New College is facing new challenges this semester while still trying to solve the problems of last semester. The Four Winds cafe, transparency and police presence on campus are still hot topics of debate. With the added problem of COVID-19, New College has a lot on its plate. New College Student Alliance (NCSA) president Sofia Lombardi has recently stepped into her position and will aim to tackle all of the issues of the current academic year. While running as a candidate, Lombardi’s platform focused on increasing student involvement, dealing with COVID-19, decreasing police presence on campus and enhancing transparency in the NCSA. Fall semester has already had its hurdles and no one can know what’s to come, but Lombardi has pledged her dedication to students and will ensure students have their voice’s heard.
“I’m very excited to be NCSA president because I think I am going to be able to be a really strong advocate for students and I am really grateful to the students who provided me with this opportunity,” Lombardi said.
The 2019-2020 academic year had many bumps in the road: budget cuts limited student activities, police presence on campus continued to be an issue, the Four Winds cafe reopened only to close again, New College almost merged with Florida State University and a pandemic forced students off campus. Students have returned, but Four Winds is still closed with no current plans to reopen and police still remain a strong presence on campus. Now, COVID-19 poses hurdles to the academics, public health and finances of New College. New College can find solace in knowing it is not the only college facing hurdles this year. The question is: where to start?
“I’d say I have two number-one priorities,” Lombardi said. “Overall, they fall under campus safety. One of my biggest priorities is ensuring that COVID-19 testing is efficient and ensuring that we’re staying safe in regards to public health. And then another one of my safety priorities is to decrease the police budget and police presence on campus as soon as possible.”
Currently, COVID-19 procedures on campus require masks to be worn indoors and outdoors, limit gatherings to groups no larger than ten people and limit visitation to the dorm occupants. Additionally, administration encourages student use of the University of South Florida’s (USF) symptom checker to both ensure students are healthy and allow the tracking of any potential outbreaks on campus. Students are held accountable through a four strike system; if a student receives four strikes for violating COVID-19 procedures they are kicked off campus.
Rather than punishing students for their mistakes, Lombardi proposes the establishment of educational campaigns. These campaigns will aim to educate students about what the procedures are and why it is important for campus public health to abide by these procedures.
The campus police department is another issue Lombardi hopes to address this semester. Many students have publicly expressed their concerns regarding police presence on campus in the past, from forum email threads to anti-police posters put up by students last year.
The problem is not confined to New College. Across the country, police departments have faced increased criticism over the size of their budgets, their excessive use of force and abuse of authority. Discussion of standard procedures within their communities are a hot topic nationally and very personal to students who have had negative experiences with police. The problems with campus police will not be an easy challenge to overcome, but Lombardi hopes to start by bringing the discussion to the Board of Trustees.
“The next Board of Trustees meeting is an evaluation of the police budget,” Lombardi said. “I plan on advocating for slashing the budget as much as possible. I plan on advocating for reforms that aren’t going to just increase the cash flow to the police department and that will decrease their power.”
Increased police presence on campus has been a growing concern for students. Rising security costs for PCP, controversial posts shared by officers on social media and heated confrontations with students on campus has sowed mistrust of police among students. Police recently gained another duty on campus by enforcing parking after the civilian parking ticketer was let go. Lombardi aims to decrease police presence by offering student worker positions to fill the duties of officers on campus.
“I propose putting more students in worker roles—we could establish student patrols,” Lombardi said. “Rather than having cops come around and look up at night and check on things, we could establish more civilian paid positions, rather than firing our civilian parking ticketer and putting a cop in charge of that. I think prioritizing student workers first and then civilian workers second would be really important.”
Fighting for police reform at New College will not be easy.
“I’m obviously going to do my best to push with what I think is right and what the students want,” Lombardi explained. “I know that’s not going to be extremely popular with administration, but I’m not afraid of barriers or having to face obstacles.”
Lombardi is looking to work with student groups like the Black Student Union (BSU) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) to gauge students’ opinions of campus police and work to establish reformation.
Campus police is just one of many areas where students and administration disagree. There is a clear disconnect between students and administration over how New College should function and what it should represent.
“I’m not afraid to be disliked by administration,” Lombardi said. “I have cultivated really strong relationships with a few administrators, but above all, I’m there to work for and serve the needs of the students. If administration is going to just disagree with what the student body wants, then that’s inevitable.”
In her platform, during the debates and in her policy stances Lombardi has made it clear that she will advocate and listen to her fellow students. She has also held open applications for this year’s NCSA cabinet, positions that are traditionally appointed by the NCSA president, in an effort to get more students involved in the NCSA.
“I think garnering more student input is a great first step to increasing transparency,” Lombardi said. “That way students feel that they’re playing more of an active role in decisions that are being made. Really, I just plan on communicating with the student body as much as possible.”
Increased communication with students will start with newcomers to campus this year: the first-year students. First years have arrived at a strange time at New College and have not had the opportunity to properly enjoy the campus atmosphere or attend walls. Lombardi hopes to bridge the disconnect between the cohort of 2020 and the New College community by establishing first-year-only office hours.
“I did some work at orientation and I met a lot of first years,” Lombardi said. “This year presents a unique challenge for first year students to adapt to New College because of the world’s situation right now. I think establishing these first year office hours would be helpful in any year, but I think establishing them specifically this year will really help ease the transition during a pandemic.”
One issue that has attracted lots of student opinions is the renowned Four Winds cafe. The cafe has been a topic of discussion since it first closed at the beginning of the 2019 spring semester. Since then, Four Winds reopened and closed again, but student sentiment remains the same. Students want to see the Four Winds cafe open and running again. Lombardi got the chance to see firsthand how Four Winds operated while working in the cafe during the 2019 Fall semester. She expressed how changing the cafe from being student-run to operated by Metz “dragged down business” because the cafe did not have an accurate perception of student opinion. Currently, the Four Winds cafe, like many other buildings around campus, is closed due to COVID-19. Lombardi has no plans to open Four Winds this semester.
“Personally, I think we should prioritize campus safety before Four Winds,” Lombardi said. “We have one shot at making Four Winds a permanent fixture on campus. While I think it’s an important student space that needs to be prioritized, with the public health crisis we’re in the midst of, it’s not the best idea to attempt to open Four Winds right now.”
Accessibility on campus is another oft-discussed topic, but often gets pushed aside as a low priority. New College has many old buildings that are not accessible to some students with mobility issues. The Student Disability Services (SDS), has a new hire, Marra Piazza Brass, who will aim to increase the work and outreach of SDS services to help the students who need it. Lombardi has worked closely with SDS in the past and looks forward to continuing to work with them.
“I think the new SDS hire is going to be really hands-on with students in solving a lot of those accessibility issues we have on campus right now, whether they’re physical or mental,” Lombardi said. “I’m more than happy to make that a priority and work with the people I already know and have already met to make things better for campus.”
New College is up against some tough challenges this semester and no one can be sure how the college will fare in the spring. However, with proper student involvement and input into the NCSA, combined with a willingness from administration to act on student concerns, students can look forward to having their voices heard. Lombardi emphasized time and time again that she will be an advocate for students and encourages any student to raise any concerns, feedback, or criticism to her. The NCSA’s new members have stepped in and are ready to face the challenges of this academic year.