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Kenyon students need to embrace openness

Campus culture of negativity hurts mental health and creates stress.

I consider myself a very open and independent person, traits that often seem undesirable at a small school like Kenyon. “Community” here is sometimes confused with having a consistent friend group, and emotional honesty is often considered a weakness. It’s taken me my entire four years here to understand myself and the dynamics of Kenyon enough to write a piece like this. I write this column, and express myself so openly, in the hopes that other people find some solace or hope in knowing that feeling bad at Kenyon is totally, 100-percent normal. That being said, I think that there are steps we can take together to make our campus a better place, for ourselves and for others.

I believe that an overall sense of kindness and warmth is often lacking in our day-to-day interactions on the Hill. Essentially, I’ve noticed a wealth of anger, frustration and sadness at Kenyon and a deficit of kindness and gratitude. I see this, for instance, when a person who has had sex with me can’t make eye contact with me and say hello when they see me walking down Middle Path. I also see it when I’m at the Village Inn and students don’t tip their bartender or server, and I see it in the constant negativity that is people complaining about how much work they have (although I am guilty of this, too, believe me). Someone at a dinner referred to this phenomenon as a “Kenyon stress fetish,” which seems apt — add that to your lexicon!

Casual sex can be really fun for people, especially when we are young, but at Kenyon it is complicated by what I referenced earlier — a sort of kindness deficit. People (myself included) sometimes have “meaningless” sexual encounters, and then can’t work up the courage or the decency (not sure which) to acknowledge one another in person the next day. As an adult woman, I find this mind-boggling. Intimacy is something I enjoy a great deal, and I think casual sex could be more enjoyable at Kenyon if people were simply honest about what they wanted from one another, and treated one another with respect and kindness. Perhaps it’s harder to be honest when alcohol and hormones are both at play, but should it be? I’m not entirely sure why we want to be so closed off about these things.

As someone with a mood disorder that includes (but is not limited to) anxiety and depression, I know a lot about mental health, but I still struggled a great deal with the transition to Kenyon culture as a first year. I didn’t realize the emotional fallout that would occur after seeing a former hook-up ignore me in the Peirce servery; I didn’t anticipate the crushing anxiety that would overtake me, and never thought I would cling to people I had sex with for emotional security they were not prepared to give me. When I was a first year, did I really want to have sex with a cool sophomore who liked the same bands as me, or did I just want someone to notice me and validate my existence? I think it was the latter, which definitely did not happen as a result of our casual hook-ups. I entered into a lot of situations that damaged my mental health during my first couple years here, sometimes because I simply didn’t know any better. The good news is, I’ve learned a lot from it all. But it was painful. Unfortunately, pain is often a part of growth.

I am not saying “hooking up is bad, don’t have hook-ups.” Sex can be great. But there first has to be kindness and respect between people in order for such greatness to occur. Ya dig?

Navigating the social scene at Kenyon can be treacherous. Especially as a first year, it is hard to know these hidden facets of Kenyon because I think we really don’t like to talk about them. But we should! Let’s talk more honestly and openly about sex. Let’s be more kind to one another. Go hug a friend. Have a conversation with one of the lovely people who work at the bookstore or coffee shop. Thank a professor for the help they gave you on an assignment. Reach out and you will be surprised by the warmth and kindness you receive.

Emma Klein ’17 is a film and women’s and gender studies major from Arlington, Va. Contact her at kleine@kenyon.edu.

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13 Comments

  1. Anonymous Reply

    Whatttt is this even about. This thing started with a campus culture of negativity, started in on kindness, then became a kind of feelings-diary about the author’s sex life. Like 75% of the personal details probably could have been left out and the point(s) would still have been made. Girl, this info about being emotionally insecure and how it relates to your sex life is great to share with the counseling center (they’re great!), but an op-ed about the value kindness does not need to include references to your ex-hookup. He’s probably still out there and idk I would feel super uncomfortable if my ex-hookup started alluding to my identity in a think piece, especially in a place as tiny as Kenyon. My guy, I feel you, but you’re trying to say a lot here.

    1. Emma Klein Reply

      Hello! Author here. The ex hookup is actually no longer on campus because he graduated! but thank you for the concern for him. If you want to talk to me more about your reaction to this feel free to reach out! my email is at the bottom of the op-ed. thanks!

  2. Rowan Reply

    This is really brave and good – and not talked about enough. Thank you, Emma!

  3. Anonymous Reply

    1) I’m sorry, but this piece really needed to be edited before you published it. The structure is all over the place and really needed an editor to come in and shred it/put it back together again, because it’s nearly incoherent at points.

    2) The nature of most hookups is emotional distance despite physical intimacy. If you were offended because your hookup didn’t want to talk to you after having sex with them, then you just shouldn’t be hooking up with people. It takes a certain level of ability to separate emotion from intimacy in order for someone to hookup effectively, with the least emotional scarring.

    3) I think the problem here is that you expect too much out of the people you enter into one-night-stands with. I highly doubt people are going to start having conversations about what will happen the next day or next week after they hook up. Casual hookups are basically just hedonism, and honestly I think you need to reevaluate your priorities if you expect anything more than that from the other person you’re hooking up with.

