Nearly two weeks after the first students arrived on campus, the College has found itself needing to reassess its enforcement of mask-wearing policies. As a result, the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities shared a Google Form on Aug. 31 which students can use to report incidents of negligence.
According to Director of Student Rights & Responsibilities James Jackson, the form was created with the intention of streamlining the abundance of reports that students have already sent to administrators via email. In Jackson’s eyes, this is one of many ways students have already been holding each other accountable.
“Some of the students I worked with this summer were stressing that they didn’t want it to seem like [the administration was] forcing other students to narc on their fellow students,” Jackson explained. “But what we found is, because students are taking it seriously, they are taking the step by themselves to provide information.”
The decision to establish this system of reporting comes after numerous discussions among working groups throughout the summer regarding mask-wearing enforcement at Kenyon. Generally speaking, the College has taken the position that the onus falls on members of the Kenyon community, and that everyone must work together to hold each other accountable. In a July 26 Student Council meeting, for instance, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 made clear that it is not the job of Campus Safety to serve as “mask police.”
Yet as colleges and universities across the United States have reopened their doors for the fall semester, many administrations — including Kenyon’s — have reevaluated their plans for mask-wearing enforcement, often following instances of non-compliance. For Kenyon, this moment began as early as Aug. 18, when Assistant Professor of Biology Natalie A. Wright’s tweet about a student who claimed not to own a mask circulated among Kenyon students. Since then, Wright said, many professors have made efforts to take additional precautions.
“Many faculty and staff feel like it’s our responsibility to set a good example,” Wright explained. “When they’re walking around anywhere on campus — even if they’re far from any other people — are wearing masks, just to … set the social norm.”
Despite this initial criticism, most students are following the rules set in place by the COVID-19 Conduct Addendum, as far as Jackson has observed.
Although Kenyon has not policed mask-wearing nearly as intensely as many of its peer institutions, some of which have gone as far as to revoke admission or take legal action, the creation of this Google Form does signal a clear departure from a community enforcement philosophy.
As per the document, a student’s failure to comply with the Conduct Addendum represents a violation of the Student Handbook’s provisions of Failure to Comply and Violent, Endangering, and Discriminatory Behavior. Consequences include suspension or deferred suspension from the College: Suspension being the immediate removal of a student from the College while deferred suspension allows the student to stay on campus while the school decides appropriate punishment.
Jackson was careful to note, however, that simply appearing on this Google Form does not mean that students will be suspended by default.
“Nothing’s automatic,” he said. “Even though we have the Addendum in place, students still have the actual student conduct process. They can accept responsibility to go through administrative hearing, or they can go to the Student Conduct Review Board.”
Ultimately, though, Jackson emphasized that administrative enforcement, while necessary, is not a sufficient tactic on its own.
“As much as I understand that my office is to hold people accountable … we can’t disciplinary our way out of this,” Jackson said. “It’s just important that we make a concerted effort to do what’s right.”