Stetson's diversity fosters the excellence of community because it is a source of strength, cultural awareness and creativity. Being the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, I also have the responsibility of supporting students while navigating them through their own battles with discrimination. Yes, it happens everywhere. No place is immune to racism. I will share with each of you what I share with students battling racism on or off our campus. As black and brown people, we are not defined by our ethnicity or race; rather, we are empowered by it. We are our ancestors' wildest and greatest dreams. We are the embodiment of excellence. We are powerful. We too are Hatters!

I gain strength from multicultural alumni who embrace current students who look like us. Our alumni share their pride and encourage students to continue their legacy in our stored halls at Stetson University. I gain strength from the power of faculty members who teach true inclusiveness and equity. I gain strength from my colleagues who refuse to ignore racism in any form and speak up and speak out because racism does not embody who we are as a university.

A hat symbolizes the power of our campus community. A hat acknowledges our greatness. Working at Stetson and becoming a Hatter myself, reminds me of my own father often tipping his hat in acknowledgment when passing people as we drove or walked around our little town in Virginia. I notice our students acknowledging their friends in a similar manner, yet in their own uniqueness that is truly Stetson. The tipping of their hat comes in the form of raising of a black and brown fist, peace signs, hugs, fist bumps or a head nod. These symbols are the real representation of what it means to embody authority and respect.

Building a sense of belonging in our community means embodying oneself as a global citizen. As Hatters, we are bound together; yet we are also bound and connected to those who we have yet to meet.

As global citizens, we are connected to Christian Cooper in Central Park. We are connected to George Floyd in Minneapolis. As global citizens, we aren’t simply bird watching. As global citizens, we also "can't breathe."

As Hatters, we have an opportunity to engage in true intellectual development and learn from those around us. Our integrity and sustenance don't simply begin and end in our hearts. They start under our hats and in the "spirit of exploration." Our intelligence teaches us how to support and react to one another. Under our hats holds the ability to lift each other up and hold fast to the belief that we can reach inclusive excellence.

We have the great ability to embrace our values as members of Stetson University by removing our hats not only when we enter a building, but also as we respectfully enter into a world of true social justice.

With Grace,

Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,

Response to COVID-19 - April 13, 2020

Stetson Community,

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion serves as a catalyst to weave diversity and inclusion efforts into the experiences at Stetson University and ensuring our community possess the necessary skills to be successful in a global society. As the news about the novel coronavirus, COVID 19, continues to spread, so can worry and fear.

For some, concern about our well-being, as well as the health of family and friends, may give way to anxiety, hypervigilance, inability to focus and difficulty sleeping. Sadly, even trying to keep updated via the news and social media can be stressful.

For others, fear and anxiety may contribute to broad generalizations and assumptions about China and people of Asian descent. Previously, viral outbreaks that have reportedly originated in other countries have fostered biased perspectives about people assumed to be from those regions (or people who physically resemble them). For example, panic about Ebola in 2014 led to discrimination against Africans and African Americans, and the 2003 SARS epidemic contributed to widespread stigmatization of Chinese communities and other Asian Americans. Classifying all Asian people as dangerous or sick, or making assumptions about a person's nationality based on their physical features reinforces long-standing histories of xenophobia and racism, whether intentional or not.

Given the diversity of our campus community, we would like to remind everyone of theStetson University Inclusion and Equity Statement, which in part reads, “…we aim to foster an environment that truly celebrates the variety of backgrounds, capabilities, contributions, and perspectives of all members in our community, with a vision emphasizing unified strength through diversity…”

Asian and Asian American—especially Chinese and Chinese American—students, faculty, and staff are valued members of the Stetson community. If you have witnessed or experienced bias or discrimination, please consider the completing aBias Education and Support Team (BEST) Report. BEST provides impacted parties opportunities to be heard and supported and creates space for parties to process, gain understanding and plan response to the situation.

This is an unfamiliar moment for all of us, but we remain strong in our commitment to assisting you in any way that we can. We encourage community members to seek assistance from campus departments including: 

Stetson Health Service

Religious and Spiritual Life

Mental Health Services

Students:Stetson Student Counseling Services

Staff/Faculty:Employee Assistance Program

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion reminds you to please treat all community members with care and empathy. Resist the tendency to make broad generalizations about people. Connect with those you trust. Please remember that social support is critical. Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other, as we continue to strive for a Stetson family that is mutually respectful, physically safe, broadly inclusive, socially connected and morally accountable.

Remember the words of the great Coretta Scott King, “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” Let’s win in this generation Hatters!


Joanne Harris-Duff
Director Office of Diversity and Inclusion,