Central Florida Pledge, University Commitment

From the start, Stetson has been an integral part of the Central Florida Pledge.
Front row, from left: Jeremy Posadas, PhD; students Sheridan Macon, Aviv Maddron, Derrick Doh and Diana Godinho; Chief of Staff Rina Arroyo; student Chibuikem Okoye, and University Chaplain Todd Campbell Jr. Back row, from left: staff members Ben Staskowski, Kevin Winchell and Reed Barkowitz.

On the morning of Feb. 29, several Stetson leaders along with five students attended an event in downtown Orlando to launch the Central Florida Pledge. The event, in essence, was a community celebration. Also, it was emblematic of our university.

Among the Stetson leaders were Todd Campbell, director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Chaplain; Kevin Winchell, director of Community Engagement; Jeremy Posadas, associate professor and the Hal S. Marchman Chair of Civic and Social Responsibility; Reed Barkowitz, Hillel Program director; Ben Staskowski, AmeriCorps VISTA – Interfaith Engagement coordinator; and Chief of Staff Rina Arroyo. 

The Central Florida Pledge is a call to action — a community-driven regional initiative to combat antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of hate and discrimination throughout  our communities. The pledge asks residents to commit to treating all people with kindness and respect, especially those with whom they disagree.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings (left) and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer sign the pledge, as Stetson representatives and others cheer in the background.

The pledge’s underlying belief is that Central Florida has long been a community of inclusion for all, and the initiative was conceived to continue ensuring a “safe and welcoming environment for everyone who calls Central Florida home.”

The launch contingent that day was led by Central Florida Pledge co-chairs Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Community Benefit, and real estate developer/philanthropist Alan Ginsburg. Other speakers were Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

The event was a very big deal and near its conclusion, while numerous photos were being taken, it became a quintessential podium moment. 

Stetson’s Embrace

In reality, however, that moment is a movement — one that has been embraced by the Stetson community. 

President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD

Stetson President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, was the first university president to sign the pledge, joining a veritable A-to-Z who’s who of regional officials, dignitaries and local citizens. 

Months before the big event, Roellke, Campbell and Arroyo had gone to an organizing meeting, and they remained closely involved. Also, the pledge was initiated by Alan Ginsburg, whose Ginsburg Family Foundation has close ties to Stetson. Plus, Marc McMurrin, director of the Ginsburg Family Foundation, has been another a driving force for the movement.

Signees of the four-paragraph Central Florida Pledge have promised to treat “all people, especially those with whom I disagree, with kindness and respect.” They promise to “refrain from inflammatory words and actions, and actively support those being attacked.” Also, they have vowed to report hateful and violent threats, and seek education about hate and discrimination while influencing others to do the same.

In turn, Stetson jumped at the opportunity to help drive the movement.

‘Kindness Matters’

“I enthusiastically signed the pledge because kindness matters,” Roellke said. “It not only matters, it enables us to listen, to engage with others unlike ourselves and to consider paths we forge together to make our community, in fact the world, a better place.”

United Against Hate, a community outreach effort, was present on campus April 2.

Not coincidentally, the Central Florida Pledge dovetails nicely with two other initiatives that in April took place on campus: United Against Hate and Stetson’s Better Together Week.

Hunter lauds the university’s efforts. “We are thrilled with Stetson’s leadership in this initiative,” he commented, “and we look forward to partnering with Stetson in the years to come.”

To describe Stetson’s participation, Arroyo used a phrase that has become synonymous with the Chief of Staff on campus: “Love wins.”

“It’s a beautiful statement that so many leaders in Central Florida are coming together around supporting unfairly targeted communities,” Arroyo said. “This is Central Florida coming together, regardless of our political affiliations, belief systems and religious convictions, and saying, ‘No, we will not accept hate in our community.’ To me, that’s the power of this movement, because it is a movement; it’s not an organization. It is a movement to take back our communities and say to the world, ‘This is who we are and what we stand for – we stand together in community, in fellowship and in human dignity.

“This is the soul of Stetson; this is who Stetson always has been and always will be. We’re a community that doesn’t accept hate and stands together in solidarity for love and light.” 

Note: To read and sign the pledge, visit this website.

-Michael Candelaria