After the block schedule and phased move-in of the fall semester, Eckerd’s 2021 spring semester began to resemble the sense of normalcy everyone has been craving. The campus returned to its usual academic schedule during which students took all their classes at the same time, Campus Activities hosted the first traditional Eckerd party since March 2020 and seniors will have an in-person graduation ceremony. Despite a challenging, unpredictable year, this community has a lot to be proud of and much to celebrate.
President’s first year
Damián Fernández completed his first year as Eckerd’s president, and started implementing a strategic plan that he hopes will help Eckerd become more sustainable, diverse and innovative. According to Fernández, some of his favorite moments from the year have included visiting and guest-lecturing in classes, organizing the “Jolly Trolley,” the ice cream truck that went around campus on March 25, and welcoming the Class of 2024 with the Ceremony of Lights. Fernández is also excited to start implementing projects that have been in the works over the past year, including the “Liberal Arts” farm, the living shoreline and the Center for Social Impact, a hub in St. Petersburg that will connect Eckerd students with the wider St. Petersburg community.
COVID-19 and Vaccines
Last summer, Eckerd made the difficult decision to re-open the campus to all students who wanted to return. While it was a year of uncertainty, campus was able to stay open for the duration of the school year with two brief lock-down periods. During Winter Term, in-person operations were suspended from January 14 until January 19, and during spring semester, there was another lockdown from April 15 until April 18. According to Fernández, the COVID-19 infection rate has remained below 1 percent at Eckerd this school year.
On April 20, April 21, May 11 and May 12, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg came to campus and set up a vaccine clinic under the GO Pavilion. Students could either make appointments ahead of time, or walk up to receive their dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Because many Eckerd students reside outside the state of Florida during the summers, students got top priority to receive their vaccines over staff and faculty. Over 400 students received vaccines on campus this spring. In total, about 53 percent of students who will be back in the fall have at least their first dose of the vaccine and about 70 percent of faculty and staff have received their first dose.At this time the college is not requiring students to get the vaccine before returning to campus, however, college administrators have been urging all students to get the vaccine if possible.
Campus Safety and Security had suspended the approval of any amplified music or large gatherings since students returned in August 2020. But on May 1, a socially-distanced Spring Ball was held under the GO Pavilion, which featured music, food, a photobooth and more. To fit the Candyland theme, many students wore colorful outfits, makeup and accessories.
To keep the event COVID-safe, Eckerd’s social distancing policies were still in place during the event, and there was a limited capacity of attendees. Students were required to sign up on the Campus Activities’ website and could attend in 90-minute increments. The event lasted from 7:30 p.m. until midnight. While it was a modified version of Eckerd’s usual Springtopia festivities, it was an exciting event that reminded students of the way Eckerd could be if everyone gets vaccinated and continues to keep our campus safe.
Making a more diverse Eckerd
In the past year, the United States has seen a rise in racial tensions and a push for an increase in equity and inclusion across the country, and Eckerd was no exception. This semester, Black students have been calling for their voices to be heard, particularly in terms of campus rules and policies. On May 6, leaders of Afro-American Society held a protest against racial injustices on campus that demanded action from students, faculty and staff to address these issues. Also on May 6, a website called “Disruption” debuted that featured a guide to the history of racism in St. Petersburg, discussed white privilege, gave resources for actionable steps to take to combat racism and more. Additionally, the expression board behind Kappa Complex features slogans like “F*** your white fragility,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Fernández has been working on strategies this school year to address concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion. Recently, Eckerd hired its first Predoctoral Fellowship for Scholars from Marginalized Groups, Rupak Shrestha. Shrestha is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado, Boulder. While at Eckerd, Shrestha will teach a course each semester and one in the Winter Term, offer public presentations on his research and participate in the College’s efforts and events related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Additionally, Eckerd is hiring a new position: Director of Inclusive Excellence. The new ECOS President Ava McLeod will be involved in the process of getting students involved in the selection of the position.
Students have also called for a reporting system in which any implicit or explicit bias can be reported and dealt with. According to Fernández, the Eckerd administration has heard the request loud and clear from students, and is considering the best process to ensure that these issues are gathered and attended to with responsibility.
Changes to Title IX
The Title IX process has seen many changes this semester after a long-standing reputation of leniency for perpetrators, which was emphasized by a silent protest in February 2020 that demanded action from administration to hold its students and faculty responsible for Title IX violations. This spring, the Student Title IX Advisory Council completed its first full year as an active entity. The council provides ongoing input and recommendations to the Title IX Coordinator, assists professional staff in implementing educational initiatives and acts as a liaison between the student body and Eckerd staff. This group of students is made up of four seniors, three juniors and one sophomore.* So far, they have initiated a healing-centered discussion group, hosted a CPS event featuring sex educator Twanna Hines and created an Instagram account that provides resources and responses to instances of abuse online at Eckerd.
A new Title IX Coordinator, Michelle Espinosa, joined Eckerd’s staff on March 15 to create a separate office for Title IX violations. Before her arrival, the Title IX office was indistinguishable from the office for other conduct violations. Espinosa ensures that the college complies with federal Title IX laws, and is involved with training and outreach for students, faculty and staff on topics related to Title IX.
This semester has been unlike any other, but Eckerd’s community commitment to each other has helped our school stay open during a time where many others were forced to close. Students are looking forward to another semester with completely in-person classes, a spring break and study abroad opportunities.
*Editor-in-Chief Kelli Martin is a member of this council*