Section: News

Construction and conflict: recapping last year’s major stories

Construction and conflict: recapping last year’s major stories

Largest Gift in History

New students walking down Middle Path will encounter a tall wooden wall guarding Olin and Chalmers Memorial Library, a sign of the building’s demolition set to begin in October.

Last fall, President Sean Decatur announced that an anonymous donor had given Kenyon $75 million, the largest gift in school history. The donation will support the construction of the new West Quad in place of the library.

The West Quad will include a new library and academic commons, new academic buildings for the social sciences and a new home for the Office of Admissions and other administrative functions.

Funds from this donation will also support the future renovation of Ascension Hall and the development of downtown Gambier. In a campus-wide email on Aug. 21, Kenyon’s news digest announced that the library had officially been passed over to the construction company for abatement and then demolition.

Controversial Play

A reading of The Good Samaritan in California. | Courtesy of Keelia Flinn

On Jan. 31, 2018, after making the unfinished script available on Google Drive, James Michael Playwright-in-Residence Wendy MacLeod canceled the premiere of her latest play, The Good Samaritan after students and faculty criticized its representation of an undocumented Guatemalan minor as well as its treatment of race, class and sexual orientation. It was scheduled to premiere on April 5, 2018.

MacLeod’s play is a satire about an undocumented immigrant forced to work on a farm that escapes to a nearby liberal arts college.

In her email canceling the play, MacLeod invited students and faculty to a common-hour panel discussion on Feb. 1. She wrote in her Jan. 31 email that she would not be present at the discussion “in hopes that the community can get to issues larger than a single play.”

In a blog post on Feb. 7 titled “Living up to Our Aspirations,” Decatur wrote that he had created a working group of faculty, staff and students to discuss next steps after the controversy. This Community Planning Group (CPG) submitted a list of recommendations to the president on Feb. 25.

National right-wing media outlets such as the Weekly Standard, Fox News and Breitbart picked up the story on The Good Samaritan and Whiteness Group, a discussion group started by a student of color for the purpose of analysing and discussing white identity.

Though creation of Whiteness Group preceded The Good Samaritan, Fox News and The Weekly Standard reported that these two events were coinciding. Reactions from these outlets’ readership led to members of the Kenyon community, including a former Collegian news editor, receiving hate mail and death threats. 

On July 31, 2018, The Road Theatre Company in California performed The Good Samaritan as part of their Summer Playwrights Festival.

I Am Not Your N-Word

On Feb. 26, 2018, an anonymously written open letter began circulating around residence hall distribution email lists. It begins with the sentence, “To every Black student who has ever felt targeted, hurt, and silenced: you are not alone.”

The letter, directed to an unnamed “you,” addresses instances in which non-black Kenyon students used the n-word.

Students protest racism on campus in Peirce Hall. | Nikki Anderson

Following the circulation of the letter, students staged a sit-in in Peirce Dining Hall to protest racism and hate speech at Kenyon.

President Decatur, who later attended the sit-in, published a blog post on Feb. 28 titled “No, things must not stay the same.”

He wrote about the College’s new Discriminatory Harassment Policy, which includes more education efforts on racial bias and bystander intervention.

Decatur noted that the CPG created in response to The Good Samaritan controversy had also recommended programing during New Student Orientation and throughout the year. New programming would “strengthen [the College’s] collective skills at engaging in difficult conversations,” he wrote.

Groups Face Changes

Kenyon’s Peer Counselors (PCs), Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) and Diversity Advisors (formerly Discrimination Advisors) will all be considered private but not confidential resources beginning this semester. This means that while these groups will still respect the privacy of those who reach out to them, they must report all they know about any perceived student misconduct to the Office for Civil Rights.

The Collegian reported on March 29, 2018 that the other proposed changes to the PCs included the loss of their 24/7 hotline and and their ability to run mental health small groups on campus. Members of the PCs complained that this diminished their ability to connect peers to the help they need, and students demonstrated for a week in April by staging sit-ins outside Ransom Hall and inside the Peirce Hall atrium.

Other than the loss of confidentiality as well as PC and SMA hotlines, no other changes have been finalized. The three groups arrived to campus last week to begin training for the 2018-19 school year.

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