After a two-year revision process led by the Office of Student Affairs and Student Council representatives, the finalized Student and Organization Handbooks were officially published on Aug. 11. They had been streamlined and updated following significant backlash from students toward the original drafts.
Alongside the updated handbooks, Kenyon unveiled a Conduct Addendum for the 2020-2021 academic year. The document outlines precautions the College will be adopting in order to minimize the threat of COVID-19. Among these are mandatory testing, daily health assessments and regular social distancing.
The College’s previous handbooks organized information in a way that some found confusing. For example, student policies were listed in alphabetical order, resulting in sections covering alcoholic beverages leading into bicycle registration, followed by conduct on computers, email and social media. Other changes to the handbooks were required after the adoption of a new Campus Government Constitution, which was ratified by the Campus Senate in the fall of 2018.
Dean of Students Robin Hart Ruthenbeck highlighted the new handbooks’ improved structure. She believes that making the documents more user-friendly will help students understand what the College expects from them.
“It was important that we pared down the document, and removed extraneous information,” Ruthenbeck said. She gave the example of the BFEC policies being linked in the handbook, but actually residing on the BFEC web page where faculty and staff will see them.
Drafts of the updated handbooks — which tackled such structural problems — were initially released in May. They delayed publication, however, after significant backlash from students. The drafts explicitly prohibited students from founding new local Greek organizations. Other clauses stated that recruitment needed approval by the Office of Student Engagement, and that participation in unauthorized groups would result in sanctions. In response to the scrutiny, the handbooks were further revised after receiving student and alumni feedback.
The revised Student Organization handbook maintains a similar clause — new, local Greek organizations will not be recognized — with the exception of a new provision stating that “local organizations previously or currently recognized by the College would be permitted to be considered for reinstatement.”
For Kenyon’s new COVID-related rules, the first changes will be apparent from the start of the move-in process. Students are allowed a maximum of one person to help while they set up their rooms at staggered time slots. This initial drop-off will be the extent of families’ visits to campus barring “an essential reason, such as to collect a student due to family emergency or at the request of the College.”
Additionally, mandatory virus testing will be a part of everyone’s return to the Hill. In a Student-Info email, Ruthenbeck informed students, in bold, that, “your choice to come to campus signals your agreement to adhere to these conduct agreements,” with the threat of “sanctions of deferred suspension or suspension from the College,” although it is currently unclear exactly what these sanctions will look like.
Students may be subject to quarantine as they await the results of their tests, and if they test positive the College will conduct contact tracing. Once students are settled into campus, such safety protocols will remain a part of daily life. Before leaving their residences, students will complete a health assessment composed of questions about symptoms and recent exposures. The College will also issue everyone a “smart” thermometer, adding temperature to the health assessment’s data. Face coverings will be required while in public and distancing of at least six feet will be expected.
Social life at Kenyon will also be different than in previous years. Each student will be limited to one non-resident guest in their living space at all times. This choice, while disappointing to some, follows the prevailing advice of medical experts to limit large gatherings. Additionally, fellow students who are studying remotely are not permitted to visit campus without prior approval from the Dean of Students.
Finally, while not explicitly related to COVID-19, students may be required to obtain an influenza vaccination. The Addendum lists this as “another method of protection,” which will be provided to students at no cost, a reduction from fall 2019’s $18 charge. Only those with a medical exemption may opt out.
Although improving Kenyon’s policy handbooks is one part of ensuring a smoother semester, Ruthenbeck hopes that these revisions will help students succeed in making Kenyon’s campus safe. She concluded her Aug. 11 email with a message to all Kenyon students: “All members of our community must be committed to supporting a culture of care and well-being, particularly in this most unusual of years.”