    4) The nature of hookups is not a Kenyon-specific thing. If you were at any other school and you ran into a hookup, I guarantee the outcome would be identical. There’s not really a deficit of kindness specific to Kenyon. There is, however, a deficit of people willing to cater to your emotional needs despite the fact that they barely know you. In fact, I’d wager that there’s a deficit of those people everywhere in the world, because the reality is that most people who barely know you just don’t care about you. That’s a fact of life. As of now, nothing is going to change that because humans are inherently fallible creatures. If I were you, I wouldn’t be investing so much emotional energy into whether or not someone is going to say hi to you.

    1. Anonymous Reply

      Preach. I get the author’s message, but it reads like a high school tumblr post. The “Collegian” is for sure not the right platform for this as it is – this needed an adventure to the writing center before it hit the campus newspaper.

      Author: good for you for feeling comfortable to share your feelings 🙂 Kenyon is a good place for that.

      1. Emma Klein Reply

        hmu with your email address and I’ll send the next one to you for edits! 🙂

        1. Anonymous Reply

          Haha I am no editor (as you probably realized lol), but I’m sure the people in the writing center could help! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Anonymous Reply

    First of all, not cool @fellow Anon^^^

    Second, as someone who has my own share of anxieties, I think maybe we should acknowledge how anxiety plays into acknowledging past hookups. I always got stressed out when I would see my past hookups around campus, and this even sometimes happens with acquaintances. One of my constant (and self-induced) fears is that people will think I’m “unkind” or bitchy when I don’t say hi to them, when in actuality it just makes me anxious/I’m just trying to get through Peirce making minimal eye contact with someone. This article has kind of confirmed that fear.

    I do agree that there’s a certain culture of negativity here, but I don’t think its necessarily fair to chalk up the avoidance or ignoring of hookups to straight up unkindness. All that said, none of this is to say that I don’t respect and understand where you’re coming from. Only that there’s another side to the coin.

    1. Anonymous Reply

      my two cents nobody asked for: in college you gotta start making healthy decisions for yourself. You do not need hookups to live or thrive at Kenyon. If they take a toll on you emotionally, or you can’t handle the nature of the hookup, then just don’t hookup. It’s not for everybody. It wasn’t for me! It’s not about unkindness, it’s about setting rules for your body and your sex life. Unkindness is knocking somebody down in Peirce. Unkindness is not ignoring someone after a one night stand, and if it is to you, you should probably use your human voice to articulate that. People aren’t mind readers, just blobs of cells stumbling through the ether trying to make sunday brunch without a fuss.

      1. Anonymous Reply

        So if Person A has put their fingers/penis inside Person B, and Person B sees Person A on a daily basis at a small campus, you don’t think it’s unkind for Person A to ignore Person B and pretend like they don’t exist? Acknowledging someone’s humanity is a core part of being an adult. Nobody needs hookups to live or thrive at Kenyon, as you say, but they happen, and oftentimes people do not handle it in a mature manner. People may be blobs of cells stumbling around, but like, human decency is a thing that everyone could try and practice a bit more…

        1. Anonymous Reply

          In more cases than not, the person isn’t actively ‘ignoring’ you, they’re just not actively acknowledging you. Again, you gotta use your grown-up words about sexual endeavors. Some people really just want the physical intimacy and not the emotional intimacy, other people need both. Some people LITERALLY just want to have sex and not talk to the other person – which is fine, but you need to communicate that, and it isn’t a one way street. The other person needs to communicate their feelings if they know they can’t hookup with the guy/girl/nonbinary individual they found while drunk at peirce pub without having some level of emotional intimacy. Also, acting like it’s ‘rude’ for someone to not want to engage in a friendship/acknowledge you everywhere because you guys had sex and if they don’t are being ‘unkind’ is kind of slut-shamey. This should have been an article about communication, not kindness. Sorry if I don’t wave to you whenever I see you on middle path, I have emotional intimacy issues and while I had a fun time hooking up don’t really wanna have to worry about acknowledging every human I slept with on this campus. And if you’re butthurt about it tell me, but if you don’t say anything I have no clue. //rant over

    2. Emma Klein Reply

      I think you are very right about the prevalence of anxiety and how it plays into interactions with past hookups. I’m really sorry that my column came across as glancing over the very real feelings of anxiety that many of us suffer from. I’ve also been guilty of avoiding people–I spent most of my freshman year at Kenyon too anxious to eat at Peirce in peak hours because there were certain people I really did not want to see. And I’ve also often worried that I came across as bitchy or unkind! Especially in times of intense emotional stress and depression, it’s really hard for me to interact with people openly. But what I was kind of trying to say in this op-ed is that if we could as a student body foster a more open community where we try to treat each other with the utmost respect and kindness, we would all be better off. But there is no shame in suffering from anxiety or other forms of mental health troubles! Thank you very much for your perspective, I appreciate your comment a lot 🙂 take care, Emma

  5. bert Reply

    Emma,

    You think too much and need to relax. Also, it seems hooking up isn’t good for you, the stress it gives you afterwards seems to go against your need for the few minutes of intimacy.

    Get a cat. I did 🙂

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