“Memory holding onto love and keeping anger young.”
-P.F. Kluge, Alma Mater
Last week, after commenting on two social media posts from other Kenyon alumni, I navigated an unsolicited telephone conversation with a Kenyon professor I love and respect. Friends had shared an open letter from a fellow alum detailing the College’s alleged mishandling of a Title IX complaint filed by his sister, a former Kenyon student. The faculty member had seen my comments, and warned me against “dragging Kenyon through the mud” online. It was a jarring example of a mentality that places protecting Kenyon’s good name above all else. I impulsively found and deleted my comments — simple comments, not even opinion posts — feeling shamed and embarrassed, as though I had done something wrong.
But Kenyon is where I learned to have the difficult conversations, to question institutions, to compassionately seek change for the better. In 1999, my senior year, a group of my peers wrote, co-signed and circulated a detailed proposal to overhaul the College’s sexual assault policies. We gathered all the student support we could muster, hoping to present it to the administration. We called ourselves S.A.F.E.: Movement for a Sexual Assault-Free Environment at Kenyon College. On the night of April 21, an estimated 250 students gathered in Philomathesian Hall to discuss the changes we wanted to see, the problems we’d identified and to show solidarity. Our email list grew to over 600 concerned students overnight. “Students criticize sexual assault policies,” the Collegian headline read the next day. [April 22, 1999]
We were granted an audience with the administration. Matilda Bode ’99 and I met for two hours with members of the Board of Trustees, President Oden, and Dean of Students Cheryl Steele. I found myself quoted in the Collegian sounding optimistic, even cheerful: “I think policy reform will become a reality.” [“S.A.F.E. presents proposal,” April 29, 1999]
My thoughts forever ring out from the 1999 Reveille: “Kenyon as a whole took huge leaps forward … How well do we as an institution handle cases of sexual assault? I have seen activism, passion, and a selflessness in the members of this community … An open dialogue has started on this campus, between everyone from the administration on down…”
Founding S.A.F.E. provided the backdrop for some of the most important lessons I took from my time on the Hill: Organizing for change can matter and open dialogue, self-scrutiny and activism are paramount. I’ve been told that S.A.F.E. was the precursor to what is now Beer & Sex, a great example of student organizing turning into a lasting and positive part of the institution, providing counseling, support and feedback to students navigating a new lifestyle on the Hill.
If We Are Kenyon, as we proclaimed launching the 2007 capital campaign, then WE — including the upper levels of administration — must do better. WE have an opportunity to take a forward-leaning, progressive approach to this issue, and accept the ethical responsibility to pursue justice, even at the expense of perceived damage to the College’s reputation. If We Are Kenyon — if I Am Kenyon — I refuse to be silenced, shamed or humiliated for the very conversation and dialogue that is supposed to be the hallmark of my truly exceptional liberal arts education. Whatever Kenyon is or is not and whatever our responsibility to each other, questioning our loyalty or support because we want Kenyon to be better is misguided at best and abusive at worst.
If memory is, indeed, to hold onto love, and not just anger, we must, and with great urgency, insist on self-scrutiny, openness, stringency and compassion. Kenyon must be better than this.
With support from:
Dana Arneson ’02, Josie Bode ’01, Matilda Bode ’99, Elinor Goldsmith-Greenberg ’00, Erica Vogelei Kendall, ’99, Monica Lai-Shan ’00, Aleta Katra Lafferty ’00, Katie Lillie ’01, Brant Russell, ’02, Kimberly Irion Yungfleisch ’00, Emily Van Hook Arend ’01