SEIDMAN SAYS: Here's why one New College student is leaving the school

Last week Christine Nordstrom sent a cryptic text to her 20-year-old daughter, Annika, a second-year student at New College of Florida.

“It’s done.”

Sarasota resident Christine Nordstrom, seated, and her daughter, Annika Nordstrom. Annika recently decided to transfer from New College of Florida to Rollins College in Orlando - a move both Annika and Christine say was driven by concerns over New College's future. Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis overhauled the public liberal arts college's leadership with an eye toward making New College a replica of Hillsdale College, a private, conservative Christian school in Michigan.

With that Annika Nordstrom’s educational path took a sharp detour as she committed to transferring to Rollins, a private college in Orlando. The decision was catalyzed by Gov. Ron De Santis’s determination to make over Florida’s public and nontraditional honors school in the image of Michigan’s private and conservative Hillsdale College.

Like many of her peers, Annika first learned of changes on the horizon at New College in early January, through an email chain that urged students to look at the social media feeds of new board members Christopher Rufo and Eddie Speir.

“I was shocked by what I read,” Annika says. “As a student, it was really scary.”

Christine Nordstrom, a Sarasota resident since 2001 and a small business owner, has deep roots in the community and many friends who are New College alumni or current faculty. She tried to have an “open mind” before the new board first met, but she also had a daughter who was upset, crying and worried about her future.

Contact Carrie Seidman at or 505-238-0392. Follow her on Twitter @CarrieSeidman and Facebook at
Contact Carrie Seidman at or 505-238-0392. Follow her on Twitter @CarrieSeidman and Facebook at

She and Annika made an exploratory trip to Rollins, her daughter’s “second choice” school as a senior at the intimate Prew Academy, Sarasota’s oldest private school. They learned Annika could make a transfer in her area of concentration (psychology) only if she had two full years remaining, so a swift decision was necessary.

Transferring wasn’t simple. New College students create their own schedules so Annika had some credits that Rollins wouldn’t accept and lacked others that were required. Getting a GPA was also challenging since NCF students receive narrative rather than letter grades. And losing her current scholarships (one of which, the Barancik Leadership scholarship, was administered by the abolished DEI department) meant Annika realizing she’d have to work to help with increased tuition cost.

“Transferring is difficult and expensive,” Christine Nordstrom says. “Not to mention the social and emotional impact of it – starting over, making new friends, taking on more responsibility. But for us it was do it now – or stay, with all the uncertainly and fearmongering that entailed.”

Ultimately she decided, “I wasn’t going to play around with my child’s future.”

“I’ve always taught my kids, if you don’t like what’s being served at the table, get up and find another table,” Nordstrom says. “I know the value you get out of New College is amazing, but at this point I’m willing to pay for a politically safe place where my kid won’t have conservative ideals forced on her and where political censorship is illegal.”

It was a wrenching decision for both women. Annika had her heart set on attending New College the day she visited the school’s marine biology lab on a third grade field trip and told her mother, “When I grow up, I want to go to the fish school.”

Nearly a decade later – after graduating as valedictorian at Prew with college credits from dual enrollment at State College of Florida – she had her senior pictures taken on campus, holding a balloon bouquet that read “Off to New College!”

It was the next logical step in an education geared toward “raising my kids how to think, not what to think,” says Nordstrom, who also has a son, 17. Her own early learning was full of the “constrained thinking, fear and intimidation” of the Pentecostal church, which she rejected after attending college.

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“The college experience changed me because I learned to think for myself,” she says. “Early on, I knew I wanted those same educational choices for my own kids. For me, it was installing in them a love of learning and letting them march to the beat of their own drum.”

What Annika found at New College was not nirvana. The dorms had leaks and mold, the food “sucked,” Wi-Fi was spotty and security deficient. But what the neurodivergent student also discovered was an exciting academic environment and “a haven for square pegs who did not fit into round holes.”

“Even though the adjustment to college was hard, I just felt super comfortable because everyone is open about who they are and open to learning and talking to each other,” Annika says, noting the accessibility and friendliness of both faculty and students. (Deposed former president Patricia Okker once sat down with her when she was eating lunch alone.) “Free thinking is what New College is all about and it’s not free thinking as in woke liberal left, it’s thinking for yourself and finding knowledge both in topics you enjoy and those you know nothing about.”

The uncertainty of the college’s future makes Annika feel “sad to be leaving, but safer to be leaving.” Still, Annika says she’ll always be “a Novo” and a proud New College alumnus.

“New College has always had to fight, in less public ways, for its right to be open and free thinking and learning oriented and there have always been threats to take away its funding because of how it runs,” Annika adds. “This time they’re testing how far it can go and I think they’re going to keep pushing.”

Whether Annika’s decision is an indication of an impending exodus remains to be seen. New College will graduate about 200 students from its student body of less than 700 this spring. At the moment fewer than 50 underclassmen have registered for the fall and some parents have asked for their down payments to be refunded.

Transferring won’t be the answer for everyone, but Christine Nordstrom believes it is best choice for her daughter.

“Making the decision about what is right for you is the true spirit of New College,” she says.

Contact Carrie Seidman at or 505-238-0392.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Here's why one New College of Florida student is leaving the school