In the summer of 2020, Dante Kanter ’21 spent an entire day obsessing over a tweet he had published. He was in his hometown of Woodstock, N.Y., and — like most Kenyon students at the time — living with his parents. In the lonely doldrums of quarantine, Kanter sought solace on Twitter.
Kanter’s popular tweet evoked the familiar and then-distant experience well known to all students, alumni and professors who have stepped foot on Middle Path: “I miss kenyon. Want to spend my day waving to 70 acquaintances who look like Kramer.”
The post received around 100 likes, a number much higher than average for Kanter (according to his own metric). Most of the likes came from other Kenyon students, many of whom Kanter had never met in person. “I think the reason why it was partially popular is because it latched onto a specific thing about Kenyon’s campus,” he said. “I think it made people feel nostalgic. I was trying to kind of emphasize or play up on that nostalgia.”
Since the pandemic began, a surge of students have flocked to Twitter to share Kenyon-related memories, jokes, asides, news and sometimes frustrations and dissatisfactions. In light of remote classes, the platform has become an alternate form of virtual communication in the absence of a “Kramer” wave on Middle Path. At a time when nobody was on campus, and when many other students also missed Kenyon — even its more absurd and Seinfeld-esque idiosyncrasies — Kanter’s tweet gave voice to an unspoken yet universal experience. “I had never gotten that much attention on the internet before,” he said. “I sat all day looking at the different people who liked it and reading the same words over and over again.”
Rebecca Turner ’22, an avid user since 2013, feels as though the large and new presence of Kenyon students on Twitter could not have existed without COVID-19. “It’s no coincidence that Kenyon Twitter arose out of the pandemic,” Turner said. “We’re all completely addicted to the internet now, and Twitter is just another manifestation of that.”
Students follow each other — making them “mutuals” — and can then see what tweets each other likes on their timelines. Often, the platform’s algorithm causes a student’s feed to display tweets from other Kenyon students due to the high number of mutuals. The result is a relatively small but tight-knit online community, colloquially known as “Kenyon Twitter” — a term that Turner feels is so ingrained in the Kenyon community it has consequences on her day-to-day psychology.
“There is such a thing as Kenyon Twitter,” she confirmed. “There are people who I’ve never met before, but who go to Kenyon, who take up big mental real estate in my mind because I’ve read their thoughts on Twitter.”
Emma Spivack ’21, another active member of the community, feels as though Kenyon Twitter has been a healthy space for her to find solidarity with other students through the harsh times of the pandemic. “During the fall, I feel like I really connected with students [on Twitter] who I never would have talked to before,” she said. Spivack has used the app to commiserate with other seniors in the wake of a remote fall semester, virtual end-of-college celebrations — like Fandango — and the administration’s neglect of student workers. “It’s kind of like therapy,” she said.
When mentioning Kenyon on Twitter, students often censor one of the letters in the name with an asterisk (“K*nyon,” or “Keny*n”) to shield their criticism from the eyes of administrators or staff at the College who might stumble upon their profiles when searching for “kenyon” content. Che Pieper ’21, identified by many in this article as a Kenyon Twitter star, has recently stopped censoring his tweets. “As criticism of Kenyon has gotten more public with K-SWOC [Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee], I don’t feel like I need to censor the word ‘Kenyon,’” he explained.
For some at Kenyon, Twitter has been a useful tool for getting the word out about strikes and demonstrations. Kanter, who plays an active role in K-SWOC as the Kenyon Farm liaison, echoes the sentiment but thinks there’s only so much Twitter can do. “The political left has a strong foothold on Twitter, so in that way K-SWOC has been able to connect to a more national network of left-wing people,” he said. “People who follow me on Twitter and who have no idea who I am … like my tweets about K-SWOC. So that’s cool. But I don’t think it’s the end-all.”
Nathan Geesing ’21 believes Twitter is less anti-capitalist than people tend to characterize it. “It’s not democratic at all,” he said. “It just replaces the real-world hierarchies with virtual ones. It’s the same capitalist networks that have always existed,” he said. “I also don’t think it’s a good space to have meaningful conversations with people. It turns very individualistic and about curating your brand and selling it to others.”
According to Geesing, a wide range of different bubbles permeate the Kenyon Twittersphere. “There are all these different types on Twitter now,” he said. “There are the poetry-Kenyon Review-professional types, and then there’s also the political science guys and then there’s people who are just on there, like myself, to make silly little jokes.” In other words, the virtual space has come to mimic the social ecosystem of Kenyon.
Turner agreed with Geesing’s sentiment. “It’s pretty incredible,” she said. “We’ve completely recreated, online, the experience of walking into the cafeteria and seeing the different kinds of social groups in Peirce.”
Except that, now, you can actually read what they’re thinking.