From 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4, the lawn in front of Peirce Dining Hall was dotted with picnic blankets, petitions and bottles of nail polish, as students laughed, talked, played guitar and read tarot cards for each other.
This location was no coincidence: the event had been organized as a response to the hundreds of backpacks, representing the stories of student suicide across the country, that just a week ago had covered the lawn.
Entitled “On Peirce Lawn: Community Building and Mental Health Dialogue,” the event was sponsored by Active Students Helping the Earth Survive (A.S.H.E.S.). It was intended as a response to the widespread controversy caused by the “Send Silence Packing” exhibit brought to campus by the Cox Health and Counseling Center and the Peer Counselors on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
While the organizers of the event initially envisioned staging a protest, the idea eventually evolved into a picnic occupying the space. Those involved wanted to focus on building and celebrating community resilience in the wake of the Send Silence Packing display, rather than reigniting the negative emotions of the exhibit.
“At first we had the instinct that’s somewhat reactionary to have a protest … then [we] discussed that it would be better to have an event that celebrates what it means to be alive,” Willow Green ’21, an event organizer, said, “Even a protest can be very triggering and puts a lot of weight on people who are suffering.”
Students came in and out as the day continued, some sitting down to eat food or play guitar, while others stopped by for a few minutes to greet friends or write responses to prompts about self-care or mental health at Kenyon on notepads provided by A.S.H.E.S. Organizers estimated that 30-40 students stayed for a significant amount of time at the event.
Lucy Adams ’23, an attendee, said that the event felt like a way to reestablish Peirce Lawn as a comfortable space for students. “I think a lot of what happened with that backpack exhibit was that it felt like an intrusion to our space, so taking it back is really meaningful,” she said. “[The event is] repurposing it for something that’s actually helpful … from our perspective, not from an outsider’s.”
Other students saw the event as a showcase of the strength of the Kenyon student body and of students’ capacity to support each other, even as they lacked that support from administration. “The best way we can build communities is to be active participants within [them], and that means helping each other,” Shane Wells ’22 said. “A lack of any outside help is a really great excuse to learn how to do that … [though] it sucks we have to do that.”
Green hopes that the event and conversations that occurred in the wake of “Send Silence Packing” will encourage more transparency and communication between students and administrators. “Showing [the administration that] it’s not just a small group of people it affects [is important],” they said. “At the end of the day, them hearing from many voices is important.”