Eckerd year in review

In the 2019-2020 academic year, Eckerd saw the selection of a new president, the evacuation of campus due to a pandemic, as well as crime, a protest and a state championship. Below is a summary of such events during this year.

3 lawsuits filed against Eckerd 

Three lawsuits were filed against Eckerd College in 2019. Former Eckerd student, Becca Lavin-Burgher fell from a ladder inside Binninger theater on May 20, 2018. Lavin-Burgher sustained head injuries and was declared dead on May 24, 2018. On Oct. 25, 2019, Elaine Burgher, mother of Lavin-Burgher, filed a lawsuit alleging that Eckerd College’s party culture led to her daughter’s death. The case was dismissed with prejudice on March 9, 2020. 

A former Eckerd student filed a lawsuit against Eckerd College for the alleged mishandling of a sexual assault case. The lawsuit alleges that former Marine Science and Chemistry Professor David Hastings sexually exploited his geochemistry lab assistant during summer 2018. The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed on March 18, 2020.

A current Eckerd student filed a lawsuit against Eckerd for negligence. The lawsuit alleges the student fell on the stairs outside of the library and was injured. Allegations claim that the lighting around the library is too dim and is a liability. The claim was filed Oct. 31, 2019.


Title IX protest held during faculty meeting 

Organized by juniors Sydney Luks, Shelby Scott and Kristi Stari, 200 students gathered in front of Sheen Auditorium with taped mouths and signs to take a stand against the college’s alleged handling of sexual assault cases during a silent protest

The Feb. 5 protest formed after the lawsuit was filed against Eckerd College for the allleged mishandling of a sexual assault case. The lawsuit alleged that Dean of Faculty Suzan Harrison discouraged the former Eckerd student from pursuing the claims. 


Title IX Advisory Councils created

After the silent protest on Feb. 5, President Donald Eastman sent an email to the student body and faculty detailing the college’s plans to improve dialogue about Title IX on campus. Two advisory councils were put in place, as well as listening sessions for students. 

The sessions had a capacity of 25 students who were to RSVP and were allowed to email anonymous questions up to 24 hours before the sessions. 

The faculty selected to serve the council were professors Paige Dickinson, Sara Hoffman, Cory Krediet, Alexis Ramsey-Tobienne and Jesse Sherry. The students selected to serve the council were Victoria Bamford, Gianna Bottone, Naomi Fanelli, Carley Going, Connor Jenkins, Christine Lorentzen, Sydney Luks, Shelby Scott, Kristi Stari and Taylor Wagner.


Eckerd declared smoke free

Lindsey Barret, director of Outreach Services and Health Promotion, started an EC Smoke-Free initiative in 2010, planning to eliminate smoking on campus by 2020. On Jan. 1, Eckerd was declared completely smoke-free. 

Tobacco Free Florida teamed up with the EC-smoke-free committee to provide smoking cessation classes to students and faculty. One class was held on Feb. 26 and provided smoking nicotine patches, gum and lozenges.


Eastman retiring, Fernandez selected

President Donald R. Eastman III announced that he will retire on June 30, 2020 after spending 19 years with the college. Under his leadership, Eckerd’s endowment has increased to $58.3M, while yearly student applicants have increased to 4,825, according to the State of School for 2019 - 2020. Eastman’s other accomplishments include beautifying the physical landscape and cultivating strong bonds between faculty. 

On July 1, 2020, Damian Fernandez will assume his role as Eckerd’s fifth president. Selected from a pool of 179 applicants, Fernadezwill take the presidency during a time of financial uncertainty caused by COVID-19. Holding a doctorate in international relations from the University of Miami, Fernadez hopes to increase student diversity and to encourage students to be passionate about current world issues. 


Residence halls closed, classes moved online due to COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eckerd was forced to move classes online and close all residence halls on March 18. Other large changes included canceling all spring sports and postponing the in-person commencement ceremony to honor the class of 2020 until Dec. 12. Students were issued room and meal plan refunds for the days they weren’t on campus. 

In an email sent to the Eckerd Community on April 29, traditional room draw was postponed until June 1. Students needing to still pick up their belongings from residence halls can do so from May 15-19 if they reside in Florida, or June 1-20 if they reside outside of Florida. 

Although it is still unclear whether COVID-19 will disrupt the fall semester, ECOS expects that the uncertainty caused by the pandemic may cause a drop in student enrollment and has decided to plan for a budget cut of $50K in the fall.


Two commencements: virtual in May, on-campus Dec.

The plan for this year’s commencement ceremony has changed amid the pandemic that closed Eckerd’s campus. In an email sent to the Eckerd Community on April 15, President Eastman announced plans for graduates to be celebrated virtually with a Baccalaureate address on May 16 at 4 p.m. EST, and a creative digital presentation on May 17 at 1 p.m. EST. 

Since no virtual celebration can replace being with friends and celebrating on South Beach, Eckerd is also planning to hold an in-person ceremony on Dec. 12, 2020. Students can stay updated on the Commencement website.


Break Free From Plastics pledge signed

On Nov. 5, 2019, with President Eastman’s signature on the Break Free From Plastics pledge, Eckerd College made history by enacting the nation’s first campus-wide purchasing guideline on single-use plastics. The pledge --led by Eckerd’s Reduce Single-Use campaign and students of Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) -- was instituted on Jan. 1, 2020. 

It prohibits any faculty, staff or student from using the college budget to purchase nonessential single-use plastics. This includes single-serving beverage bottles, cups, balloons, glitter and more. Eckerd Reduce Single-Use and members of PIRG seek to reduce plastic consumption and raise environmental awareness both on campus and in the community. 


Women’s Basketball claims the title of SSC tournament champions

Eckerd’s Women’s Basketball team traveled to the University of Tampa’s Bob Martinez Center on March 8 to face the Spartans for the title of Sunshine State Conference Champions. In their first two meetings during the regular season, Tampa won both of the games, each of which decided by six points or less. 

From the tip-off, the teams went back and forth taking control of the lead. It wasn’t until late scores by seniors Zoe Richards and Octavia Loll and four straight free throws that the Tritons pulled away. The final score was 75-69 with Eckerd on top as SSC Champions -- securing the program’s 3rd conference title and 25th win of the season. Junior Makayla Kuehne was named tournament MVP.

Advancing to the Division Two National Tournament, the Tritons earned the No. 5 seed of the South Region and headed to Lee University in Tennessee to play No. 4 seed Delta St. The game was cancelled due to the public health impacts and uncertainties of COVID-19 and the team had to return to campus


Shooting threat, ID checks, increased security

After an altercation between off-campus individuals and students on Oct. 31, 2019 and a shooting threat in early December, Campus Safety increased security and implemented 100% ID checks. 

The group were noticed by students who acted hoping to be able to turn them into Campus Safety. After the confrontation, several of the non-students fled on stolen bikes.

A little over a month later, the St. Petersburg Police Department arrested an Illinois man after threats of a mass shooting on-campus. Allegedly due to a current Eckerd student breaking up with the 22-year-old, Khalil J. Wilson, in August, an email from the college’s emergency notification system said that Wilson took to social media to threaten both the student and the campus. After the threat and the trespassing, Campus Safety implemented 100% ID checks at the front gate and increased police presence on-campus.

News Editor

Gabrielle is a senior and a double major in creative writing and human development. She loves music and frequents concert venues.

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