On Thursday, April 29, Campus Safety officers threatened to call law enforcement on legally picketing members of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC). Officers also ordered the picketers to provide identification and photographed them without consent. Campus Safety’s intimidation is entirely unacceptable, and remains unaddressed by the administration.
Furthermore, a few hours after this incident took place, the administration circulated baseless reports that picketers damaged College property and acted belligerently. I encourage you to read the point-by-point response K-SWOC released refuting these accusations.
Student workers must be allowed to speak out about the unfair working conditions they face at the College. The right to protest is protected by the National Labor Rights Act, the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For a so-called progressive institution, the intimidation of protestors marks a regression for Kenyon. We cannot, should not and will not be superficially progressive. The College’s authority does not supersede federal and international law. The administration is responsible for the safety, rights and protection of all students — poor or rich, working or not, striking or not.
I joined the K-SWOC picket after the group left the Gund Gallery. United and determined, approximately 20 picketing student workers peacefully marched down Middle Path. We briefly walked through Gund Commons, remaining there only a few minutes before seeing ourselves out to continue picketing elsewhere on campus. Moments later, five or six Campus Safety officers intercepted us just outside.
One particularly aggressive officer cornered me, forcefully demanding to see my K-Card. This officer stood just a few inches away from me, shouting loudly with a belligerent tone. I complied, and the officer photographed my ID. Throughout the incident, the officer hovered closely over me, taking pictures of both myself and other members of the group. Still, I remained compliant, despite being incredibly uncomfortable, anxious and overwhelmed with both the close proximity and aggressive behavior of the officer.
Other members of the group refused to provide identification, as that request violated the National Labor Relations Act. The Campus Safety officers told us that if we did not comply, they would call law enforcement. This implied a threat of arrest, as this seemed to be the only thing law enforcement could do that Campus Safety could not. Several members of the group were students of color, for whom an encounter with law enforcement could be traumatic or possibly deadly, especially as the Knox County Sheriff is known for prior acts of racism against both current students and alumni.
Due to this incident, picketers are vulnerable. I have no history of disciplinary action, and yet I fear that my future is in jeopardy simply for speaking out. Furthermore, I now feel unsafe calling Campus Safety, and worry about how I will find help in the future if I cannot trust officers to remain calm enough to assist. On Sunday afternoon, when a truck circled me repeatedly and catcalled me, I didn’t call Campus Safety because I was uncertain the responding officers would even be motivated to help me.
Thursday’s events were compounded by President Decatur’s cancellation of a planned meeting with a group of student workers. He left Lavender Graduation — an event that celebrates the accomplishments of queer seniors, many of whom are student workers — in order to send the email cancelling this meeting.
We were looking forward to expressing our concerns — such as harassment in College workplaces, inadequate mental health support and poor job accessibility for work-study students — directly to Decatur. Unfortunately, the administration and Board of Trustees have consistently refused to engage in discussion with K-SWOC regarding the welfare of student workers. K-SWOC has invited them to every one of its town halls, yet they fail to attend. We want to communicate our concerns, but cannot if the administration refuses to listen to us.
Now is the time for the administration to step up and respond with amnesty. Student workers advocating for change in their workplaces deserve protection against retaliation from the administration. The administration owes us — and the campus — honesty regarding their false accusations against picketing workers. The manipulation of the truth and the gaslighting must stop. Finally, student workers are owed democracy; whether or not they support unionization, students deserve to have their voices heard through a community election.
April Murphy ’22 is an economics major from Edmond, Okla. She serves as a Community Advisor and senior Helpline consultant at Kenyon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.