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Student Council, administration try to tackle ‘blacklisting’

Student Council, administration try to tackle ‘blacklisting’

Since last spring, several students have come to the Office for Civil Rights with complaints about being denied entry to what were ostensibly all-campus parties. This phenomenon, known colloquially as “blacklisting” or “canceling,” is a relatively recent development in Kenyon’s social culture. Title IX/Civil Rights Coordinator Sam Hughes said that she first heard of student organizations creating unofficial blacklists — often referred to as “Title IX” lists — in the spring of last year.

When the issue was raised again this year, Hughes decided to reach out to Student Council President George Costanzo ’19 and Greek Council President Kaylin Allshouse ’19 to organize a meeting on the topic. The meeting, which took place on March 31, included representatives from Student and Greek Councils, as well as Hughes, Civil Rights/Title IX Deputy Coordinator Kevin Peterson, Assistant Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins and Director of Student Engagement and Assistant Dean of Students Laura Kane (currently on maternity leave).

Costanzo said that the meeting, despite its good intentions, “was by no means revolutionary.” Filkins agreed, stating that the conversation sparked “somewhat [of a] knee-jerk reaction” to the issue. The meeting did however produce a clearer understanding of the differences between types of social events hosted by student organizations. “The premise was that if you’re throwing an all-campus party it should actually be an all-campus party,” Costanzo said. “So the suggestion is that when all-campuses are happening, they’re happening under false premises. Everyone’s invited is the idea, but it’s fake news.”

According to the Student Handbook, social events at the College fall under one of two categories: “open invitation to the campus community” or “closed for a specific population.” Hughes expanded this definition to include three types of student social gatherings: parties that take place in living spaces such dorm rooms, invite-only parties that often occur in larger spaces like apartments, and “all-campus” parties, where there is an assumption that all students are welcome to attend. “It’s the third category that is a problem, because it’s open,” Hughes said. She noted that, according to the Handbook, as long as students present their ID upon entry to open parties and are not intoxicated, they can’t be denied entry outright. Only when their behavior becomes problematic — starting fights, belligerence or overconsumption of alcohol, for example — can they be asked to leave. In this way, she said the practice of blacklisting defies the Handbook’s policy. The Office of Student Engagement differs slightly in its approach to the Handbook’s definition of open and closed parties. Filkins said that that the term “all-campus” can be misleading because it suggests that there are spaces that can accommodate the entire student body.

“I think that some of that goes to the mindset of  who they’re supposed to be serving,” he said. “Because the reality is that we don’t have a space  on campus large enough to hold all [of] campus.”

Filkins also emphasized the responsibilities that student organizations take on when hosting events. He noted that the reservation and party policies dictate that student groups are accountable for managing the event space from start to finish.

At the same time, both Hughes and Filkins dispelled any rumors of disputes or feuds between the two offices on this issue. Both agreed that they are essentially on the same page in terms of acknowledging that blacklisting is a problem and in their search for ways to help students resolve it.

Student Council has discussed blacklisting extensively in their last two meetings. Council members discussed who gets blacklisted and why. There was some confusion over the nature of blacklists, which sometimes get conflated with “no-contact orders:” official agreements between parties in a Title IX case that prohibit direct face-to-face contact. Hughes said the vast majority of students who come to her with complaints about blacklisting are not involved in Title IX cases, and many are unaware that they are on a blacklist until they arrive at a party. “That’s the big common denominator — it’s like, ‘I don’t know what I did,’” she said.

Costanzo said that student organization attempts to protect their own, especially when it comes to group members feeling uncomfortable around certain people, make this issue difficult. “There are real structural barriers to people actually experiencing repercussions for their actions via the Title IX process,” he said. “So if students feel like they have to step in, and bring those repercussions down on people themselves — just so everyone can feel safe, and everyone can feel like they can attend these parties —  I can understand why they’re doing it.”

At the same time, Costanzo noted that blacklisting people from parties can have the opposite effect of what was intended: driving those who are blacklisted to feel even more isolated or angry.

“There’s not a lot of social learning that’s happening if people are just canceled from existence,” he said. 

Student Engagement, Title IX and the Student and Greek Councils conceded that there are no clear answers to the problem of blacklisting at Kenyon. “This is not a silver bullet kind of situation where we’re gonna find one solution to fix it,” Filkins said. “Everyone kind of agrees that there is a problem there, but I have not heard very many solutions presented from anybody.”

Although Filkins admitted he doesn’t think a policy on blacklisting can be established, he said he is working with Student Council and Office for Civil Rights to come up with more constructive ways of addressing the problem. Among these are better educating hosts on conflict management, increasing Title IX training among student organizations — including Green Dot training, a sexual assault bystander intervention program — and further using existing resources like the Beer and Sex Advisors.

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