Section: Opinion

Kenyon’s lack of adequate health services demands response

It has been over a year since K-SWOC filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. Since that time, Kenyon’s administration has consistently challenged our status as employees with disingenuous legal arguments, preventing us and our coworkers from exercising our democratic right to vote in a union election. It has also manufactured a health and safety crisis that is systematically harming our coworkers. This is why we refuse to wait for Kenyon to recognize our union — we are building one regardless of legal recognition by establishing a union stewards system. As our first official act as a stewards council, we demand Kenyon College properly fund and staff health services on this campus and prioritize the lives of the students currently attending the College. 

Kenyon’s austerity policies are hurting us. According to the data reported by HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey in 2019, 18% of the student body at Kenyon reported experiencing sexual assault, and 13% reported having experienced attempted sexual assault, up from 9.8% and 8.3% in 2015, respectively. Since Brackett Denniston III’s first term as chair of the Board of Trustees, this equals an 83.6% increase in reported sexual assault — an increase we have not seen his administration take meaningful steps to address. Many of us are also unable to receive basic healthcare; there is approximately one full time healthcare professional for every 633 students, a decrease in staff from one staffer per 190 students in 2015 before Denniston’s ascension to chair (see “Brackett’s Path,” page 13). 

The fact that all of this data comes from sources reported by Denniston’s administration, yet no plan has been put in place which adequately addresses the crisis, is alarming. It means that every year, Kenyon knowingly enrolls dozens of students that will be sexually assaulted or be forced to leave due to mental health issues. Former Kenyon student Gavin Trautman described why he chose to transfer after his freshman year: “When I was at Kenyon, I suffered respiratory symptoms due to mold in my dorm and I was unable to get an appointment at the counseling center due to understaffing. This administration’s refusal to prioritize my physical and mental health, and that of many other students, was a major reason why I decided not to come back this fall.”

Under a robust steward system, our coworkers would not have to face this crisis alone. A steward system is made up of individuals who have been nominated by their coworkers and act as a bridge between their workplace and our union as a whole. Stewards provide their coworkers with information about their rights under labor law and other resources related to workplace safety. They don’t speak for their coworkers; rather, they involve their coworkers in union activities and empower them to take ownership of it. Since Kenyon has failed to provide adequate health and support services, we have formed this steward system in order to help support each other through this crisis. 

As stewards, we recognize that Kenyon’s unwillingness to provide students with a proper healthcare system makes our academic and personal wellbeing suffer, which is why we demand Kenyon properly fund and staff health services on this campus. We anticipate this demand, which has been made by many Kenyon students before us, will be initially ignored by Denniston’s Board, but Kenyon students in need of affordable healthcare can’t and shouldn’t wait any longer. That is why K-SWOC is exploring a partnership with an off-campus healthcare practice to provide affordable primary care to Kenyon students who need it right now. Our ultimate objective is to establish and expand this program through a contract negotiated with the College. However, if Denniston and the trustees wish to prioritize their anti-union campaign over the wellbeing of its student body, we will work with our allies to fundraise for this program ourselves if we have to. 

The people who have signed this op-ed article are not nearly all the people we need to build a strong and sound structure for our current, and future, members — we need you, our coworkers, to build it with us. If you are a student worker and wish to join us in connecting each other through a support system, please fill out the stewards ballot linked below. Student workers should have a say in who they believe would fit the role of a steward in their workplace and advocate for their needs, specifically on a campus lacking sufficient healthcare and student support services.

Nominate a coworker here: 

In Solidarity,

Lily Beeson-Norwitz ’23, Writing Center, Admissions

Julia Conner, ’24, MLL Teaching Assistant

Kat Ellis ’23, Community Advisor, Writing Center, Psychology Department

Dennis Frimpong ’24, Office of Green Initiatives 

Henry Haley Goldman ’23, Athletics Statistician 

Abdul Hafeez ’24, Special Collections & Archives – LBIS

Apple Hu ’23, Community Advisor 

Camila Jimenez ’25 Senior Helpline Consultant 

Emma Kang ’25, Gund Gallery Associate

Isabel Keener ’24, Writing Center Liaison

Carissa Kieger ’24, Senior Helpline Consultant

Zander Lu ’25, Gund Gallery Associate

Ammar Raslan ’26, Kenyon Farm

Faiz Rasool ’24 Community Advisor 

Mughees Saeed ’25 Community Advisor

Sonia Suben ’25, ResLife, SE, and FYE Front Desk

Emily Yourman ’24, MLL Teaching Assistant


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