Michelle Espinosa is in the middle of the move-in process: getting her two dogs, Isabella and Zeus, adjusted to Florida, unboxing all her belongings from Washington D.C., and familiarizing herself with her new workplace.
Espinosa’s new job is Eckerd’s Title IX Coordinator. It is her responsibility to ensure the college is in compliance with federal laws of Title IX, Section 504, which covers disability rights, and equal opportunity situations on campus. Espinosa will also be involved in training, as well as outreach, for students, faculty and staff on topics related to her areas.
Senior Sydney Luks worked on the hiring committee for the Title IX Coordinator, and she said the biggest aspect Eckerd needed was transparency: about the Title IX process, who is behind the decisions, who reports to whom, how those decisions are made, and available resources.
“There was always so much confusion about that, and I think all students really knew was that they were dissatisfied and that they were unhappy, but they didn’t know exactly where to place those feelings and who to bring those concerns up with,” Luks said. “So I think transparency is a really big factor in finding a new Title IX coordinator. Someone who is open to having these discussions and making themselves known in the community.”
Assistant Vice President for Administration Amy Apicerno participated in the hiring committee.
“We were looking for a colleague who was going to be fair, collaborative and adaptable with a proclivity for learning as there are constant changes in the Title IX, 504, and equal opportunity spaces,” Apicerno said, “someone who is committed to diversity, inclusion, equity and building relationships throughout the campus community.”
Luks said that changes, such as Espinosa’s hiring, showed her and other students that their concerns are being taken seriously by Eckerd’s administration.
“It shows us that activism works, you know this, a lot of these changes started because of this protest that took place last year, and it’s kind of a testament to activism working,” Luks said.
Espinosa said that college campuses are places where voices can be heard and productive debates can happen with respect and civility.
“I’ve been in schools where student protests are fairly common,” Espinosa said. “ I think that’s a really important part of the student voice on a college campus, it often can be the catalyst to some positive changes, and it certainly helps the students really think through what they’re passionate about and how to best express their concerns and their perspective on what needs to change.”
As well as communicating with students, staff and faculty, Espinosa has to know a lot of federal guidelines regarding Title IX. These policies are in a state of change on college campuses, and one major reason is the new regulations from Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that went into effect in fall 2020. On one of the tables in Espinosa’s office in Fox Hall, two big binders contain the thousands of pages of federal guidelines printed out.
“I actually had not seen it printed out,” Espinosa said. “When I got here and they had it there, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is a lot.’”
Colleges around the country have to read through these documents and put these policies into place. Espinosa said some of these policies are prescriptive, meaning they tell colleges they must perform tasks in a certain way, and there are some parts that are up to the discretion of each campus.
Part of Espinosa’s role as Title IX Coordinator is to understand all of the policies, determine where Eckerd is in the process of implementing them and figure out what remains to be done. She also teaches members of the Eckerd community about the guidelines.
“So that’s why I say it’s in flux, there’s probably still some massaging of it that needs to happen,” Espinosa said.
Another national change impacting Espinosa and campus is the start of the Biden Administration.
“We need to move forward with these and put them in place and be compliant, keeping in mind that there’s likely changes happening that will cause us to continue to change,” Espinosa said.
The Biden Administration will likely be updating these policies in the future.
For now, Espinosa works on implementing changes from the Trump Administration. She started her work on campus on March 15, and is memorizing landmarks around campus, such as Starbucks. She also noticed many people she’s passed by have greeted her, and that most students walk to class in groups of two or three.
“This tells me that Eckerd students are friendly, socially connected and generally happy,” Espinosa said in an email. “More have skateboards (longboards?) than not, and I am already accustomed to listening for the click-clack of wheels coming behind me!”
Apicerno is excited for the campus community to meet Espinosa.
“I was impressed by her experience working with students, faculty and staff, as well as developing and implementing training and programming,” Apicerno said.
Prior to Eckerd, Espinosa was the associate dean of students at American University in Washington, D.C. for 10 and a half years. Before that she worked at University of Tennessee and Stetson University, which she worked at for 13 years. She also has law degree from American University and a Masters of Education in Higher Education Administration from University of South Carolina.
Luks said Espinosa is approachable and open to talking.
“I’ve never felt like she was talking down to me, or felt intimidated by her. She seems like she’s gonna be a great fit,” Luks said. “She’s here to help the school to create a safer, more equitable environment for all of its members. She’s here to serve for and with us.”
Espinosa can be contacted at 727-864-7810 or email@example.com, and her office is in the corner of Fox Hall nearest Cobb. Students can also follow the student Title IX Instagram for more resources.
“I want students to know that they’re not alone in what they’re going through and their experiences, and that there are available resources of all kinds, for this community both on and off campus,” Luks said.