This week, Community Advisors (CAs) and members of the Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) held a virtual town hall and an informational picket in protest of the College’s recent alterations to the CA position.
One of the most significant of these changes, announced via a news bulletin on March 22, is the replacement of apartment CAs with two graduate students — dubbed graduate assistants (GAs) — from Kent State University (KSU) who will live on campus. As a result of these new hires, CAs will no longer oversee apartment-style residences, and instead will move to the first-year areas. This change will shrink the resident to CA ratio for first-year students from 35-45 to 1 to 20 to 1.
According to Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, the decision to increase CA presence in the First-Year Quad was prompted by the College’s recent housing study. The study, which was done by Brailsford & Dunlavey, found that first-year students in particular valued their relationships with their CAs, thus prompting the increase.
“We also are really mindful of the needs of our first-year students,” Bonham explained. “I think that we want CAs who very much are … committed to performing their responsibilities, regardless of where they have an opportunity to reside themselves on campus.”
Additionally, returning CAs will now have to reapply for their positions through a 30-minute meeting, during which, among other things, they must give a five- to 10-minute presentation and outline their involvement in various campus jobs and student organizations. In previous years, CAs merely signed a form indicating their intent to return to the position.
These are not the first roadblocks CAs have faced this year. Following Kenyon’s decision to invite all CAs back to campus in the fall, CAs successfully negotiated for increased wages and lowered room costs in August. Although at the time, K-SWOC had not gone public, this moment was, in essence, K-SWOC’s debut, as many of those who participated in negotiations were and still are card-carrying members of the union.
During Monday’s town hall, several CAs expressed concerns that the changes to their jobs might be retaliation for their involvement in K-SWOC, and, more specifically, for K-SWOC’s strike on March 16. The work stoppage authorization — the first undergraduate student strike in United States history — included employees from Library and Information Services, the Kenyon Farm, the Wright Center and the greenhouse, as well as lifeguards.
“It does seem like retaliation for perhaps involvement in a group like K-SWOC,” explained Alasia Destine-DeFreece ’21, a member of the K-SWOC steering committee who has been a CA since her sophomore year. She was specifically worried about the addition of a reapplication process, and what a review of activities might mean for students who work multiple jobs, herself included. “If you do have to work multiple jobs — and a lot of CAs do have to do this — being told that you can’t [be a CA], the job that secures you the highest amount of income, because you’re working another job, seems really counterproductive for students who need to work to be on campus.”
Students, alumni and faculty alike have expressed reservations about the introduction of GAs from KSU. In a series of emails sent to Bonham and the whole community, J. Kenneth Smail Professor of Anthropology Ed Schortman voiced his disapproval of the decision. In his March 26 email, he noted that, while graduate students have the potential to bond with the campus community, it will be impossible to replicate the bond that CAs and their residents share as Kenyon students. “We do not need to import more friends as we are well served by those who are already here,” Schortman wrote.
On the topic of GAs, Bonham has said on several occasions, including in a Student-Info email this week, that although the GAs will reside in on-campus apartments, this shift will add 48-60 additional apartment spaces to future housing lotteries. Many CAs were frustrated with how the framing of Bonham’s email depicts student workers, especially as it relates to their housing assignments, as CAs will now all be forced to live in dorms.
“It’s basically saying that CAs are second-class students,” CA John Ortiz ’22 told the Collegian at Tuesday’s picket.
“CAs who are placed in apartments are students who deserve good housing, and so are their apartment mates,” CA Katherine Crawford ’22 added. “Just because we don’t go through the housing lottery doesn’t mean we don’t deserve good housing.”
In a Student-Info email earlier this week, Bonham claimed that the CAs had been consulted on these job changes. Crawford and Ortiz refuted this, saying that although a handful of CAs were consulted about new housing on campus, there was no mention of the changes to their jobs. In fact, Ortiz says that he even asked his supervisor if he could be involved in the discussion after hearing rumors of the changes, two weeks prior to the announcement. “He told me that it was not his decision,” Ortiz said.
Throughout this ordeal, the Kenyon community has been supportive of the CAs. Approximately 30 students participated in Tuesday’s picket, where they held signs and banners and handed out flyers to students entering Peirce Dining Hall. At one point, as many as 150 people — students, professors and alumni included — were in attendance at Monday’s town hall. According to steering committee member Nathan Geesing ’21, though, the Board of Trustees declined to attend.
“They were very cordial about their declining,” he said. “As always, our door’s open for future town halls if they’d like to change their mind.”
Grant Holt ’22 contributed to reporting.