Last spring, the Peer Counselor (PC) Hotline began receiving calls from a man with an Australian accent pretending to be a Kenyon student, prompting them to change the Hotline number this year.
The PCs are a student-led resource for emotional support on campus. When the man called, he talked about generic problems that any student might have. When the PCs on call asked him about specifics — like where particular incidents happened on campus —— he would struggle to answer. If the PC on call was a man, he hung up.
“We kind of knew something was up,” Hannah Wendlandt ’19, co-leader of the PCs, said. “And the content of his calls would vary, but he would talk for a while. And that’s just not what we’re around to do.”
The PCs began to suspect that this man was calling from an off-campus location, according to Wendlandt and Sean Deryck ’18, who is also a co-leader of the PCs. Their advisor, Lindsay Miller, a College counselor, eventually called the man and told him to stop using the hotline. For several months, they didn’t hear from him.
Then, at the beginning of this semester, Wendlandt received a call from the same man. After this call, the PCs changed their hotline number and took the previous number off the internet.
“We think that a lot of how this started to happen was that the hotline number was up online in a few places,” Deryck said. “And we’re working to not do that with the revised number.”
Wendlandt and Deryck said the PC on call would often receive calls from spam accounts promising student debt relief.
Miller said that this wasn’t the first time a stranger called on the PC hotline. She said that another man called into both the PC and Sexual Misconduct Advisor hotlines a few years ago, and behaved in the same way that this recent caller acted, telling the same story over and over.
“So I think in the same way people get satisfaction from stealing a bicycle or vandalizing, maybe it’s satisfaction from knowing you’re doing something wrong and getting away with it,” Miller said.
When the man with the Australian accent called before, he would usually talk about his relationship issues, but only if the PC on call was a woman. The man often called using different phone numbers, which led Deryck and Wendlandt to suspect that he was using some kind of online software that would alter his phone number.
On top of this, the man often took up valuable time — time the PCs could be using to help Kenyon students.
“It’s not a resource we’re extending to the outside community,” Deryck said. “It hindered our ability to work with the Kenyon community.”
Deryck and Wendlandt said they hope the number change will prevent any unwanted callers from contacting them. Wendlandt said being on call is already stressful for PCs, and the added possibility that the call might not be from a Kenyon student made her feel like the hotline was being exploited.
“For me personally, having heard stories about him and being aware when he picked up and it was a dude with an Australian accent that it might not be a Kenyon student — I felt a little bit violated,” Wendlandt said. “Like the service that I was here to extend to the campus was being abused.”
Miller said the man with the Australian accent called her a few days ago after the PC hotline changed their number. Miller told him the service was deactivated so that he would stop calling, and they haven’t heard from him since.
The PC hotline number will still be available on the posters around campus, as well as the emails they send to students. They hope this will ensure that people outside of Kenyon will not abuse the service.
“Being on call for anything is kind of hard, but we put in place measures to make it easier for people,” Wendlandt said. “I think just knowing that nobody but Kenyon students and nobody but people on campus have that number, is a security [measure]. You just feel better knowing for sure that this is someone from the Kenyon community.”