This week, the Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) organized a four-day, College-wide strike, after the Board of Trustees denied the group’s request for student workers to vote on union recognition in a community election. K-SWOC’s demonstrations culminated on Wednesday afternoon, when 14 student workers occupied Ransom Hall.
“It wouldn’t have come to this if [the Board] had literally listened to us on day one when we just asked to talk to them about recognition,” steering committee member Sigal Felber ’21 said. “They had all of their chances to avoid it coming to this.”
Equipped with food and sleeping bags, the student workers occupied Ransom from roughly 4:20 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. At approximately 5:15 p.m., Campus Safety officers arrived at Ransom and entered the building; it is unclear whether their arrival resulted in the occupiers’ exit.
According to Felber and fellow steering committee member Jess Karan ’21, who were among those inside the building, the occupiers demanded to speak with President Sean Decatur upon their arrival outside of his office. They were told that he would be unavailable for several hours. However, after about 10 minutes, Decatur met with the K-SWOC members. He spoke with the occupiers in his office for the majority of the time they were inside.
After at least an hour of discussion, both parties agreed to continue the conversation at a later date, prompting K-SWOC members to end the occupation. Although Felber and Karan declined to comment on the specifics of the conversation, Felber had suggested prior to Wednesday’s occupation that K-SWOC members were prepared to remain inside Ransom until the College agreed to a community election.
The occupation came just two days after Decatur sent an email to K-SWOC steering committee members, explaining that the Board had declined to approve a community election. Decatur wrote that the proposed community election did not assuage the concerns the Board had voiced back in December, when it first refused to recognize the union. Among those concerns was the question about whether a union would represent the interests of all student employees.
“Kenyon’s values — particularly the value of engaging a wide range of viewpoints — have been the foundation of our decisions,” Decatur wrote in the email. “We respect and consider opposing views, and take action where there is opportunity for improvement.”
Steering committee member Nathan Geesing ’21 expressed dissatisfaction with this answer. “The fact that [the Board] won’t even respect student workers enough to allow them the opportunity to decide for themselves, in a free, unbiased, fair election, whether or not they want a union, really shows you what they think about us,” he said. “They talk a big game about teaching students democratic values and critical thinking, but when it comes to making a decision for [students’] own lives so that [students] can better their own lives, they turn us down.”
As of Wednesday, nearly 150 student employees had signed K-SWOC’s strike authorization commitment. According to steering committee member Nick Becker ’22, this number has grown significantly since the start of the week.
Anticipating that the Board of Trustees might reject its proposal for an election, K-SWOC had started to discuss its plans to strike late last week. However, the strike officially began Monday afternoon. It started with a walkout from apprentice teachers (ATs), who were recently informed that new ATs would need to take a .25 credit training course in the fall, in addition to proving fluency in their language.
The ATs are the latest group of student workers to face massive changes this semester without prior knowledge. Most recently, the College announced that all apartment Community Advisors (CAs) will be moved to the first-year residences, and will be replaced by two graduate assistants from Kent State University.
Following the ATs’ walkout on Monday, K-SWOC held a rally on the steps of Rosse Hall, during which many ATs aired their grievances and advocated for union recognition. This rally was only the beginning of K-SWOC’s actions this week: Starting Tuesday morning and continuing throughout Wednesday, students picketed the Board’s decision on the lawn outside of Peirce Dining Hall and remained there until the occupation began. Meanwhile, student band Mount Vermin played at a K-SWOC-sponsored concert at the Horn Gallery to support the strike.
K-SWOC plans to continue meeting regularly to determine its next steps. Although the strike is currently authorized to end Thursday evening, Geesing believes it could continue even longer. “I think student workers are willing to strike for as long as they feel they’ve made their point — up until they’ve made their point — to an administration that doesn’t seem to care about their right to a democratic workplace,” he said prior to Wednesday’s occupation. “That can be a long time or that can be a short time. It’s really up to the administration, whether or not they’re willing to listen to us.”