Section: Opinion

Sound off on Sendoff

Dear Laura Kane, Sam Hughes, and Meredith Bonham,

My name is Phoebe Lewis and I’m a second semester senior. I am a strong student and hold various leadership roles on campus. All of my friends work hard and contribute to Kenyon in distinct and formative ways; they are CAs and captains of sports teams, they conduct volunteer work in nearby schools, they manage musical groups, write for campus papers, are heads of their Greek organizations.

As students we all work to make Kenyon an inclusive and positive community, and so were stunned to hear that no students had been contacted regarding the changes implemented in the new Sendoff plan. If we are a community that prides itself on collaboration and positive relationships between faculty, staff, administration and students, then these recent events have done little to facilitate such a bond.

I am deeply troubled by the changes to Sendoff that were announced earlier this week. I believe that by changing the date of the event (and thereby nixing Extendoff), by eliminating the cordoned-off areas on the South Quad, by forcing students to choose between enjoying a social event and studying for finals, and by forcing students over 21 to buy alcohol from third-party vendors, the administration will not only deepen the rift between their office and the student body, but will also encourage heavier binge-drinking than before.

Yes, alcohol will be available to students –– but they must buy it, a practice that to my knowledge is a first in the Sendoff tradition. Forcing students to buy alcohol from third-party vendors belies the very foundation of Sendoff as a campus-wide, inclusive event. Some students may not be able to afford drinks priced by outside vendors, thus forcing a gap between those who can and cannot afford wristbands. For those who cannot or choose not to buy these wristbands, they may instead turn to cheaper options –– options that may include more hard alcohol and thus incur a higher risk.

Before, Sendoff was a safe space for people to socialize and, yes, drink. I fear that it will now become yet another event for which students feel the need to pre-game.

That is dangerous.

One of the foundations of the Kenyon experience is campus-wide parties and events. Indeed, we are one of the only liberal arts colleges that throws parties exclusively for the entire campus.  I believe that by shortening the Sendoff weekend to just one day, and by placing that day right ahead of finals, the administration is attempting to stamp out a years-long tradition that will not only further alienate the student body from the administration, but will also promote heavier drinking in unsafe conditions.

While partying is of course a personal decision, belonging to a community that actively welcomes all members to its events is what makes Kenyon an inclusive and dynamic environment. Even as a freshman, I remember looking forward to Sendoff not for the beer but for its communal aspect –– students from all years, interests, clubs, and sports, all gathered in one space, is a rare occurrence at any college, and is a staple of the Kenyon experience.

And, yes, sometimes alcohol played a part in that experience.

Sendoff is not an event that demands alcohol consumption. It is not an event that forces students to drink heavily. In fact, by having less stringent policies, previous years’ Sendoffs have provided a safe space in which students could drink in the presence of their peers –– and in the sight of Campus Safety officers –– instead of pounding shots at pre-games.

One of the strongest aspects of Sendoff was that it actively countered pre-gaming.  When students want to drink, and know they will not be served alcohol at an event, they will drink before the event. Whether that means playing drinking games in dorm rooms or pounding shots before walking out the door, pregaming encourages binge drinking, as the general goal is to become drunk before the event, since it will be impossible to drink once they are there.

Even more disturbing, these changes ignore the fact that many students attend Kenyon on academic scholarships. All students will be faced with the frustrating decision to engage in an exciting and Kenyon-specific social tradition –– an event that is explicitly described in the Kenyon Student Handbook as a “campus event” and thus should be catered to the entire community –– or study for finals.  But students on academic scholarships, who may need to perform well to maintain financial aid, may be faced with additional stress to perform well amid a weekend of revelry.

These students should not be forgotten when implementing campus-wide policies. They should not have to risk their academic careers by enjoying a campus-wide event. That is not inclusive, and it is certainly not generous. Yes, Saturday after Sendoff marks the beginning of mandatory quiet hours. But what about people who have finals on Monday, who may need to study Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday?

Furthermore, as the Collegian pointed out in a recent article, over half a dozen student organizations, athletic teams and academic departments had scheduled events around what they understood to be the designated Sendoff weekend. These events, some booked more than six months in advance, must now be rescheduled or risk low attendance. By rescheduling Sendoff without contacting groups affected by the changes, the administration seems to suggest that they care more about controlling Sendoff than they do the artistic, academic and athletic efforts of Kenyon’s faculty and students.

I am 22 and can thus drink at Sendoff. As a second semester senior, I’ve got one foot out the door. This isn’t about me, or my friends –– we’re all of age. I’m writing this because my friends and I care about the well-being of the entire Kenyon community. By forcing students to choose between studying for finals and spending a day outside with the entire campus, by forcing social drinking behind closed doors (and thus encouraging the use of harder alcohol), and by implementing these changes with no input from Student Council and the general student body, the administration has displayed a disheartening lack of interest in the opinions of the students.

I’m sure that these decisions were made with the best intentions. But with no input from the student body, how can these changes reflect the best possible direction for the school as a whole?

What kind of community do we want to foster? One of active and respectful collaboration, or one in which students are pushed out of much-needed conversations?

I vote for the former. Let’s talk, Kenyon.

 

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