Over the last week, Kenyon faculty, staff and students threw their argumentative hats into the infamous email-chain ring, debating in two public threads the merits and drawbacks of the Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee’s (K-SWOC) goal of forming a union of student workers. Participants in the online spat, specifically faculty and staff — those who ought to be role models on campus — exhibited the worst of this community.
After extensive debate in an all-student thread (including a 13-page, single-spaced essay), a professor shared private emails from a redacted faculty member to a student, revealing that the nastiness in the public threads was only the beginning. In the private emails, the professor disparaged the student, calling them a “snot” and accusing them of “smashing the institution you and I both depend on to survive.” The debate over whether private emails should be shared is ultimately beside the point, when what the content of the messages clearly demonstrates is that opposition to the union is being used by those in positions of power to threaten and harass.
This is not the first time K-SWOC has been the subject of mass-email discourse, but it is particularly notable because of the personal attacks and bad-faith arguments, such as a professor saying in a private email to a student, “you’re not the only one who works hard for her money and it’s obnoxious obscene and condescending of you to imagine otherwise.” Further, calling a student a “snot” (even in a private email), or suggesting publicly that they “didn’t do the assigned reading,” is not only unprofessional, but betrays a lack of the trust and care that we say exists in the Kenyon community. An email early in the chain claims that K-SWOC is creating a polarized environment that limits discussion on campus, but it wasn’t K-SWOC that jumped on a student simply trying to share their experience.
As exhibited in the all-student and all-employee email chains from the past week, some participants in the debate over K-SWOC have failed to uphold the standards of constructive discourse that we hold high at Kenyon. Both the public email chains and the leaked private emails included blunt insults and belittling assumptions from employees of the College. These are unacceptable in any context, and they fail to meet the ideals Kenyon claims to hold itself to.
We urge those who engaged in the exchange, namely those who were unduly aggressive, to consider their audience and their mission. Full-time employees of the College must realize their duty to support students and foster a cohesive campus community. End the unprofessional banter from behind a screen; opt for an in-person meeting instead. Be open-minded about the issues facing student workers as well as their proposed solutions. If the discourse still fails, resources such as the Ombuds Office are available to help. Claiming that a union would threaten open communication on campus while attacking students in email chains is not only deeply hypocritical, but also disrespectful, unprofessional and unproductive.
Amelia, Salvatore and Reid
The staff editorial is written weekly by Editors-in-Chief Amelia Carnell ’23 and Salvatore Macchione ’23 and Executive Director Reid Stautberg ’23. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.
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Doesn't seem like we're seeing ANY of the personal emails from the students to employees involved here. Doesn't seem like this addresses how much verbal abuse the KSWOC champions have been flinging, without consequence, at Kenyon employees, faculty or staff, for the last three years.
Seems like this article pretends that these students are faultless, seems like these students want all the benefits of being adults without any of the responsibility.
Reply to Huh.
Huh.I couldn’t agree more with this comment. It is a black eye smeared across the face of the professor who shared a colleague’s email regardless of her rationalization. I hope my child won’t be taking any classes from her.
Reply to Parent2
As a parent, I hope that it's not my kid being called a snot (that is a term that should be reserved for siblings, and only used until they are teenagers). But seriously, I understand the larger point the editors are making about a campus culture that fosters a respectful exchange of ideas. In observing Kenyon from a parental distance it is my sense that there is a great deal of constructive dialog occuring in classes, clubs, and the various individuals and groups that make up the college community. The exception here seems to be KSWOC. Obviously, I'm not on campus so my exposure is through emails, facebook and instagram posts, and most importantly the Collegian. Putting aside the merits of having (or not) a student union, I am struck by the angry, bitter, and often highly personal, attacks by the student union organizers against the college. While I'm sure that this isn't the whole story, I'm not surprised that the union topic is polarizing, given the tone set by KSWOC's communications - which seem to be more intended to create outrage than dialog. I suggest that the Collegian editors could have an even more positive impact by encouraging all parties to approach each other less aggressively.
Reply to Kenyon Parent
Matt Lavine '97
Kenyon ParentIn response to the idea that KSWOC is attempting to "create outrage [rather] than dialog," I think it's worth considering the possibility that Kenyon's actions have been outrageous, and that outrage is the appropriate response. You may perceive anger because they are angry, and bitterness because they are bitter.
The problem with calls for civility is that they necessarily serve one party exclusively. What concessions would Kenyon's administration have made if these workers had asked for them in sweeter language, or more discreetly? We can call criticism of the Board of Trustees and its Chair a "personal attack" if we like, but he personally occupies that office, and he personally is not above judgment.
The same is true for calls for more dialogue. It has been three years. The students who were first-years when KSWOC was founded are about to graduate. I'd ask what remains unsaid, but in fact there's a lot: there has yet to be a substantive response to the KSWOC report on declining student services and health care, and the silence on the economic inequality issues they raise has been punctuated only by Kenyon becoming the most expensive college in the country. Dialogue about that would be an improvement, but in the meantime the administration's actions speak loudly enough. The fact is, both parties know where the other stands.
From your first day at Kenyon, you are taught valuable (and sometimes painful) lessons about how to comport yourself, how to seek consensus, how to accommodate views that differ from your own. It's a tiny little village, after all. If that were all it did, it would be a finishing school and nothing more. But I believe it's also a place where most people understand that there are things that are more important than politesse. As much as I wish it hadn't happened, a faculty member directly calling a student a "snot" is at least an honest account of that person's views. So is a student organization expressing outrage and anger at the lack of mental health services, or ineffectual response to sexual assault, or the administration's indifference to the experience of students who need money for their labor. Both may breach those norms of civility, but we're entitled to come to different conclusions about how justified they are.
Reply to Matt Lavine '97
Respectfully, the union is polarizing. The behavior in the email chains is beneath professors and all Kenyon community members, but the “with us or against us” mindset has been inherent to the union campaign since the start.
In my time, students have engaged in bullying, harassment, threats, and physical on-campus pressure to support the proposed union, such as trying to shut down the mods and maintenance services, and camping out at entrances to the Senior art show, Pierce, the library, the KAC, and all over middle path. There is no choice except engage or ignore: picking a side, exacerbated by the literal “with us or against us” signs. While these are valid organizing strategies, they do not exist in a vacuum. Students and professors who are aggravated by the organizing have responded in kind. The increased tension on this issue has made us less respectful, more vindictive and crueler to each other. It mostly just makes me very sad.
I know people who were feeling suicidal over union drama and can personally attest to having been there myself. This debate has, in many ways, transformed and soiled the atmosphere on campus for three years now. It’s simply not true that the problem starts and ends in the email chains. It starts with the issue itself. I don’t see any reason why recognizing the union would change this situation for the better instead of entrenching it.
Reply to Recent Graduate
Do Student Loans Not Count?
I would love to hear Professor Adler's take on whether or not taking out a student loan in your own name to attend Kenyon is supporting yourself or not.
Given the anal, pedantic, yet ultimately dismissive nature of Professor Brennan and Professor Adler's opinions, especially given their clear reverence for Kenyon as a place of Learning (as opposed to a work place), I'm surprised they haven't suggested to do away with student workers altogether and simply award grants to those who would otherwise be student workers so that the undergraduates don't have to choose between being a student, a worker, or a student worker.
And on that note...given the hotness in Academia that is Intersectionality, I am amazed that learned, respected Professors at a liberal arts college can't grasp that the same person could identify as both a student and as a worker.
Reply to Do Student Loans Not Count?