Dear President Decatur, senior staff and the Board of Trustees,
When we first started organizing our workplaces, actions took the form of one-on-one conversations, collective letters to our supervisors and an occasional town hall. In no way was this easy, but now it’s remarkable to look back and see how Kenyon’s senior staff and Board of Trustees responded to such innocuous actions. If they had bargained with us in good faith, we wouldn’t have called for alumni to boycott donations in February. If they had met with us when we went on strike for unfair labor practices in March, we wouldn’t have felt such an intense need to organize a longer, larger strike. If they had listened to MLL ATs who went on strike Monday, maybe we wouldn’t have chosen to occupy Ransom Hall on Wednesday. And we won’t be leaving until the school rights the wrong that it made last fall in choosing not to voluntarily recognize K-SWOC.
An occupation is a necessary step if the ruling institution does not respond to its constituency. In this case, student workers have been agitating for a union, a majority of which have signed cards in support of, since September. The College has responded with variations of disrespect, indifference and negligence. Therefore, it is necessary to physically occupy the time, space and energy of the Office of the President (a conduit to the Board of Trustees) as a means of demanding a community election as a path to voluntary recognition. If the administration was willing to meet with us at the bargaining table, we would not be pushed to occupy their space.
In the past few years, occupations done by college students have occurred with varying responses from administrators. For instance, in a letter to K-SWOC, James Cordero of RAPMU (RAs and Peer Mentors Union at UMass Amherst) stated: “In 2002, UMass Amherst refused to recognize the RA Union. In response, 35 RAs occupied administrative buildings and were arrested, while hundreds more marched on university headquarters in Boston. This direct action forced the university to recognize the fledgling RA Union, and today, the expanded RA and Peer Mentor Union is the longest standing undergraduate union in the nation. We would not be here without direct, collective action.”
This is a clear example of how physical escalations are critical to the success of a labor movement under attack from the ruling class, or the Board of Trustees and senior staff of Kenyon College. In another example — met with substantially less violence on a smaller campus — a group of Hampshire College students occupied their college president’s office for 75 days when the Hampshire Board of Trustees voted not to admit an incoming first-year class in 2019 during a period of financial turmoil. Hampshire, unlike UMass, did not use force on its own students and instead met with them to discuss the matter. The college ended up admitting a small class for the fall of 2019 without going under.
We are calling on Kenyon to respond to us in the manner of Hampshire College: to sit down with us, negotiate terms for the mutual welfare of the College — in our case, a community election for union recognition — and create a path forward. We’ll be waiting.
Occupying members of K-SWOC
Sigal Felber ’21
Rebecca Kornman ’23
April Murphy ’22
Toby McCabe ’21
Sajara Magdaleno Urquieta ’22