Despite the April blizzard on Saturday night, students took to the streets of Gambier in scanty attire as they made their way to Gund Commons. By 11 p.m., music blared across north campus, and the ballroom filled with bare-skinned people as they participated in the Kenyon swimming and diving team’s annual Shock Your Mom party, which marks the end of the swim season and invites partygoers to dress as shockingly and revealingly as possible.
One of Kenyon’s most anticipated social events of the year, Shock Your Mom has long found itself a subject of discussion both within and beyond the Kenyon community. In 2003, its lax dress code attracted the attention of Playboy, which ran a blurb about the party in a feature, “Sex on Campus: Grades aren’t the only thing being made at our institutions of higher learning.”
“Booze is plentiful and clothing is not — at a recent bash, one co-ed improvised by wearing a Kenyon admissions viewbook,” the magazine read. Later the article mentions a student who showed up covered entirely in pink plastic wrap.
The party’s dress code has sparked controversy in the past. Last year, swimmer Mariah Williamson ’16 sent an email to students informing potential partygoers about state and federal laws requiring people to cover their genitalia and breasts.
The organizers did not send an email this year, and in her three years of attending the party, swimmer Eliana Crawford ’17 has not heard of anyone being asked to leave the party for violating the law.
But in 2009, hosts asked several bare-breasted female students to leave the party. The following Thursday, photographs of naked breasts appeared taped to trees along Middle Path, and copies of a letter scattered in Peirce Hall, signed by “The Women Behind the Boobs,” asked “why ‘common decency’ requires us to cover a part of our bodies that not only do men not have to cover, but that is a natural, integral part of ourselves.” The letter claimed that Shock Your Mom acted “as a catalyst” for the Middle Path demonstration.
For many Kenyon students, the party’s reputation precedes it. When she was a first year, Kayla Rogers ’18 remembered hearing stories about the event, writing in an email that she thought it sounded “cool, liberating, ‘totally college.’” That year she attended the party wearing electrical tape over her nipples. Her feelings about the event have since grown more complicated. She, too, finds the dress code problematic.
“The party is sort of a mess,” Rogers said. “What does it give to the student body? An opportunity to hang out with each other in the nude … except not really. A chance to free ourselves of our clothes and party in our almost birthday suits … except not really.”
On Saturday, Daniel DeAndrade ’19 attended his first Shock Your Mom, wearing a white tank top in which he had cut holes in the shape of eyes and a mouth. To him, the most shocking costumes of the night were related to the current election season and included several Donald Trump T-shirts, one Bernie Sanders T-shirt and a girl with the words “Babes for Trump” written across her belly.
“I would go again,” DeAndrade said of the party itself. “Actually, no. I don’t think I would go again.”
The party remains one of the most popular of the year, so much so that the swim team starts organizing it as early as the fall semester. Crawford said the entire team gets party trained well in advance in anticipation of hosting the event. In addition, the official hosts do a great deal of planning with the College administration to determine how much alcohol to have on hand, among other factors.
Though often seen as a celebration of the end of the swim season, Crawford says swimmers host the party in the spring in part because they do not have time to do so earlier in the year due to their busy training schedule. “We’re sort of like a fraternity or sorority,” Crawford said. “It’s our yearly party.”
The swimmers often use the opportunity to celebrate as a team. This year, the swim team’s senior Ladies each dressed up as a different superhero.
Given the usually scandalous nature of the outfits, the most surprising costume of the year for Crawford was a full-body Pikachu costume. “It had to be very hot,” she said.