Evacuations, drunken transgressions, screams in residence halls and, of course, darkness: The College experienced a campus-wide power outage over the weekend that lasted from Saturday afternoon until midday Sunday to make for a nightmarish or — depending on one’s perspective — dream-like weekend on the Hill.
Rain storms and high winds on Saturday caused widespread power outages in Ohio. On Saturday, the area around Gambier experienced wind speeds of up to 39 mph. According to the Columbus Dispatch, American Electric Power (AEP) said that as of 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, 125,000 customers in Ohio had lost power, mainly in the central and northeastern parts of the state. This weekend’s outage follows the outages the campus experienced on March 3 and 4, after many students had already left for spring break.
The College encountered its first problems at 12:06 p.m. on Saturday, according to Director of Campus Safety Michael Sweazey, when brownouts, or reduced voltage in the electrical energy supply, occurred in residences on the north end of campus. Osi Holt ’24, a North Campus Apartment (NCA) resident, said his lights and smaller appliances, such as the microwave, remained operable, while the major appliances, like the oven, did not. According to Sweazey, American Electrical Power (AEP) arrived on campus at 1:13 p.m. to address these issues and was able to restore power to some areas of campus before a campus-wide outage occurred at 2:58 p.m.
The regular order of quiet Gambier life quickly fell to shambles. As a result of the outage, students had to evacuate the Lowry Center, and Caples Hall residents were unable to use the restrooms on floors 5-9 due to inoperable water pumps. According to Sweazey, a tree also fell near the Taft Cottages at 4 p.m., which required a response from the Mount Vernon Fire Department, Campus Safety and the Maintenance Department to ensure that there was no structural damage. Roughly an hour later, another tree fell on the power lines on Kokosing Drive next to the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity Lodge.
Despite the chaos, Peirce Dining Hall still opened for dinner on Saturday night. In lieu of the regular chicken tenders, AVI prepared options such as quesadillas using the kitchen’s gas appliances, as well as macaroni and cheese, blackened chicken and penne with marinara sauce. AVI Resident Director Ryan Summers noted that the greatest challenge the company faced was the dinner clean-up: Because several of the refrigerators were inoperable, greater quantities of food had to be stored in AVI’s refrigerator truck. This required manually carrying leftovers to where the truck was parked in front of Peirce. He also said that despite these physical challenges, there was not an excessive amount of food that went to waste, and the AVI employees were well prepared to respond. “These guys have been through it before, so you just kind of adjust and do what we can do,” he said. “Our goal is to just feed the students here, so we were happy that we could still do that.” AVI also served a limited brunch the next morning and was able to provide its full services by dinnertime on Sunday night.
As the sun started to set and devices began to die on Saturday evening, many community members decided to attend the Kenyon Chamber Singers’ spring concert in Rosse Hall. Acting President Jeff Bowman described the concert as a “true reflection of the ‘show-must-go-on’ spirit” and commended the singers and Professor of Music Benjamin Locke for their performance despite the circumstances. “Never underestimate the determination of the Chamber Singers and their leader, Doc Locke!” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.
As the concert continued in the safety of Rosse, another large tree fell at 8:38 p.m., not only bringing down a primary transmission line but also crashing onto a vehicle driving on Highway 308 near the Beta Theta Pi Temple. The driver of the car, an AVI worker known by students as “Pasta Bill” (who now works the salad bar), thankfully emerged uninjured. In the aftermath of the event, Sweazey said that the Ohio State Patrol and Campus Safety worked together to block the route and redirect traffic, and he noted that the College’s grounds crew responded swiftly to the scene by cutting and moving the tree off the road. “This is not Kenyon property or responsibility, but we felt it needed to be taken care of for the sake of the community,” Sweazey wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Several students spent the later hours of the evening in Gund Commons, the bookstore or Chalmers Library, where generators provided enough power for them to charge their devices. Chalmers was a hub of activity; as students hunkered down with homework, others projected March Madness games on the walls, and members of Kenyon’s frisbee teams played an extensive game of Sardines throughout the library’s six floors.
Griffin Meyer ’26, a member of the SERF frisbee team and a Sardines participant, was grateful that the game helped him sharpen his mind during an uncertain time. “I felt like I was looking at Chalmers in a different light to find other places to hide for the future,” he said. “It’s training my mind to look for things, like it’s a way to look at things that I haven’t really looked at before.”
Other students convened in the library to bide their time until the evening’s festivities began. Noah Hargrove ’24 accompanied his friend to Chalmers so they could charge their appliances before attending a birthday party later that night. Despite the brief lull in their night, Hargrove noted that he was happy he was not then in his creaky Old Kenyon Residence Hall. “It [was] a little spooky,” he said. “You [could] hear people screaming.”
Like Hargrove, Holt also planned to have an enjoyable evening despite the outage — he celebrated his 21st birthday with a group of friends in his NCA. As a fan of the dark, Holt wholly enjoyed the experience. “Personally, I really enjoy blackouts because I like to go stargazing and just the dark nature of having no lights,” he said. “It was a very dark environment, but it sort of forced us all to be really close, and there’s something really nice about having the birthday candles be the main light source and us all huddled around the birthday cake.”
Unlike those who found comfort in similar intimate gatherings such as Holt’s birthday party, other students sought entertainment out on Gambier’s darkened streets. According to Sweazey, the circumstances only encouraged acts of mischief on campus Saturday night; he reported that students were observed removing the sign from Allen House at 1 a.m., and 30 minutes later another group was caught in the middle of an unsuccessful bike heist. Campus Safety continued to run into similar predicaments well into the morning hours. At 5:48 a.m., the Hoehn-Saric House sign was also discovered missing, and at 5:51 a.m., students were busted consuming alcohol and drugs in a non-residential campus building. “The number of incidents with the signs, etc., was higher than normal,” Sweazey confirmed.
By the time morning light arrived, life was beginning to slowly settle back into its regular routine. According to Sweazey, power began to be restored on campus at around 11:48 a.m. and was fully restored by 1:12 p.m. In light of the challenges and crises a number of College staff had to attend to over the weekend, Sweazey expressed gratitude for their service to the Kenyon community. “The responses by members of the Kenyon Facilities, Grounds, Maintenance Departments, AVI, as well as by the officers and dispatchers of Campus Safety were phenomenal!” he said. “They all worked an extraordinary number of hours in difficult conditions to ensure the safety of students and College property.”
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Great job, Hannah!! So atmospheric and so many funny details, but also informative and engaging!
Reply to Katie Sparvero
Minor nitpick, but Caples has nine floors and there was a fire drill a few minutes after the brownout, at around 12:21. The college also forgot that we have nine floors, the email about the restrooms also said 5-8. Great article!
Reply to Caples resident
Never forget the rolling blackouts of 2008
Reply to Nick '11