By Abby Weingarten
Two years ago, traveling Fulbright scholar Miles Iton ’14 completed a fulfilling—yet often fraught—career at New College.
The young filmmaker and academic accomplished much, from being the first black co-president of the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) to co-founding the Black Student Union (BSU). But it often seemed that, with each of Iton’s progressive leaps forward, intolerant forces would push him back.
The experience was so intense he made a documentary about it. And now, as he wraps up his master’s degree Fulbright program in Taiwan, he is returning to his hometown of Homestead, Florida, next month—to a mid-pandemic America in the grips of civil unrest. Emotions are undoubtedly stirring.
“Are the Sarasota police really going to pop off about it and do something this time?,” Iton said, referring to the protests ignited by the Minnesota killing of George Floyd in May (as well as the local murder of Rodney Mitchell in 2012). “What if it was a New College student who got hurt? Would something be done then? Because we’ve had these protests time and time again, with a lot of New College students involved, and nothing has been done.”
Iton has been trying to get people to do something for a very long time.
In 2018, he created and directed a film called Sincerely, The Black Kids, which premiered at Sainer Pavilion in 2018. It chronicled the challenges that young black leaders (himself included) face in academia countrywide—from the south to the northeast—and it was a call for college campus culture to radically change.
“Racism is an ongoing concern for the black and brown bodies whose identities become career fodder for campus provocateurs,” Iton said in a statement about the film.
Onscreen, Iton talked about his experience during his time on the NCSA in 2016-2017, when the student court made baseless impeachment charges against him and co-president Paul Loriston.
The case was ultimately defeated, but it set off alarm bells for Iton. He realized that this was a pattern at colleges nationally, and he visited American, Clemson and Cornell Universities to gather stories similar to his own. His film has since earned multiple awards, including the Programmer’s Award for Best Documentary Short at the Pan African Film + Arts Festival and the Silver Jury Prize for Best of Fest at the Social Justice Film Festival. Iton was also a Short Film Intensive Fellow for the Sundance Institute.
Iton created a Freestyle + Floetry Course Curriculum at New College, and his philosophy senior thesis was entitled Cultural Gentrification: Hip-Hop & Racial Epistemologies in the United States.
New College, for Iton, was a place of tremendous personal growth—and some aspects were more painful than others.
“It was this wild place of ecstatic wonder,” he said, where he had some of the greatest existential discussions of his life. But, like the rest of the country, the New College culture still had plenty of work to do.
“I hope New College honestly gets on the right track,” Iton said.
Iton’s hope has not gone unheard. Since he graduated, there has been an active, intensive conversation about tolerance at New College.
In 2019, for example, Bill Woodson, Ph.D., was brought onboard as the dean of outreach and engagement and the College’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer. He and Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Loretta Shields launched an “Inclusive Campus Climate Webinar Series” (virtual training workshops for faculty and staff) to help promote a more understanding campus environment.
This was all happening while Iton’s Fulbright scholarship took him to the National Cheng Kung University’s Institute of Creative Industries Design—and while he was simultaneously developing a hip-hop-based, English-as-a-foreign-language course called Lo-Fi Language Learning; and producing works for his company, n.e.Bodied Entertainment.
When the New College campus reopens in the fall, Iton looks forward to visiting and potentially shooting parts of a second film onsite—one called Comet: A Slice of Life Short Film Set in Panhandle Florida.
Created by two of his alumni colleagues, writer/director Bree Nieves ’14 and writer/producer Kailah Santos ’14, the film is about a protagonist named Felí (a Filipina and Afro-Latinx girl) who navigates her identity as a woman of color living in a conservative Florida town. The character of Leo, portrayed by Iton, plays a current New College student who encourages Felí to accept her identity through a liberal arts education. The film will be a story of unity this time, not of discord.
“This film takes a different perspective; it’s a real opportunity to speak to the togetherness that we all felt when we were at New College,” Iton said. “A lot of us never imagined we could find the life we wanted for ourselves together at a place like New College. So why don’t we show New College from a perspective of how we can continue to have people feel like that—in a way that reflects students who come from backgrounds like us?”
Nieves and Santos wrote about the impact New College made on them both in the Comet mission statement.
“Academic institutions function as a space for people to find themselves personally and professionally. New College has been that space for the makers of the film Comet,” they wrote. “New College was a saving grace for our humanistic and freedom-seeking sensibilities. It is the epitome of the power a liberal institution gives young people to explore several subjects at once without our intellectual worth being defined by numbers.”
They continued, “New College was and is an oasis in a time where arts are undervalued and underfunded. We are forever grateful for this space. It is where we met and grew intellectually, interpersonally and artistically. Without New College, this film would not exist.”
Without New College, Iton, Nieves and Santos would never have met. Now, in solidarity, they are making films that represent who they are—and showcasing a New College that was responsible for shaping who they have become.
Iton believes all true stories need to be told—the beautiful ones and even (sometimes, especially) the uncomfortable ones.
“We’re going to tell the truth in both films,” Iton said of Sincerely, The Black Kids and Comet. “There are triumphs as there are negative experiences. And there are things that need to be said.”
For more information on Iton’s work, visit nebodiedent.org.
For more information on Comet, visit kickstarter.com/projects/breenieves/comet-a-slice-of-life-short-film-set-in-panhandle-florida. To donate to the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.