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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.