Activism and Expression

Scott Novak ’16, editor of The Independent magazine, is also the driving force behind the Rollins Coalition for Sustainable Investment.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

An Alfond Scholar majoring in international relations and philosophy, Scott Novak ’16 is one of Rollins’ most politically engaged students, a high-energy activist whose impact spans the social, academic, and environmental arenas.

In addition to working part time as an executive campaign assistant at You Should Run—a new consulting company in Orlando that helps progressive candidates—he has interned on the campaign team of former Democractic state Rep. Joe Saunders and in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Orlando). 

At Rollins, Novak is best known as editor of The Independent, a student-run, issues-based magazine he cofounded last year with creative director Mary Pflug ’16.

Lately, he’s also been making a name for himself as founder of the Rollins Coalition for Sustainable Investment, which calls for the College to nix fossil-fuel companies from its financial portfolio. The group’s petition, which includes more than 400 signatures, has gained considerable student and faculty support.

“Over the summer, I read a book called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” Novak says of the 2014 book by Naomi Klein. “It helped me fully comprehend just how serious climate change has become. If we don’t act … then my generation is going to have a very difficult time ahead of us to mitigate a situation that’s already spiraling out of control.”

Divesting, Novak continues, will help Rollins align its financial values with two ideals found in its mission statement: global citizenship and responsible leadership. Overall, he says, the concept has been well-received by the administration. Now, his group is fine-tuning a proposal that it hopes will be considered by the Board of Trustees.

As outlined on the Coalition’s website, the three-part goal is for Rollins to:

• Freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies immediately.
• Divest within two to five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds.
• Direct at least 1 percent of previous fossil fuels investments into renewable energy and other socially sustainable funds.  

“Roughly 1.2 percent of Rollins’ endowment is invested in fossil fuel stocks,” Novak says. “We would work with the fund managers to say ‘these are the top 200 companies we don’t want to invest in.’ ”

Professor of Counseling Kathryn L. Norsworthy counts herself among the Coalition’s—and Novak’s—biggest supporters.

“I’m very excited about his project to eliminate Rollins’ investments in fossil fuels,” she says. “He has made this a campus-wide initiative by mobilizing support from the faculty and staff as well as students. Scott is very skillful at engaging in activism in a relational way that recognizes and honors the humanity of those with whom he is in dialogue while also advocating for the changes that he seeks. This is a great gift to us here at Rollins and beyond.”

Genesis of The Independent

Mary Pflug ’16 co-founded The Independent with Novak in 2014. (Photo by Scott Cook) Mary Pflug ’16 co-founded The Independent with Novak in 2014. (Photo by Scott Cook) From pretty much the time he set foot on campus as a first-year student from Fallston, Maryland, Novak has made the social side of politics a priority.

While at The Sandspur, Novak and Pflug started talking about how to provide students with an outlet to express themselves in long-form narrative or academic formats. They came up with The Independent, which launched in 2014 and publishes each semester. The full-color, glossy magazine features five content buckets: The Forum, Campus Correspondences, International Affairs, Food and Fitness, and The Arts.

About 30 people have a hand in each edition, roughly half as staff members. In March, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) gave The Independent six Gold Circle Awards for individual achievement—including a first place Gold Circle for Novak’s “Undercover Dispatches from Ghana.” In 2014, the magazine received Gold Medalist recognition and the Silver Crown Award from the CSPA for overall excellence.

The next edition, scheduled for release before Thanksgiving, will include stories on the divestment campaign, Rollins’ critical disabilities studies program, an analysis linking government accountability and the erosion of freedoms, and—just to keep things light—a review of the best “bad shark movies.”

Rachel Newcomb, Diane and Michael Maher Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning, is Novak’s academic advisor and past advisor of The Independent. She’s been impressed with her pupil’s energy, intelligence, and passion ever since they met on his scholarship interview.

“Scott’s someone who fully immerses himself into any experience that he’s involved in,” Newcomb says. “He’s a great writer, and I’ve had the opportunity to offer feedback on many of the articles he’s subsequently published in the Huffington Post and Orlando Sentinel. I really believe he is someone who is going to go out into the world and change it.”

The Next Step

As for life after graduation this spring, Novak is weighing his options. A prolific traveler—with research trips to Morocco, Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Ghana—he’s applying for graduate scholarships to study in the Netherlands or United Kingdom. He’s also giving thought to law school or a possible full-time job with You Should Run.

“I don’t know quite where I’m going yet,” Novak says, “but I do know that whatever I do, as long as I can stay politically engaged, I’ll be happy.”