On a night in early September, a group of students of color seated outside were verbally harassed by a group of individuals driving past the Kenyon Bookstore.
Despite many students walking around campus that night, only students of color were targeted by the white people yelling “Trump 2020” out of the car window. The incident was described by Mahnoor Fakhar ’22, one of the students present, as traumatizing. She said that it led to them all sitting silently for several minutes to take in what had just occurred. “I was really scared because that could have escalated so fast,” she recalled.
Having occurred during this year’s election season, this incident was even more charged. As the election drew attention to racism in the United States, Fakhar felt that the incident took on racist undertones. As she wrote in her all-student email sent out on Oct. 27 describing the incident, “These people did not yell this phrase at any of the white students, they chose to specifically target a group of BIPOC students, sitting at a table.”
Fakhar sent out the all-student email in order to inform the campus and call for the administration to take a harsher stance against racism, especially leading into the election. “The Kenyon community does not feel protected given the volatility of the events leading up to the election,” Fakhar wrote in the email. “Kenyon needs to reassure the community that it is looking out for us by coming up with contingency plans for every possible scenario.”
According to Fakhar, this type of racial harassment on Kenyon’s campus is not an isolated event. “Every single person of color I talk to about this, they told me, ‘Oh yeah, this has happened to me too,’” Fakhar said. “It’s just something that has increased in its occurrences recently, [or] at least I’m hearing about it more recently.”
In response to these concerns, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 explained that it is difficult for the administration to control situations involving people unaffiliated with Kenyon. Despite this, in an email to the Collegian, Bonham shared that she urged students to report any incidents of harassment they encountered. Bonham also said that the Office of Campus Safety would increase its presence on campus to address potential unrest from the election, and keep a Campus Safety vehicle parked near the center of campus to discourage people that might pass through from engaging in racial harassment.
While Fakhar appreciated Kenyon’s response to her email, she expressed concern at the idea of increased Campus Safety presence on election night. She said this could “be problematic in and of itself because it will be used to police students of color more than other people.” However, Bonham said that the administration had received strongly positive feedback from Kenyon students of color about these plans and their potential to ensure the safety of students throughout the election season.
While Bonham ensures that Kenyon is prepared to support members of the Kenyon community through their counseling services and increased Campus Safety patrol following the election, Fakhar remained uncertain. “I do think a lot of work needs to be done,” she said.