Dark times lay behind

New College has the dynamic combination of a small campus and a socially- and politically-active student body. Students have, since the inception of the college, remained vocal about their demand to have a say in what happens on campus and the need to address important issues in a way that accommodates the unique needs of our school.

A June 1988 Student Affairs report goes into detail about a series of student complaints and issues that they felt needed to be addressed. Among them are familiar topics such as the state of the Pei dorms (over 30 years later, the dorms are finally in the process of being renovated), financial aid availability, access to buildings after-hours, and a demand for more community events. Also present on the list however are topics that denote much harder topics in our campus history.

The first subsection in the list of issues to be addressed is AIDS. In 1988 the AIDS epidemic had touched every region of Earth and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that over 10 million people were living with AIDS worldwide. The first antiretroviral drugs had only just hit the market, and the first World AIDS Day had not yet been created. “Students think it is imperative that the New College community be up-front about the existence of HIV positive students on campus,” the report reads. “Information must be readily available about testing sites, counseling, and facts about the virus. Programs need to be developed to help community members to deal with the various aspects of the disease.”

Part of the demand included better access to condoms, with the suggestion of condom machines being installed around campus for easy purchase, although students felt it imperative that they “be available to students at the least price possible”. There was also a demand for a particular kind of condom – those treated with a chemical called nonoxyl-9, which the report says “has proved to kill the AIDS virus on contact”. In 2001 the WHO released a report that nonoxyl-9 treated condoms showed no evidence of protection against STDs, had not been thoroughly tested for possible side effects, and decreased the shelf life of condoms and were not recommended over untreated condoms.

The report goes on to address another important topic, that of counseling needs. Students felt the Counseling Center was did not provide adequate resources for “serious mental illness and chemical dependency,” and “most people thought that the propensity to Baker Act students was an abrogation of community obligation.”

The suggestion to bring alums in to volunteer as counselors was brought up. “This will help to mitigate some of the difficulties which arose during the AIDS crisis, Dave Dunn’s suicide, and the Airport issue.” The on-campus suicide of a New College student stirred a lot of feelings of anger on campus, with issues such as financial aid and academic rigor brought into the fold during the aftermath. And the protests against the construction of the airport, in which dozens of New College students were arrested in various protests and a legal case was brought against the airport, stirred up more feelings of radical mismanagement and fruitlessness. Following these incidents students showed an interest in peer counseling in order to address on-campus stressors on an individual, peer-to-peer basis.

Students in every cohort of New College experience their own upheavals but the 1980s were a particularly difficult time for New College attendees. If our campus is currently reeling from the effects of recent events and wounds not yet healed we are at least guaranteed that we are not the first to experience these pains and we will not be the last to work through them.

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