Student Council discussed in the past few weeks how organizations at Kenyon perform “blacklisting,” which is the banning of students from all-campus parties in order to allow others to feel comfortable in the space. The Council has yet to break a deadlock that occurred within moments of the start of the meeting — but given the nature of politics (even on a college campus), that is not surprising.
At Kenyon, blacklisting entails more than physical restrictions: It is a device that leads to social ostracization through unofficial and often uncommunicated exclusion that generally extends from all the members of the group who performed the blacklisting to the individual that was blacklisted. Blacklisting is only a part of the larger phenomenon of the increasing acceptance of social ostracization, and while it needs to be addressed as well, it should not be the focus of the conversation.
Rhetoric fueled by oversimplification and a sentiment of disbelief in the effectiveness of administrative handling of student relationships is most likely what has turned discussion of social ostracization to one about blacklisting. Blacklisting catches a lot of attention from the perspective of social ostracization, because it is easily spottable and has clear potential to enable discriminatory practices. Since blacklisting is based on personal discomfort, it contains no hard lines separating reasonable concerns from racial discrimination or any kind of discrimination on the side of the group blacklisting an individual, and there are no simple ways to prevent it from becoming a discriminatory practice.
However, despite blacklisting’s shortcomings, it is very hard to legislate against it. By arguing that groups need this power in order to prevent sexual assault and shelter victims from aggressors, defenders of blacklisting claim that its benefits trump the potential for the discrimination which it gives room. The emotionl weight which on both sides of the argument (sexual assault and discrimination) lead to deadlocks such as Student Council’s, and thereby prevent the conversation about social ostracization from continuing.
Although I have experienced sexual harassment and assault, I acknowledge that, as a privileged white male, it took me time to even begin to understand the challenges faced by, for example, women on college campuses. On the other hand, as an international student who constantly has to take several precautions to avoid being discriminated against at Kenyon, the other side of blacklisting is of genuine concern to me. I admit to having replied to pro-blacklist arguments with similarly divisive rhetoric that likened the concerns of the pro-blacklisters to pro-discrimination, and I sincerely regret these actions.
After speaking with faculty members, administrators, legal professionals and Kenyon students with a wide range of identities, it has become much easier to understand the pro-blacklist argument, but it has also become much more clear that my intuition was not misplaced. Something is deeply wrong with our discourse; this issue manifests itself in the conversations surrounding the practice of blacklisting.
Blacklistings at Kenyon tend to come with no formal warnings, and they serve as strong indications that the person who has been blacklisted should keep themselves distanced from the blacklisting group. This condition cannot be contested, and inquiries about the reasoning behind the blacklisting often escalate the animosity between group and individual. Intentionally or not, the way Kenyon handles blacklisting leads to social ostracization, as individuals are not only prevented from going to a party, but may be excluded from entire social groups.
This phenomenon is a perversion of the right people have to dislike others and avoid them. It is reasonable that certain circumstances may lead certain people to choose to avoid another person, but blacklisting as it currently functions at Kenyon, is a severe punishment. It is not only the avoidance on an individual-to-individual level, but also an implicit request for a whole group to avoid the blacklisted person. This form of social ostracization merits more discussion than the blacklisting itself.
Moving forward, Kenyon must work to find ways to not only guarantee student’s comfort, but also to foster conversations between groups that blacklist and the individuals who have been blacklisted. It is impossible to prevent misunderstandings and hard feelings in a community, but we should strive to give room for rehabilitation, and not exclusion.
Lucas Roos ’21 is a German and physics major from Guaporé, Brazil. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.