A deputy of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) stopped three rising high school seniors participating in the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop for walking on the side of the road on the night of July 26. The students, who are black, said they felt targeted because of their race.
Tyler Campbell and his friends, Monique Kamara and Amell Garrison, said they were walking on the side of the road near the first-year quad. When Deputy Kevin Williams stopped them and told the students could not walk in the road, Kamara and Garrison moved onto Middle Path. Campbell moved onto the grass area because he didn’t want to get his shoes muddy.
A few seconds after Campbell stepped onto the grass area, he heard a car accelerate beside him. “I walked in the grass, and so he took it as, I don’t know, some type of offense or me trying to defy him,” Campbell said in a phone interview with the Collegian. Campbell said Williams got out of the car and asked Campbell to come toward him because he needed to speak to Campbell. “Then I walked over to him and [the officer] basically said, ‘Yeah, we don’t tolerate that type of nonsense here at Kenyon, I don’t know why you’re trying to disrespect me, that’s ridiculous. We need to stop people like you from doing things like that.’” Williams said he had no recollection of the incident, and referred all questions to Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer. “I have nothing to say,” he stated.
The identity of the deputy was confirmed by Sheriff Shaffer in an email to the Collegian.
The deputy threatened to call the sheriff’s office for back-up. Kamara came over to Campbell and Williams to help address the unfolding situation. Williams asked for both of their student IDs, and they handed him their meal cards, thinking those would be sufficient. Campbell said that Williams then threatened to call Campus Safety and have Campbell written up for jaywalking.
Campbell said he was slightly afraid but tried to remain calm. He said he kept asking for the deputy’s badge number — which he said the officer did not give him — and for the deputy to give him the citation so he could go about his business. Campbell, along with Kamara and Garrison, said that Williams asked what sport Campbell was playing at Kenyon. Campbell said that Williams laughed when he responded that he was a writer.
Campbell said he felt targeted as a person of color. “I was really trying to get out of the situation,” he said. “And, of course, I wanted to stay alive, because that was definitely a fear.” The situation finally deescalated when Associate Director of Programs and Administrator of Kenyon Review Fellowships Tory Weber and Visiting Assistant Professor of English Andy Grace, who were driving along and happened to see the group, intervened and told the students they could go on their way, according to Campbell. The incident was confirmed by Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 and President Sean Decatur.
In an email to the Collegian addressing the situation, Shaffer wrote that the “officer asked visiting students that were walking shoulder to shoulder in the roadway to use the path or sidewalks, so they would not be possibly struck by a vehicle. One of the students continued walking in the road and was approached by the officer.” Shaffer added that the students were not from the area or Kenyon students. “They were not familiar with our officers and may not be used to having a conversation with a law enforcement officer,” he wrote. Both Garrison and Kamara said that Campbell was not in the road when Williams confronted him.
KCSO is not affiliated with the College, and the Village of Gambier contracts directly with KCSO to provide law enforcement for the Village, according to Mayor Kachen Kimmell. Although she was on vacation at the time of the incident, Kimmell said that, after her own investigation, she concluded that there were a series of misunderstandings between both parties. She said that the deputy was simply following protocol. “I still feel that probably the same thing would have happened to white students,” Kimmell said.
In emails to the Collegian, Weber and Grace declined to comment about the incident on the record. In a letter sent to Campbell obtained by the Collegian, Editor of the Kenyon Review and Professor of English David Lynn expressed his frustration with the actions of the deputy. “[Students] are why we run this program, because of your talent and commitment. The deputy didn’t get that, didn’t understand. His behavior was unacceptable,” Lynn wrote.
The event triggered a meeting between Weber, Bonham, Director of Campus Safety Bob Hooper, Shaffer and Captain Jay Sheffer to discuss the policies in place around local law enforcement’s relationship with students. Deputy Williams was not present, according to Bonham.
Shaffer said the sheriff’s office reviewed the deputy’s record and found no patterns of racial bias or discrimination. They concluded that there were no larger concerns about the deputy. Shaffer added that all officers participate “in daily training bulletins that cover a different section of policy each day, including bias-based policing.”
Williams said he was not aware of any review process, but knew about the meeting between the College and KCSO officials. Bonham said the College’s Campus Safety officers “will be pursuing anti-bias training,” as a part of other diversity initiatives at the College.
Decatur said although he was aware of the Young Writers incident, he wasn’t directly involved in the meetings with the sheriff. But he said he’d heard the Kenyon Review staff members and the students involved in the incident were upset. Decatur said KCSO is aware of the College’s concerns and they are open to continuing the dialogue surrounding this issue.
“Without a doubt the perception of not only those students involved but also the staff involved was that there was what felt like unfair treatment,” Decatur said. “And I know that it’s something that we need to be very aware of and conscious of on campus in terms of making sure all members of the community are respected.”
Kamara, who is a high school senior, said although Kenyon is still her first choice college, the incident reminded her that everywhere she goes, she will be seen as a threat by some members of the community.
Garrison and Campbell, who are also seniors in high school, said the altercation affected how they viewed the College. “I think it played a big factor in me not wanting to go to Kenyon,” Garrison said. “I’m going far away from home, and I want college to be my second home, but like I said, I don’t want to have to deal with this problem.”
“The whole incident kind of ruined much of my experience at Kenyon,” Campbell said. “While I still had a good time and learned a lot, it definitely turned me off to the place to the point where I probably won’t even apply.”
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