After an absence from a community, one tends to appreciate its subtle changes. The same is true for Kenyon. Some changes, such as the massive pit where the Olin and Chalmers Memorial Libraries once stood, are more obvious than others. A more subtle change, I noticed as I wandered around campus on my first night back, was the conspicuous presence of security cameras. While the buildings on which these cameras sit are explicitly mentioned in the “Master Plan,” the fact that there would be added security measures is alarmingly absent.
Some of these cameras seem to have a logical presence — such as those in the new Kenyon Bookstore. However, others seem to have little use beyond monitoring faculty and students in certain extraneous nooks.
Take, for example, the new English Cottage. As you approach the building, you are greeted with a camera that monitors the path from Lentz House to the cottage. As you walk up to the English Cottage door, another camera on the ceiling of the building’s awning observes you. Inside the building, you find yourself smiling into the panoptic eye of Big Brother. But these three security cameras simply are not enough for the Kenyon administrators. There is yet another camera in the fire stairwell.
It is understandable that the protective Kenyon administrators are concerned for our safety. However, the aggressive increase in security cameras is perhaps not the best way of showing they care. Kenyon prides itself on its strong communal environment, an environment that is dependent upon the trust of all acting members. These cameras suggest a level of distrust by administrators toward students and staff alike.
If administrators cannot bear to leave students unsupervised, even in the presence of English professors, this community has lost its faith in one another. As one adage goes: If you treat someone as what they could be, they will become it. These cameras represent not only a lack of faith, but also a foreboding violation of liberal values.
What’s more, these cameras castKenyon as an institution filled with would-be miscreants. One can only imagine the questions that pop into the minds of prospective parents and their children as they tour a college filled with prying lenses.
What does this say about the students? What does it say about the relationship between the Knox County community and the college? Doubtless only words of distrust come to mind.
This campus undoubtedly deserves an environment in which students feel safe: The issue of sexual assault has gone largely unanswered in colleges across America, and there are also serious concerns with crime and vandalism. But we must seriously reflect on whether cameras around campus are a viable means of reducing these concerns. While security cameras may be an emphatic way of making students feel safer, do they effectively curtail crime and sexual assault? Or do they merely enable administrators to keep more eyes on trivial habits of students?
We must have a discussion on how these security cameras will be used, and why they were installed without our consultation. We live in a world moving further toward overbearing governance, and this administration parallels that movement. Students must also ask themselves how comfortable they are with administrative oversight in their personal lives.
Alexander Hoffman ’20 is a political science and history major from Oak Park, Ill. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.