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Meet USF's Newman Civic Fellow and Next Generation Diversity Leader

06-30-2014
Taylor Heath

Campus Compact named Taylor Heath '15 a 2014 Newman Civic Fellow.

Taylor Heath ’15 thought about withdrawing from USF after her first semester. Today, she’s among the most connected students on campus. She leads the Black Student Union (BSU) as president, recruits USFers to join service-learning classes in her role as an advocate for community engagement (ACE) and works as a resident advisor (RA). On top of all that, she’s tutoring K-5 students in a Western Addition neighborhood after-school program — Magic Zone — through the university. 

The list of Heath’s leadership positions goes on, which helps to explain why she was just named a Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a nationwide coalition of universities dedicated to promoting citizenship and service among students. The award honors students who represent the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders.

USF News interviewed the sociology major about what it meant to win the fellowship, her decision to stay at USF, and her involvement in so many campus organizations.  

You considered leaving USF after your first semester. Why?

There were several factors. For one, I went to predominantly African American middle and high schools in L.A. At USF, I was frequently the only African American in my classes and that was a big change. Also, my best friend was and is attending the University of California, Berkeley, where there is a larger African American population. I spent a lot of time there at the beginning of my freshman year and made friends.

What changed your mind about withdrawing?

My second semester, I joined BSU and became friends with the president, Onyi Oriji ’12. She’s also from L.A. Thanks to her and others in BSU, I began to make friends. 

So, it was about friendships?

No, not entirely. I joined the USF Intercultural Center’s Dialogue for Change program my second semester. I took on a leadership role, trying to engage USFers on topics such as gender, race, culture, and religion. 

One of my projects was a video in which I asked USFers to explain ethnicity compared to race. I presented it around campus to start conversations. It was pretty revealing. It’s been viewed about 1,800 times on YouTube, mostly by USF students. I saw that I could contribute to USF’s diverse culture, and I realized that was something I wanted.

What did you learn about diversity, along the way?

One of the biggest things I learned is that diversity is about more than race. It’s about gender, sexual orientation, religious preference, nationality … I began to reevaluate my notion of diversity and saw that USF is more diverse than I first thought. In fact, I’d say it’s very diverse, and I want to build on that.

Now you’re involved with so many organizations. How did such a dramatic reversal occur?

I found a role, or more accurately roles, where I could make a difference at USF and in San Francisco. Onyi was a role model. She made a difference to me. Besides being president of BSU when I joined, she was my RA and the tour guide who took me around campus during orientation. When I think about it, everything I’m doing started with her welcoming me to USF.

If I can be that person for someone else, I feel like I will have accomplished something. 

Congratulations on the Newman Civic Fellowship, an award supported by KPMG Foundation, which seeks to increase the diversity of ideas in society and business. Can you retire wealthy now?

Well, it’s not a cash award [laughing]. But it’s an honor to win the fellowship. I’m one of 200 from across the country. 

I think it shows how USF is a place where anyone can make friends and build a community and change the world, whether it’s with a student club, working or volunteering in San Francisco, or something even bigger. 

by Ed Carpenter | Office of Communications and Marketing »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews