From whimsical portraits to provocative messages, vandalism on campus has spiked.
In one of the more prominent defacements, the words “Fire Laura Kane, Ph.D” appeared in red spray paint on the library construction site wall earlier this week. Maintenance workers have since painted over the graffiti. Kane, who serves as the Director of Student Engagement and Assistant Dean of Students, believes that the increase in vandalism she has noticed over the past few weeks “corresponds with the weather getting nicer.”
Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 was the subject of a similar message on the wall. Although she does not know what prompted the comments, she and Kane agree that the criticisms come hand-in-hand with their administrative positions.
“Typically, I don’t sweat things like that too much,” said Kane. “When you’re making difficult decisions … and you’re working with students for those, if your answer can’t be ‘yes’ every time, sometimes folks are not pleased with you … it just kind of comes with the territory of this work.”
The wall’s central location on campus has made it a popular target, but vandalism has also extended to other corners of Kenyon. On Monday, Manager of Business Services Fred Linger sent out a student-info email with a photograph of the damaged Village Inn sign behind the Farr Apartments. He also asked recipients to share tips about the identity of the perpetrators. “This type of act does not win admiration, but rather loses the respect of peers,” Linger wrote in an email to the Collegian.
The sign is under evaluation for repair and Bonham says that they have received a few leads after the email was sent.
Vandals also tagged the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity Lodge at 303 Chase Avenue, colloquially known as the Beta Temple. The Beta Temple is on private property and the Knox County Sheriff’s office is involved with the investigation. Since the wall is Kenyon property, incidences of vandalism there will be handled by Campus Safety.
“Our maintenance staff will paint over the more egregious forms of vandalism,” said Bonham. “I think people took some liberties with their expression and that’s okay, but in terms of profanity or direct attacks on individuals … maintenance will paint over those. It’s really unfortunate, though, because then it becomes difficult to preserve the artwork that is on the walls and that a lot of community members invested a great deal of time into creating. So that’s pretty dismaying.”
Daniela Grande ’20, Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger and Vice President for Communications Janet Marsden direct the creation of the mural on the wall. Marsden said that the idea for the mural grew out of a desire to make the wall “something that we own as opposed to it being something that is happening to us … We thought it would be a way to reflect the Kenyon community in a very visible way and also engage the Kenyon community in the making of it.”
Now, the Kenyon community is reclaiming the wall in a different way. “We certainly had some ideas that if we didn’t do something with it, that it would be a place where people would want to tag,” Marsden said.
She and the other committee members thought that, by turning the wall into an art project, they might be able to discourage vandalism. Marsden also noted that the vandalism has disrupted many of the committee-approved art projects.
According to the student handbook, the penalties for vandalism may range from mandatory community service to suspension from the College. However, Kane wants students to worry less about being punished and more about being proactive.
“The other thing I would do if I were a student that I think would be much more impactful … is to have those tough conversations [about] peer accountability,” said Kane. “How can students work with one another to have that moment where they say, ‘This isn’t cool, we shouldn’t do this,’ and try to get on the front end instead of waiting until afterwards? … I would like to see us maybe have that conversation on campus, instead of just always worrying about the sanctions and increasing those.”
In the future, she hopes that students will visit her office to voice their frustrations instead of picking up a can of spray paint.