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Undergraduate students Nina Dearwater (right), School of Aging Studies, and Kacey Renfroe (left), Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, received an Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award at the 2015 Undergraduate Research and Arts Colloquium.  Their award-wining presentation described the genealogical research they conducted to identify relatives of boys who died at the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.  

Ms. Dearwater and Ms. Renfroe worked with Mr. Drew Smith (center), a librarian at the USF Tampa Library and President of the Florida Genealogical Society, to identify living relatives of students known to have died at the Dozier School. 

The Dozier School was a reform school operated by the state of Florida from 1900 to 2011.  Located in Marianna, Florida, the School was at one time the largest, and most infamous, juvenile reform institution in the United States.  The School had a reputation for cruelty and abuse, which included beatings, rape, torture, and murder.  In 2009, a special report entitled “For Their Own Good”, published by the St. Petersburg Times.  The report chronicled stories of “The White House Boys”, who had been brought to a building where beatings and torture were carried out.  

In 2011, after investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, the School was closed permanently.   In 2013, University of South Florida anthropologists and archaeologists exhumed and examined the remains of all boys buried at the Dozier site.  The researchers located one cemetery where African American boys are buried, and suspect there is another cemetery where Caucasian boys are buried.

As to why they were interested in being part of this project, Ms. Dearwater replied, “I wanted to research outside of my field and I wanted my research to be meaningful and have an impact on the community. As a 6th generation native of Florida, I felt connected to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys project and wanted to gain experience with genealogy and be an instrument in returning these boys back to their families for a proper burial.”

Ms. Renfroe responded, “This research has taught me the mechanics of working on a highly interdisciplinary project. It has also shown me that it only takes a little critical thinking and the right opportunity to fuse one's personal interests with opportunities for advocacy.”

The young women learned there were many challenges in conducting genealogical research. Names often were incorrectly recorded and documentation did not always match. In many cases, there was no information available.  However, as Ms. Dearwater explains, “With persistence, one can find just about anyone, especially when collaborating with an experienced mentor and other researchers who are passionate about their work.”

Ms. Renfroe also saw it as a way of broadening her understanding of how research not only varies across disciplines but also of the many ways that research is conducted, “I would definitely recommend that undergraduates pursue research opportunities that do not correlate directly with their area of study.”


Serving nearly 48,000 students, the University of South Florida is one of the largest public universities in the nation, and among the top 50 universities, public or private, for federal research expenditures. It is one of only four Florida public universities classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the top tier of research universities, a distinction attained by only 2.3 percent of all universities

Established in 2008, the College of Behavioral & Community Sciencesserves more than 2,600 students with six undergraduate, nine masters, and five doctoral programs housed in seven academic departments/schools:  Child & Family Studies, Communication Sciences & Disorders, Criminology, Mental Health Law & Policy, Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling, School of Aging Studies, and School of Social Work.  The College also is the home of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, one of the largest behavioral health research and training institutes in the country as well as 19 specialized Research Centers and Institutes.

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