On Oct. 29, the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) staged a silent demonstration at the Chalmers Library dedication ceremony, an event that members of the Board of Trustees, administrators and Library donors — including president of GUND Partnership Graham Gund ’63 H’81 — attended in celebration of the newly built space.
The GUND Partnership designed the library, which was named in recognition of the College’s 13th president Gordon Keith Chalmers, who served from 1937 until 1965, as well as his wife, Roberta Teale Swartz Chalmers, who was instrumental in founding the Kenyon Review. Ceremony attendees listened to members of the College community speak, and received a tour of the library’s facilities. The event was one of the first large in-person events at Kenyon since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Overall, it was just a very good feeling,” President Sean Decatur said of the event.
President Decatur kicked off the event with a short introductory speech, thanking the building’s constructors as well as the students who had to contend with the modular library buildings while Chalmers was under construction. Decatur was especially impressed with the fact that, despite being built years apart, Chalmers architecturally complements both the Gund Gallery and Rosse Hall. “[Chalmers] is everything we hoped it would be and more,” he said.
Just as Decatur began speaking, K-SWOC demonstrators, many of whom had been waiting for the speeches to begin in one of the library’s private study rooms, began to fill the second and third floors’ balconies overlooking the library’s atrium.
“We all walked out, and stood there during the event itself, as quietly as possible to make sure that we didn’t actually disrupt the event in any capacity,” Sally Smith ’23, a member of K-SWOC’s steering committee, said.
Given the size and prestige of this event, K-SWOC members voted unanimously to hold the demonstration in front of donors and members of Kenyon’s Board of Trustees to emphasize their frustration regarding the College’s motion to decision to file a motion to dismiss or stay K-SWOC’s petition to hold a union certification election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Smith explained that K-SWOC believes the College’s actions represent an effort to delay a free and fair election amongst student workers about whether or not they want to unionize.
Demonstrators held signs protesting the College’s refusal to recognize the essential work of student workers, and stood silently in order to avoid disrupting the event. Finally, two students held a large banner from the third floor, reading, “Jones Day clients: -Trump -Fox News -The NRA -Kenyon College.”
K-SWOC made their banner in protest of Jones Day, the law firm that the College is using to fight against the union election. In the creation of this banner, K-SWOC wanted to emphasize their disappointment in the College’s decision to retain the expensive firm instead of Bricker and Eckler, which normally works for the College in negotiations with United Machine and Electrical Workers (UE) Local 712, the union that represents Kenyon’s maintenance and janitorial staff.
Jones Day is the seventh-largest law firm in the country and thirteenth-largest in the world. The firm also brought in over $2 billion in revenue in 2020 and has a long-standing relationship with the Kenyon community, including through the various alumni, student parents and relatives who are partners at the firm. Despite the strong connection to Kenyon, Jones Day has a complex reputation for being linked with multiple controversial clients such as former President Donald Trump, Walmart, McDonald’s and the National Rifle Association.
K-SWOC demonstrators remained standing for the remainder of the dedication speeches, which continued without interruption.
In addition to Chair of the Board of Trustees Brackett T. Denniston, Associate Vice President for Libraries and Strategic Innovation Amy Badertscher and Vice President for Library and Information Services Ron Griggs, Thea Soukup ’22 spoke on behalf of the student body at the dedication. She touched on the College’s value of “enduring connections to people and place” as the cornerstone of her speech. She also talked about how Chalmers is a collaborative space that students have been missing in the years without a library. “The library acts as this mediator for us to connect with peers in ways that provide rich discussion and long-term relationships,” she said. “The library is integral in maintaining our spirit of community at Kenyon.”
The Board of Trustees has not made any comments regarding the demonstration. Vice President for Student Affairs Celestino Limas, however, called it “powerful.”
“I think there’s something really moving about students who are passionate about a particular cause wanting to engage in a silent protest,” he said. “It spoke volumes [of] students wanting to get out their message, but still wanting to honor the fact that this was a ceremony that was dedicated to a wonderful resource.”
Decatur echoed Limas’ sentiments. “I, as always, appreciate the ways in which Kenyon students voice their views and their stances on things. And so it was, I think, a part of what college life is about,” he said.