Currently, Kenyon’s policy regarding demonstrations and protests is a single sentence long. A subcommittee of Campus Senate has spent the last 18 months trying to change that.
“Kenyon welcomes and encourages serious discussion on any issue from all points of view, but the College will not condone behavior that threatens the safety of individuals or is intended to prevent, obstruct or interfere with any of its activities and programs,” the current policy reads.
The new protest policy will outline what is and is not allowed by the College. Those drafting this policy hope that it will emphasize that the College recognizes students’ right to protest.
The push for policy change began in response to events at Middlebury College and the University of Virginia during the spring and summer of 2017, according to Delaney Barker ’20 and Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92.
After a violent altercation involving students and a professor led Middlebury College to punish students who protested conservative social scientist Charles Murray, Bonham began to look over Kenyon’s protest policy in comparison to peer institutions.
Another incident that moved Campus Senate to assess the policy was the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. on and around the University of Virginia’s campus on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017, according to Barker. She said that following the riots, Campus Senate decided the protest policy should differentiate between internal and external protests.
In addition, Barker and Bonham both said that the policy needed to make explicit the fact that all students have the right to protest.
According to Barker, different students percieve their right to protest differently under the current policy. She added that students of color, first-generation students and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds might fear retribution without clear protections.
The policy also recommends having an in-person discussion with Campus Safety before staging a protest so that Safety knows that it is happening and can be aware if there is any possibility of counter-protest.
The only time protestors need to seek explicit permission to carry out their protest is when they are planning to build a semi-permanent structure — such as the wall that Students for Justice in Palestine put up yearly. In these scenarios, students are required to get approval from the Director of Campus Safety and the Director of Facility Services. Bonham said that this is to ensure structural integrity and safety.
The policy will also set limitations to how students can protest. For example, staging a sit-in in Peirce was cited by both Bonham and Decatur as an acceptable form of protest, but blocking the dining hall or otherwise impeding accessibility would not be allowed. There is also a limit on students’ ability to protest in academic spaces. Protests that are violent and protests that take the form of harassment are prohibited.
“If someone is walking through Ascension with a bullhorn in the middle of a Thursday, that is not allowed,” Bonham said.
For external groups, such as the preachers that picket on Middle Path, the policy has more strict guidelines.
If an external protest is going to occur on College property, that protest must be sponsored by a campus organization; otherwise, Campus Safety can tell the protestors to leave, though they are not required to do so. For example, protests on Middle Path in the Village might be less obstructive than protests on the narrower Village-owned sidewalks along Gaskin and Chase Avenues.
“It might be preferable to allow [external protestors] to protest on that section of Middle Path, even though technically it’s college property,” said Bonham.
Currently, members of Campus Senate have presented the proposed policy to Student Council, and are still taking feedback from Staff Council and the Faculty Executive Committee.
Bonham and Barker hope that Campus Senate can finalize the policy by the end of this semester.
Senate has meetings every other Thursday during common hour in Chadeayne Dining Room. These meetings are open to everyone.
“I know how it can seem weird that a college administration is saying, ‘These are the ways that you will most likely protest us,’ but it’s for the safety of the students. It’s trying to protect the rights of students and it’s trying to protect specifically the right to protest especially because there can be differences,” Barker said.