With more than 33 colleges and universities participating, the 20th Annual Narrowing the Gulf Conference for Underrepresented Students in Postsecondary Education celebrated 20 years of promoting equity, diversity and inclusion on April 4-5, 2019 at SPC’s EpiCenter. The event was touted by attendees as one of the best ever.
Co-sponsored by SPC’s Accessibility Services Department and the Florida Association of Higher Education and Disability (FL-AHEAD), the conference focuses on concepts, ideas and practical strategies that improve classroom instruction and support services for underrepresented students that, in turn, benefit all students.
Conference topics ranged from subjects like avoiding unconscious bias, labeling and ending rudeness in the classroom, to those of transitioning, policies for service animals and success strategies.
Kelly Morgan, who came to the conference from Warner University in Lake Wales, said she was amazed by how much information she could pick up in just two days.
“I’m a department of one,” she said. “Being around other professionals and sharing ideas makes me feel less alone. I’m really excited about the transition planning session. I’m excited to take that back and see what we can do about it.
SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams introduced opening keynote Lance Corporal Mike Delancey, a Pinellas Park native who completed tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq before being shot by a sniper in September 2006, paralyzing him from the waist down.
In 2015, he partnered with the City of Pinellas Park to form his own not-for-profit organization, The Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch (WWAR). The ranch and park will be a fully wheelchair-adapted park offering cycling trails, an outdoor fitness station, and a multi-purpose sports court. The park will have a fully stocked fishing pond and also will be home to the organization’s headquarters, a central resource for all adaptive sports and recreational facilities available for veterans.
Delancey is also pursuing his personal goal of returning to college and becoming an Elementary school teacher.
“A lot of kids are missing guidance,” he said. And I want to be able to provide that.”
Aimee Stubbs, Conference Coordinator and President Emeritus of the Florida Association for Higher Education and Disability, was awarded the
the Dr. Ken Marquard Award of Excellence for her tireless dedication and commitment to students with disabilities in higher education and extraordinary service to the professional field across the state of Florida.
Wrapping it up was the straight-talking Salome Heyward, who earned many knowing nods from her audience in reaction to her stories of discrimination from colleges across the country. Heyward is a civil rights attorney with over 40 years’ experience in the field of disability discrimination law and disability management, and is the president of Salome Heyward & Associates. She discussed the legal pitfalls that colleges and universities can encounter if they don’t make their schools accessible to students with disabilities.
“What you see most often,” Heyward said, “are procedural failures. And they come about because of the frequent challenges colleges face: lack of money and manpower.”
Kimberly Smith, who works in Disability Services at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, said it was her fourth year at the conference.
“It’s wonderful to be able to network, listen to strategies that other schools use and get plenty of ideas to take back with me,” Smith said.