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Students aim to reformulate role of safe spaces on campus

Students aim to reformulate role of safe spaces on campus

By Tim Kotowski

On its website, Kenyon advertises what it sees as a primary attraction ラ “a strong sense of community.” That community includes a large support network of people consisting of, among others, Community Advisors, Upperclass Counselors, Faculty Advisors, Beer and Sex Advisors, Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Discrimination Advisors. But according to Tim Jurney ’15, president of the Peer Counselors, an organization dedicated to helping students deal with issues related to mental health, there’s another resource available at Kenyon that few students know about: the College’s safe spaces.

A “safe space” is a general term for a place where a student can go if he or she feels unsafe for any reason. A “safe room,” more specifically, refers to a designated empty room on campus that a student can use as temporary housing. The reasons for temporary relocations vary significantly and range from maintenance issues to fears for personal safety.

Under the current system, any student in need of temporary housing can either call Safety or directly contact the Office of Residential Life, which administers the program. The Crozier Center for Women and the Unity House also operate their own safe rooms, along with more general safe spaces.

Currently, about 20 students use safe rooms each year. “The prompt availability of a variety of spaces, with relatively few hassles, has been appreciated by the students who have made use of them,” Dean of Students Hank Toutain said.

Although Jurney agrees that the current program has been helpful for the students who have used it, he claims it hasn’t been “publicized in any way that’s been effective so far.”

In addition to the lack of student awareness, Jurney pointed out another issue with the current system. “What if you don’t need a safe room?” he asked, “What if you just need a place to go deescalate ナ or a space [to go] if you’re really having a lot of issues and want to talk about it?” According to Jurney, the only spaces that currently serve that purpose are in Crozier and Unity, and are primarily “for an identity group,” he said. “There is an absolute need for there to be a house for all students.”

Other students, such as the co-heads of the Sexual Misconduct Advisors, Paul Dougherty ’13 and Rebecca Ogus ’14, agree with Jurney. “It is fantastic that some students feel safe in [the Crozier and Unity Houses],” Ogus said, “but there should be something available for any and all students. Maybe it’s na?ve to think that’s possible, but it’s a goal to work towards.” Dougherty agreed and said, “A safe space built into a residence and managed by student leaders of the residential space is an essential resource upon which Kenyon students rely.”

This year, Jurney brought the issue to the attention of the College. “In the beginning,” he said, “there was a little [tension with the Office of Residential Life].” But once he started working with other student organizations and College officials, relations between them greatly improved. “I think they just needed more than just Tim coming to the office and saying, ムThis is a problem!'” said Jurney, laughing at his initial approach.

Monday, Feb. 25, Jurney met with College authorities to discuss a proposed set of reforms to the safe space system. One of these is a training session that will teach the College’s confidential student advisors (SMAs, DAs and Peer Counselors) how to connect a student with temporary housing. The administration will then make students aware that they can get a safe room through these advisors.

Another proposal is the establishment of a Peer Counselor House. Under the plan, two or three Peer Counselors would reside at the house, which Jurney hopes will be located centrally on campus. In addition to the safe space, it would also have its own safe room.

Overall, Jurney said, his meeting “worked out really well. [The College] has been really receptive.” The College’s biggest remaining concern, said Jurney, is how the Peer Counselors will ensure no harm comes to the students who use their safe room. He expects this, and other logistical issues, to be addressed in future meetings. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Jurney says the College could put the reforms into place as soon as next year.

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