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Next New College Student body President takes office

Written by on Friday, May 17, 2024

Olivia Mikkelsen ran unopposed.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 15, 2024

Host: It’s graduation week, and that means one student generation is about to leave. It also means a new generation will take charge. At New College of Florida, with all its disruption and turnover over the last year-and-half, this is a key moment in student governance. Our news team was at the inauguration of the next president of the New College Student Alliance.

Johannes Werner: At a time of uncertainty and turmoil, when most New College students are trying to keep their heads down, Grace Keenan was probably the most visible student. Her role as the savvy representative of students’ interests over the last two years in contentious board of trustees meetings caught the attention of the likes of MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Most often, Keenan ended up on the losing side — in tandem with the faculty trustee — on a board of out-of-state appointees tasked by Gov. Ron DeSantis to extinguish Woke on the campus. Even so, she held her own, and her fellow students rewarded that by re-electing her last year.

Turning Point USA, a conservative student group that “organizes students to promote freedom”, created a New College chapter after the takeover. A Turning Point candidate ran for Student Alliance president against Keenan last year and lost, not without claiming, though, that the election was rigged. As of late last year, the Turning Point chapter had 34 members.

But now, Keenan is graduating, and on Friday, it was time to hand over.

[Sound of applause at ceremony]

Mikkelsen being sworn in

JW: In a ceremony before a handful of students — with New College President Richard Corcoran looking on, seated on the top row in the aging HCL auditorium with its noisy AC system — Keenan swore in her successor. Her name is Olivia Mikkelsen.

This time, the election was not contentious. Mikkelsen, a returning student who has been on the Sarasota campus since before the takeover, ran unopposed. In her acceptance speech, she emphasized the importance of trust – trust among students first and foremost, maybe also trust that things will work themselves out, somehow.

Kyla Baldonado was vice president under Keenan. Baldonado was re-elected as vice-president, now serving with Mikkelsen.

You might think that student housing, discrimination against LGBTQ students, or disappearing faculty were the top challenges for students. But given what the campus is right now — a disjointed group of students with very different outlooks, problems and interests — Baldonado says her top challenge last year was just to get a conversation going.

Kyla Baldonado: Over the last year, I think something that was tough for us in student government was accounting for all of the changes that were coming to the student body. When I came in, the student population was quite different to what we see now when you walk around campus. And being the representative for all is a little bit of a challenge because, you know, I come from my own background and they come from their background and I have to try and represent and advocate for all of these different voices. And that’s something that I think is going to be continuing in the next year, but I’m very positive that we can handle it. 

JW: Which is why Mikkelsen put improving communications at the top of her to-do list.

Olivia Mikkelsen: That it depends on the students, for sure, and one of the things we’re working on doing in student government over the next year is work on initiatives to connect students to each other and also students to faculty because that’s something we’ve noticed over the past few years even, is that the students … We need a space to communicate with professors outside of the academic environment, and so we’re working to create ways for students to engage and build relationships.

One of the issues that we really want to address is creating more of a sense of community on campus. We really want to create more events and create a more visible student body so that we are people who can advocate for students. Students and all students know of our resources and also the resources available off campus for any of the needs that we aren’t able to meet as a student body or an institution. So I think around communication will be the biggest thing that we’re going to work on over the next year. 

JW: Mikkelsen is a third-year psychology and anthropology student. She does not come as a complete novice to the challenge of difficult communications. For one, she helped set up the New College chapter of the League of Women Voters. Mikkelsen grew up as a Quaker, and last year, she interned with a Quaker organization in Washington that lobbies Congresspeople on Capitol Hill.

Students are a key part of shared governance on the New College campus. Elected student representatives sit as voting members on the New College faculty and its Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences divisions. They also serve on standing committees of the faculty and administration, helping to frame policies in admissions, curriculum, and library services.

Unlike at other state universities, every student at New College is automatically considered a senator in the Alliance. Students are encouraged to participate in monthly town meetings.

The New College Student Alliance has the following goals:

  • Foster a shared sense of community;
  • Preserve New College’s identity and vitality as a unique alternative in American higher education;
  • Represent and express students’ views on the administrative affairs of the college;
  • Promote an environment free from discrimination; and
  • Ensure that students have control over all decisions that affect them.

Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.


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