University of South Florida’s Diversity Committee with Liz Bannon & Jayda Peacock

By Carlos Bautista-Babb

March 2020 is a time that changed so much for so many. The 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the events following that shutdown changed the conversations towards race, gender, and equality for society, but also the marching arts. For Liz Bannon, Colorguard Director at the University of South Florida, and the performers she works with, they decided to take action within their own program to help the communities they are a part of by creating a diversity committee for the winterguard. One of the members of this committee that has been a part of it from the beginning is Jayda Peacock, who has been a member of the Herd of Thunder Colorguard and University of South Florida Winterguard for two years. I had the privilege to discuss this committee with them the creation, mission, and vision they have for this committee and how they’re active before the 2023 season begins. 

Liz Bannon is an alumna of the program herself, being a member in the Herd of Thunder Colorguard in 2004, and U.S.F. Winterguard from 2005 through 2008. She began working with the program for the 2013 season as the director of the Independent A team and has been with the organization since. Liz and her staff are currently preparing for the 2023 season in Independent World Class after just winning the Independent Open Class in 2022 at WGI. Outside of colorguard she is an elementary educator in Hillsborough County Public Schools, teaching English Language Arts for 5th grade in her thirteenth year as a public school educator. Jayda Peacock is a current Psychology major seeking to work in Mental Healthcare for children and young adults within her community. Jayda was raised in a space that mental health was something to always be considered and hopes to help teenagers in their mental health journeys. 

“Diversity is always important for any program” Liz says when reflecting on the creation of the committee. In 2020, the winterguard became a student organization at the University which helped them be more purposeful when trying to overcome inequities within their program. “I am purposeful with who I choose as staff members, it’s really important that we reflect who our students are, but also who we want them to be.” she says when discussing the individuals that stand alongside her in front of the performers. Liz stands on the belief that “every member can look at a staff member and have something in common.” Having Michael James as the lead designer for the program has also led to critical choices in who are the featured performers in each production. 

Going into the 2021 season, Liz’s goal was to “add a layer that diversity was discussed, viewed, and guided more purposefully through the lens of the members.” The committee would be made up of students that would view everything going on within the organization through the diversity lens. As diversity is a core value for the program, “this committee helps us as an action team to ensure we are living it now.” Jayda goes on to say “it’s not so much about having a ‘diversity committee’ but all coming together with all of our thoughts and being able to promote what we want for diversity for our team.” 

To be a part of this committee, there isn’t necessarily a process to join, just being a member of the winterguard and wanting to participate. Liz is an active member of the FFCC Access Committee and recalls when she first joined feeling out of place as one of the only caucasian member but told herself “I want to be here and be a part of the discussion,” which leads her to encourage all of the members to join the committee that feel a need to. The committee seeks to assist in all aspects of diversity that include race, ethnicity, sexual orienation, gender identity, and more. Jayda and many members feel that “there isn’t a community without everyone.”

Going into the 2023 season the committee is looking to assist diverse auditionees in paying their audition fee. They want to support new members that come from different backgrounds and be able to overcome that initial cost of auditioning for an independent team. Since the committee started, they have taken an “inside-out approach” in working to help each other within their own organization first with plans to branch out for the larger community. Previously they have done spotlights for International Women’s Month, Pride Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month, Hispanic Heritage Month. They did a larger spotlight on Michael James, the program designer, during Black History Month. They hope to inspire other programs to follow suit and push diversity at the forefront of conversation. 

Conversations within the committee have led to asking “why isn’t there equal representation for all?” It has made Liz, Jayda, and other participants dive deeper into the people that are showing up to their audition, the makeup of high school programs that feed into the winterguard, and how they can continue the growth in underrepresented communities being active participants of the marching arts. Liz hopes to “develop high school directors so that they can be at programs with diverse members giving the best quality instruction to them, so those members can go into an independent or college program.” 

As the program is looking into its future, Jayda hopes to continue to make representation important. Having grown up in North Carolina wanting to dance, she recalls a concern from her parents about not being included since she would be one of the few students of color. She wants everyone, specifically in the arts, to feel welcome and included, “regardless of the program or organization, that everyone feels accepted to be who they are and has the resources to do that as well.” Liz strives to push the dialogue in other organizations by “how obvious we are with our intentions.”

With audition season commencing, many independent organizations in all three areas of what we do (colorguard, percussion, and winds) can continue these efforts within themselves. Having the dialogue around diversity can only benefit the organization as a whole and encourage members to be involved in their communities. 

The USFWG Diversity Committee members include: Jayda Peacock (Committee Head), Rey Rosado, Amy Gonzales, Zoey Michaela Campagna, and Anastasiya Smith Lopez. 

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