When Kenyon’s administration sent out the detailed proposed changes to the student handbook, one specific change to the Student Organization Handbook had Kenyon students and recent alumni talking. The proposed change, as obtained and tweeted by the Collegian on Monday afternoon, reads “Kenyon College will not recognize any new local fraternities, sororities, or societies.”
While the policy appeared to be news to almost all students and young alumni, Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 and the Office of Student Engagement seemed surprised at the fuss. After heavy pressure from students, Bonham sent out a Student-Info email on Thursday morning detailing the changes that included documents previously only available to members of Student Council. However, the section of the email summarizing the change in the local Greek organization policy said “the Student Organization Handbook also now enumerates… A clearer section on Greek organization expansion and reactivation process, including codifying the College’s practice of not recognizing new organizations that lack inter/national affiliation and oversight.” In a later interview with the Collegian, Bonham said that “it has been our practice at the College for many years to not recognize local Greek organizations; so, rather than having students go through and expend the time and energy into coming up with a rationale and a plan for a new organization and only to be told no, we really wanted to make that clear.”
It remains unclear how long this policy has been in place under the table, but it does represent a definitive shift in College policy. Four of Kenyon’s existing 11 Greek organizations are local, including three of its four sororities, the last of which (Zeta Alpha Pi) was incorporated in 2001. Over the years, multiple fraternities have pursued “denationalizing” and transitioning to a local organization. In 1970, Kenyon’s Sigma Pi chapter severed its connection with the national organization, branding themselves the Peeps O’ Kenyon. The Peeps left Greek Council in 2014. In 2016, Kenyon’s Phi Kappa Sigma chapter explored transitioning to a local chapter, and even proposed adding a “Phi Kap amendment” to the updated Greek Council Constitution. While there is no specific process regarding denationalization or starting a local chapter, this was clearly a pressing issue as recently as 2016, and there was no part of the updated Greek Council Constitution (officially adopted April 2019) suggesting at all that new local organizations could not be established.
In February, we reported on Delta Phi’s desire to transition away from their national Greek organization. Certainly, this alleged long-standing policy must have been in effect just four months ago. Yet, despite meeting with Assistant Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins on multiple occasions, Delta Phi president Cooper Murray told the Collegian that he had “never received such information” until this week.
Our point is not to litigate how long this off-the-books policy has been in effect. Perhaps the College is exaggerating the length of time this policy has been on the books, but if the policy actually has been unofficially enforced for years it may indicate a bigger problem.
Respected legal philosopher Lon L. Fuller told the story of an imaginary King named Rex trying to create a new law code for his kingdom. However, he failed to tell the citizenry of the laws, so they could not follow the laws, creating a failed law code. Similarly, failure to codify any notion that local Greek organizations could not be established, allowing at least one and probably two organizations to complete the prerequisite materials established in the Handbook only to be rejected based on an unwritten rule, represents a failed Handbook.
This represents a troubling pattern that has developed at Kenyon over the last half-decade. More and more, the administration has treated the established rules of Kenyon College as guidelines that they themselves do not have to follow. To them, the Student Handbook, the Student Organization Handbook and campus political bodies are institutions run by them to constrain student behavior. It can be seen through this recent Greek policy, through a reinterpretation of 11-year-old all-campus party policy that ended the long-standing practice of varsity athletics teams throwing parties and through the neutering of Campus Senate detailed in our letter to the editor from Colin Cowperthwaite ’18.
To be clear, the Collegian does not believe students should have full control over all aspects of student life. There are certain issues, including the updated K-Card restrictions of 2017, that in hindsight did not warrant the level of backlash they received. However, the administration must make some attempt to derive policy from deliberations which formally include students and student political bodies. Without this, they will continue failing to inform students of new rules. They will continue failing to inform students of changes or reinterpretations to existing rules, codifying them later only when they say they have already been enforcing them, continuing the College’s ever-increasing deficit of accountability.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and Adam Schwager ’20 and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.