Section: Opinion

Campus democracy can coexist with respect for diversity

The editors of The Kenyon Collegian recently wrote a staff editorial entitled “Student Campaigns Deserve More Focus.” As a participant in one of these campaigns, I commend them for this. After all, what is a protest campaign if not a call for change? How can change be achieved if not through focused attention and action?

However, I found it unfortunate that the editors of the Collegian chose to write an editorial based on incorrect assumptions. I also found it strange that the editors wrote that “the idea of a democracy on college campuses can be problematic,” which seems to contradict their sentiment from the staff editorial of Oct. 12, that it was right to “question the commitment of colleges to democracy if they are not willing to have students participate at an administrative level.”

I have been a part of the First Year Council, Committee on Housing and Dining, Division Housing Board, Student Council and Greek Council Executive Board. I am aware that my experience with these organizations does not reflect every person’s experience, but it is unfair to claim that I have not thought deeply about how democratic and governmental institutions function at Kenyon. It was also unfair to imply that the campaign for greater self-governance is somehow only an issue for Greek organizations.

I understand that the nature of Greek organizations living together might make it obvious that many members of Greek life support the movement, but the reality is that dozens of the posters are up in the windows of students who are not members of Greek organizations, and I know that many more agree with the sentiment expressed by them.

Obviously Kenyon should never be a total democracy. There are many decisions, including those related to hiring and construction, that can and should be made by administrators (or by employees, faculty, President Sean Decatur, etc.).

But changes to the student handbook, changes to the way students are allowed to gather and other new policies governing the daily life of our community should go through the regular democratic processes that have been used at Kenyon for a long time. The Campus Senate has representatives from the student body, the faculty and the administration of Kenyon. It is not dominated by students, and it is not incapable of making important decisions.

Of course, the hundreds of students that expressed support for this movement need to take time to consider historically marginalized students, especially students of color. Kenyon’s institutions of self-governance must create clear ways for marginalized voices to be heard. That is why our Student Council includes a representative for the Council of Diversity and Social Justice and a Title IX subcommittee.

But fostering understanding is not just about representation; it is about the democratic process itself. If some actual decision making power is vested in the democratic process, students will feel more of an obligation to remain aware of community issues and to voice their own concerns.

If a proposed change must pass Campus Senate, the surrounding discussion will require compromise and facilitate understanding that simply does not take place when changes are implemented from above. Everyone who has been paying attention to the transformation of Kenyon’s social and housing policy over the past four years recognizes that it is increasingly unlikely for members of different social circles and organizations to interact. As a result it is urgent that we work to be sure that there is a place where consensus can be built on what our community stands for.

When the members of our community feel that they have no power to influence the decisions being made, they have no incentive to communicate and build consensus. That is why we need to work toward greater self-governance.

Paul Murphy ’18 is a political science major from Arlington, Va. You can contact him at murphyp@kenyon.edu.

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