A new multi-page protest policy Campus Senate has been working on all year was finalized last Thursday, after a meeting filled with debate about the limitations it might place on student protests. Following 2017 protests that turned violent at the University of Virginia and Middlebury College, students and staff determined last year it was time to update Kenyon’s old one-sentence policy.
The new policy establishes guidelines for communication between protestors and the administration and Campus Safety, the usage of space and protocol for Campus Safety. It also differentiates between “internal” (organized by Kenyon-affiliated individuals) and “external” (organized by non-Kenyon affiliated individuals) protests, significantly restricting external protests.
While Campus Senate has finalized their draft of the update, they are solely an advisory group, so the policy is subject to change by the College’s lawyer and must be ratified by President Sean Decatur and the senior staff. The final version of the policy is expected to be in place for the beginning of the next academic year.
The policy moved forward unanimously, but some student members of Campus Senate still have mixed opinions. Dan Napsha ’21, the sophomore chair of Campus Senate, believes the policy will be beneficial for the Kenyon community. “I think it’s important for people to know what they’re supposed to do in the event of a protest that gets out of hand,” he said. Napsha felt that the new guidelines will not hinder student’s abilities to protest, and will provide protection and protocol that will benefit all.
George Costanzo ’19, student body president, on the other hand, expressed conflicting feelings about the existence of this new protest policy in the first place. “It seems weird that the body we are protesting [the administration] is either incentivizing or setting parameters about how we can protest,” he said. Costanzo also expressed concern about the policy limiting protestors’ rights to engage in disruptive activism. “[Disruption] is what protest is about,” he said. “It’s antithetical to the job of an administration to legislate how students are allowed to tell them that they’re doing something wrong.”
While there was consensus that the policy will do little to affect the demonstrations most often seen at Kenyon, such as sit-ins in Peirce Dining Hall, Costanzo suggested that the new policy might give administration and staff excessive power to shut down protests or encourage them to take measures such as calling the sheriff in more disruptive protest situations, like occupation of a building. “I hope that students that really want to protest things break this policy,” said Costanzo. While the finalized policy is not currently available, an older version was sent out in a student-info email from Campus Senate last September.
Jackson Wald contributed reporting.