In the fall semester of 2019, the number of vandalism cases in first-year dormitories shot up significantly. Many of the incidents involved destruction of property in the first-year bathrooms, such as ripping mirrors, soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers off the wall. The cases were reported primarily from Mather and McBride Residence Halls. After repeated efforts from the administration to suppress the vandalism, the rate of incidents has finally slowed down. However, no official offenders have been found.
The first steps administrators took to address the vandalism problem were through repeated emails sent to the affected halls by their community advisors, some of which called for emergency hall meetings. These messages were followed by an email from James Jackson, Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities on Oct. 16. “The Office of Residential Life is treating these matters with the utmost severity and sincerity,” Jackson wrote. “If you have any information about these incidents or other vandalism that we may not be aware of, please talk to your CA or Residential Life Coordinator.”
Three weeks later, the first year residences received another email, this time from Residential Life Coordinator for First-Year Areas Helen Eckhard. “It is neither fair nor appropriate to jeopardize your community in this way, and those found responsible for this behavior will be held accountable for their actions,” she wrote. The letter ended with a link to submit an anonymous report of concern for any acts of “vandalism, hazing, or other behaviors that have disrupted your community.”
“There was a lot of work done to communicate about the need to stop the behavior and we had several students file reports of concern that helped us put a few of the pieces together,” Director of Residential Life Jillian Yoder said. “I think that the vandalism has slowed. This semester has been better—not perfect, but I do think the effort to communicate with the building and with the residents there had an impact.”
According to Jennifer Bermúdez, Assistant Director of Housing and Operations, there were eight reports of vandalism in the first-year areas last semester, with McBride and Mather each accounting for three of those events. After the initial outreach, the bathroom vandalism halted for the remainder of the fall semester, although there has been one incident in a Mather bathroom incident reported since the start of this semester.
“In previous years we might have had [as many] incidents, but spread out all around campus,” Yoder said. “To have the incidents occurring primarily in Mather and a few in McBride, it was more concentrated than usual.”
Since the most recent report, there has been a renewed focus on outreach to the first-year student body. At Sunday’s Student Council meeting, delegates continued to revise their open letter to the campus about the vandalism incidents in the first-year areas and on the library construction wall. After about 20 minutes of debate — including a discussion of whether to charge residents of vandalized halls for the damage — Student Council decided to separate the two incidents and revise their email to focus on the first-year areas’ vandalism. Other elements under discussion involved whether or not the email should include photographs of the damage and if links to resources for filing an anonymous report of concern should be provided.
Although there are members of Student Council who believe that some first-years know the identities of the vandals, it is difficult for the Office of Residential Life to level allegations without conclusive evidence.
“It is a really, really difficult conversation to ever say, ‘yeah, you did the thing,’ especially because it was in bathrooms and we don’t have cameras in our halls and we most certainly don’t have cameras in our bathrooms,” Yoder said. “So we really do rely on other residents to be forthcoming and say ‘I heard this’ or ‘I saw this. This is what happened,’ and we didn’t get enough information to identify one person or one small group of persons, but I would say [the emails to the first-year class] heightened the collective awareness of what was going on.”
As of Wednesday, Student Council is still working on their open letter to the Kenyon community.