On Friday afternoon, around 30 community members, almost all of them students, gathered in the Community Foundation Theater to participate in the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee’s (K-SWOC) town hall on its white paper released earlier this month. The white paper is a report examining the College’s financial decisions during the tenure of Bracket B. Denniston III ’69, chair of the Board of Trustees. The panelists, Djibril Branche ’23, Michelle Hanna ’22, Lily Beeson-Norwitz ’23 and Ammar Raslan ’26, discussed expanding K-SWOC’s efforts beyond labor issues to encompass all problems facing student workers.
The seats in the front of the theater had name tags draped over them for members of senior staff. Though the union hand-delivered invitations to their offices earlier in the week, no member from the senior staff was present at the event. In a statement to K-SWOC publicized by the union, Acting President Jeff Bowman declined the invitation, stating that the white paper did not reflect Kenyon’s values. He emphasized in his statement to K-SWOC that the report was anonymous, which he took issue with in previous remarks on the white paper.
In an all-student, all-employee email, K-SWOC disputed Bowman’s classification of the report as anonymous. “If you have any confusion about where the report came from, we can definitively tell you it was the product of the collective efforts of our Union members here at Kenyon,” the union wrote. When the Collegian asked for clarification, K-SWOC declined to name co-authors for fear of retaliation by the College.
The meeting started out largely summarizing the report, which claims that the College has not financially supported students during Denniston’s tenure as the chair of the Board of Trustee. Rather, the union argues, Kenyon has invested in new buildings and expanded its business and finance divisions. The morning of the town hall, Bowman sent the Collegian a statement specifying inaccuracies within the report.
K-SWOC got the data for the report from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a federal database that contains information on any institution that distributes federal financial aid. “In the white paper, K-SWOC relies on outdated information on staffing,” he said. “Until 2021-22, Kenyon misinterpreted IPEDS guidance and classified as ‘business and financial operations’ any employee who handled financial matters for their office or department, even if their primary function was broadly student or academic affairs, library or computing, or another occupation.” Bowman claimed that Kenyon has corrected their mistake in this year’s data, reporting only 30 full-time business and finance staff instead of the 93 reported in the most recent publicly available data, which K-SWOC used in its report.
Bowman also noted that there is no category for “student support services” in the IPEDS data. “K-SWOC made up this category and it is unclear which occupations are included — so we are unable to provide comparable 2021-22 data,” he said. K-SWOC felt it specified in the white paper what it meant by “student support services,” sometimes abbreviated as SSS in the report, when it listed “Librarians, Computer, Healthcare, Counselors, Curators, Archivists, Academic Affairs, Sports, Chaplins, Other Education Services.” When asked for clarification by the Collegian, K-SWOC specified the IPEDS categories they classified as student support services, which are “Librarians, Curators, Archivists,” “Student and Academic Affairs and Other Education Services,” “Computer, Engineering, and Science,” “Community, Social Service, Legal, Arts, and Media” and “Healthcare Practitioners and Technical.”
After the panelists finished summarizing the white paper, they mentioned K-SWOC’s plans to address more issues that affect students. “We think that a union can go much further than wages and benefits,” Branche said during the town hall. “We want to expand the scope of what a bargain can mean; we want to go on the offense in our campaign.” To do so, they plan to invite speakers to campus (such as Thursday’s workshop, “Race and Labor: Let’s Talk About It” with Bianca Cunningham) to educate the Kenyon community on issues affecting student workers. In addition, Beeson-Norwitz did not rule out more aggressive measures. “Future town halls and public student worker demonstrations may be necessary if Brackett Denniston’s administration continues to refuse to engage in dialogue about the report’s findings, and negotiate with our union in good faith to find a solution that prioritizes people over buildings,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Following the panelists’ updates, they asked the audience members to talk to each other about the issues that affect them and then share their experiences with the full group. Almost all comments were from students questioning how the College manages its finances, sharing their negative experiences with the Cox Health and Counseling Center or expressing concerns over existing inequities at Kenyon.
One student at the town hall who has faced issues living at Meadow Lane spoke about the College’s decision to put money towards Pivot, the unfinished sculpture by Richard Serrea in the West Quad that was gifted by Graham Gund ’63, H’81 and Ann Gund. Branche acknowledged the group’s shared concern about housing issues, then stated that he does not understand how Kenyon manages their finances. “I really don’t understand in any state where our money goes; it’s not democratic in that sense,” he said. The College puts out audited financial statements every year.
Another student claimed that Kenyon operates as a business rather than a school, and that they see this most clearly in how the Cox Health and Counseling Center is managed. Multiple audience members claimed that the Health Center does not offer enough support, an argument that has existed for some time both on the Hill and at other colleges across the United States.
The last part of the town hall examined how minority groups navigate campus differently from their peers. “Echoing what a lot of people say, a lot of the student workers, students of color or international students, they often are the ones disproportionately who use those resources on campus,” Beeson-Norwitz said. “They need to have those resources because they don’t have the same resources as the more privileged population.” When these students cannot access the services they need, it puts more stress on them than somebody who does not need to have a job, which is unfair, she concluded.
After a question on how racial justice relates to student workers’ issues, Branche further emphasized the mission of K-SWOC. “Our goal isn’t a union,” he said — although their slogan is still “our path, our union.” “Our goal is to benefit the wider campus community; our goal is racial justice; our goal is giving students a platform to seriously address the issues that we talked about,” he said. “Bargaining for the common good is simply the means we use to do so.”