As the Office of Campus Safety pats itself on the back for breaking up unregistered gatherings of 20+ people on campus, I am reminded of the bitter taste left in my mouth by the administrative overreach that overshadowed roughly half of my tenure on the Hill from 2019 to 2023.
In my experience, the Kenyon administration was highly responsive and efficient when it came to matters that they cared about. During COVID-19, Campus Safety effectively shut down any “non-compliant” gathering within minutes of being notified. If you happened to miss your assigned time for mandatory COVID-19 testing, you’d be in a van on the way to the Mount Vernon Comfort Inn so fast it would make your head spin. The Athletics Department practically knew your mask had fallen below your nose in the Lowry Center before you even realized it yourself.
However, this impressive efficiency and attention to detail is seemingly nowhere to be found when students try to shift administrative focus toward their grievances. In my experience, Kenyon is too busy maintaining the image of a progressive, academically focused institution to recognize its student body’s actual wants and needs.
Naturally, one of Kenyon’s primary concerns is potential liability. Considering that there is no off-campus housing and, frankly, not much to do off campus, virtually all social events occur under the administration’s jurisdiction. However, we are entirely kidding ourselves if we assume that asinine policies like limiting the number of people allowed in apartments are a valid deterrent against “risky” behavior.
If we’re being generous, the black-mold-infested upperclass residence options are subpar, Peirce Dining Hall serves unappetizing food and the mental health resources are too busy to help students in non-emergency situations. In 2020, when I was caught in an apartment that was “over capacity,” I spent months worrying about whether or not being in the wrong place at the wrong time might have a negative impact on my permanent record. While I hope that punishments are less severe, I find it discouraging to think anyone should face long term consequences for such a victimless offense. I imagine that most college applicants and their families would balk at paying anything close to $85,000 to be policed for four years, especially given the state of residential amenities.
The administration is actively disadvantaging Kenyon students from their competitors at other schools who do not have to jump through regulatory hoops to throw a party or face punishment for going out on weekends. If anything, the reduction in large-scale parties will lead to a spike in private binge drinking, like during the pandemic.
More concerningly, Denison has caught up to Kenyon academically according to the U.S. News & World Report rankings while boasting a much more typical college social scene, which could cut into a significant portion of Kenyon’s applicant demographic. Let’s face it: A school that is actively trying to meddle with every part of the extracurricular experience is not what students want.
When I first considered Kenyon during my college search, I knew the party scene wouldn’t be the main draw. Still, I was excited about the freedom college students enjoy in their first extended time away from home. I was eager to go out and meet new people at the end of a hard week of classes. Unbeknownst to myself and classmates, Kenyon’s social scene would devolve into a major turn-off for most college-aged students. Without parties to look forward to, many students develop the attitude that they would be better off drinking all night in their apartment than having a few drinks and going out. That hardly sounds less risky to me.
Administrators need to realize that the vast majority of college applicants expect to be able to attend parties or large gatherings in some capacity and that their policies are not an effective means for mitigating risk. Suppose someone is seriously hurt or incapacitated at a “non-compliant” event (which would be permitted at almost every other undergraduate college). Do you think emergency response time will improve due to these rules, which put student safety and the risk of getting in trouble at odds?
The administration needs to stop getting in the way of student social life for its future admissions, national reputation and, most importantly, for the well-being of the currently enrolled students.
College is the first taste of freedom kids get. Stop making that taste so bitter.