While the Lang cafe is closed for renovations that aim to improve community, The New School continues to face tension in a common area just outside: the Vera List Courtyard. Smoking was banned in the space between the 11th and 12th Street buildings in Feb 2013. Four years have passed, but people are still lighting up.
The ban was implemented because of staff and faculty concerns that smoke was entering their offices. The school had a “legal obligation to protect everyone in the community from the well-documented adverse effects of exposure to secondhand smoke,” according to a university-wide email, as reported by The New School Free Press in 2013.
Yudelka Gomez, a junior studying urban studies at Lang and a non-smoker, said she knows that smoking on-campus is prohibited but said that “no one seems to follow the rules because people are not being penalized for their actions.”
Gene Puno-DeLeon, director of Conduct and Community Standards, receives the complaints about smoking within school boundaries. She said it is an ongoing problem—one that is difficult to solve.
“I do hear it from the community in general, from both sides, saying, ‘We don’t have a safe space where we can congregate and smoke,’ and then there are those saying that ‘This is a safe space for us to congregate, but we can’t because there is smoke,’ so it is hard to deal with it,” Puno-DeLeon said.
Puno-DeLeon’s role is limited, in that she handles specific complaints filed against students. “It’s not like I’m standing out in the courtyard and actually witnessing or being the one to literally enforce that policy.” Puno-DeLeon said.
Campus Security is in charge of enforcing the smoking ban. The New School communications office said that Thomas Iliceto, the director of Campus Security, would not provide a comment for this story.
According to Puno DeLeon it is “extremely rare” that students file complaints about smoking in the courtyard. This is not the case for complaints in the dorms. Over the academic year she receives dozens of complaints of cigarette and marijuana smoking, mostly from the residences.
The office of Student Equity and Access said via email that the school is “committed to enforcing the on-campus smoking ban to ensure the health of our community.”
Opinions among students highlight the difficulty in crafting a solution that pleases the entire community.
For one student, accessibility plays a role in solving this problem. Louis Jargow, a graduate student studying politics at NSSR, leaned against the 12th Street building as he smoked a cigarette. “I’m handicapped so it’s a little bit harder for me to just stand up,” he said. “If I can sit against a wall, and not bother anyone because I’m outside and away from the door, it’s fine.”
Jargow avoids smoking in the courtyard because he was once scolded by a student who had recently done her hair, complaining it now reeked of cigarettes. “She had spent all this extra time shampooing her hair. So, as long as I can have a cigarette outside a building, I’ll be fine,” Jargow said.
Smoking is inextricably tied to community for Vogue Giambri, a playwriting senior at Lang. “I just think that there’s something so social about smoking,” Giambri said. She argued that students across the university are brought closer together while smoking in these semi-public spaces. “I hear it all the time, how we want our school to be more of a community, and we want all the different schools to know each other. And if we want a community, you can’t ban smoking from the Lang courtyard,” Giambri said.
Jacob Channel, a senior studying economics at Lang, said that while he appreciates the smoking ban, “it seems like the ban is a ban in name only.” The sentiment was shared in an op-ed published in the Free Press in 2013, titled “Either Ban it or Don’t.”
Channel has asthma and spoke on the perspective of people with respiratory problems. “It makes it difficult for us if we have to cross through a barrier of smoke to get to our class,” Channel said.
Lucius Decarlo, an economics major at Eugene Lang College, said that being near smoke is unavoidable due to the nature of The New School. “I think you need to accept that we go to an art school and people are going to smoke cigarettes at art school, so you don’t wanna be around people who are smoking cigarettes, don’t go outside where people are gonna smoke cigarettes,” Decarlo said.
Channel said that it wouldn’t be hard for the university to enforce this policy. “It’s not a particularly big step to ask [security guards] to look outside, or look into the courtyard, and if they see someone smoking, immediately go and say, put that out, or get out. It’s as simple as that, really,” he said.
Illustration by Camille Petricola