Section: Opinion

To bridge divide with students, administration needs to prioritize transparency

I have thought a lot about uncertainty this past year. Partly because I’m a senior and partly because it has been one strange year. 

But if one thing has crystallized for me, it is that people deserve the right to be informed in decisions that will affect their lives. Self-determination is only possible if the people living and working at Kenyon have the information they need to pursue their personal and collective goals.

While there have been some notable mistakes in communication to students, the goal of this op-ed is not to criticize the administration or complain about COVID-19 guidelines; it is to encourage confidence and trust between the Kenyon administration and the students. Real transparency is a key step towards restoring trust on our campus.  

As of Sept. 7, 96% of the student body is fully vaccinated. That’s great news. In addition, 75% of Kenyon employees are also vaccinated. It’s commendable that Kenyon implemented a mask mandate and that so many people were willing to get vaccinated in order to keep the community safe. The communication here has been very effective toward the intended goal.

But even while we’ve had vaccination success, there have been significant informational gaps about testing the student body. When justifications aren’t shared with students, there is a disconnect between what students know and what the administration knows. 

One example of this is the constant deferral to CDC and KPH guidelines as the only explanation for the administration’s initial decision to not test the entire student body. The updated fall 2021 guidelines on Kenyon’s website say that, “the Centers for Disease Control and Knox Public Health advise against testing vaccinated individuals who have no symptoms or who have not been identified as a close contact of someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19.” This statement is presented as if additional context isn’t needed. While testing the student body regularly may prove unnecessary over the semester, getting a baseline reading of COVID-19 levels after the arrival of 1,900 students would have been appreciated.

In addition, as the Kenyon Collegian reported on Sept. 2, a significant number of faculty signed a letter encouraging testing of all students once cases began rising. This shows that there was also a disconnect between some faculty members and the administration when it came to altering COVID-19 policy. 

I hope that the Kenyon administration can more effectively explain their strategy for keeping infections at a minimum. Transparency works not because of the speed and quantity of information we are given, but because it enables us to consistently trust each other to make reasonable decisions. 

If the Kenyon administration trusts students to be honest and capable, they should also be able to clearly communicate to students. They should lay out their plan for mitigating the impact of COVID-19, and make it clear that these actions have been thought out and informed by members of the Kenyon community. 

Adam Bell ’22 is a biology major from Encinitas, Calif. He can be reached at bell1@kenyon.edu.

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