Update: As has been noted in the comments below, the two students who wore the sheets apologized to the campus community apologized in an email to students and College employees in an email on Friday.
Kenyon is investigating an incident that took place last night in which two students were spotted walking campus with white sheets over their heads — according to an email from Dean of Students Hank Toutain sent out this afternoon to the entire student body. The College is also investigating Safety’s response to the incident. More below the jump.
According to Toutain, the students were spotted in Olin Library and then stopped by campus safety officers — who asked them to remove the sheets — on Middle Path. The students complied with the request, according to the email.
“At least one student witness reported being upset by the incident. The response by Campus Safety is also being reviewed,” Toutain wrote.
“In addition to this investigation, of course, and pending its results, the College is planning a response that will include community-wide conversations regarding social responsibility and sensitivity to others. Kenyon is a community that embraces diversity and respect for all of its students and employees.”
The Black Student Union has responded, sending out this email this afternoon:
In case you haven’t read the email from Dean Toutain, last night an incident occurred on our campus where two students wearing white sheets walked into the library and on middle path. Regardless of the intention of the act, it was observed by many students as racially insensitive and inexcusable.
The group will hold an open meeting on the events tonight, in their second-floor Peirce lounge, at 6:30 p.m.
Toutain’s full email:
Two Kenyon students wearing white sheets entered Olin Library around 11 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20, and, after leaving, were stopped several minutes later by a Campus Safety officer on Middle Path, near the Gambier Post Office.
No verbal threats were heard and no otherwise aggressive actions were taken by the students, according to Campus Safety. The students complied with a Campus Safety request to remove the sheets, which were worn over their heads.
The College is investigating this incident through interviews with the students who wore the sheets and student witnesses. At least one student witness reported being upset by the incident. The response by Campus Safety is also being reviewed.
In addition to this investigation, of course, and pending its results, the College is planning a response that will include community-wide conversations regarding social responsibility and sensitivity to others. Kenyon is a community that embraces diversity and respect for all of its students and employees.
Come to the BSU meeting tonight at 6:30 in the BSU lounge (second floor peirce) to discuss this incident. All are welcome.
Glad to see this is finally considered newsworthy.
it’s not newsworthy. bad things have happened on campus this year– the issues with the rainbow and latin american flags are two examples, and the vandalism all over campus is another. but these kids dressed up as ghosts. the sheets had eyes on them, and the kids didn’t do anything threatening. they do not deserve to be lumped in with people who consciously destroyed property or committed acts of aggression against groups of people.
Lack of malicious intent does not equate lack of harm. Encountering two figures in white sheets at night in a rural setting was extremely frightening and shattered the sense of safety that many at Kenyon previously felt. Although they did not intend any Klan associations, many passersby made the jump. If that leap seems illogical to you, I congratulate you for your privilege but ask that you do not dismiss the pain of others on the basis of that privilege.
“two figures in white sheets at night in a rural setting.”
your phrasing paints what happened in the worst possible light. they walked through the middle of town and through the library– both of which are well-lit and populated areas. not to mention that they were in GHOST COSTUMES, not “white sheets”. you try to make it sound like the two people were deliberately vague and attempted to elicit associations with the KKK, and as far as i can tell that simply was not the case. in fact, it seems they did the opposite by drawing on the sheets.
You may not be aware, but detail vision is often worsened in darkness, as happened on Middle Path last night. I’m not painting it in the worst possible light. I’m relaying my personal experience.
and your experience/phrasing reflects your opinion that they were incontrovertibly in the wrong, in the same way that my phrasing reflects my belief that they did nothing wrong.
just out of curiosity, what rule do you believe these two broke? what did they do that merits investigation by the school?
I agree. When I heard about the incident, I pictured one thing. After seeing the picture, the only thing I could think of was “oh, they look like ghosts.” I can’t say that I fully understand the perspective of someone who thought these were klansmen, as the main indicator to me is the pointy hood (along with white, yes, but these people clearly haven’t added any sort of points to their costumes). Also they are clearly strewn in a bunch of sheets, not any put together sort of outfit of a klansman.
Well, perhaps the dark made the costumes seem more like klansmen, so I can understand that if they were walking fast or running, perhaps too fast to really comprehend the outfit. But I don’t believe they should have been punished for being perceived to be klansmen when they clearly weren’t. Though I suppose that comment is pretty subjective. I get that they scared people in a larger way than they probably wanted to (as they were probably going for scaring people as ghosts, not klansmen), but I don’t get the point in being punished for a misunderstanding.
Yes, we should be accepting of all cultures and sensitivities, but there’s a point at which you can’t please everyone. You can’t just stop telling people to dress up as ghosts.
Even if this stunt was pulled with no malicious intent in mind, it is unfathomable to me that these two individuals could have missed the implications of walking around in white robes or sheets looking like that. You guys, THINK about the things that you do before you do them. Honestly.
I think that the Kenyon community has to start having more discussions about intentionality and that actions have consequences. I would really like to see some real dialogue surrounding this incident. People need to realize that things like walking around in white sheets or destroying a rainbow flag are not just silly pranks or drunk exploits. I totally agree with the comment above: think before you act. Think about the implications of your actions.
I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but I think the response to to this act borders on over-reaction. Unless the individuals were having a KKK meeting, which I highly doubt, then I really think there is no reason to pay further attention to this “incident.”
Unless the people wearing nazi regalia were actively maintaining a concentration camp, I don’t see the problem.
Ahhhh yes. The classic nazi comparison. Dudes were wearing white sheets. Insensitive? Probably. Your comment about nazis, sarcastic? Probably. Idiotic? Definitely.
did you just equate wearing a sheet with eyes drawn on it– which is something kids have been doing on halloween for decades– to wearing nazi regalia? lighten up. it was a prank. an oddly timed prank, sure. but a prank nonetheless. if you want to make a mountain out of a molehill, that’s fine, but please leave the rest of us out of it.
Godwin’s law. You lose.
To be fair, Charlie Brown and I dressed up as ghosts once. Nobody back then claimed we were Klansmen. The same people complaining about these two guys dressing as ghosts will be the ones bringing discrimination lawsuits against their future employers — hire them at your own risk.
the bottom line is that someone did find it insensitive…..and felt uncomfortable. should this school be a place where someone should have to feel uncomfortable? i think not. as a community we should all strive to both act our very best and convey our upstandingness to others. that is the least we can do for ourselves and for each other.
I am offended and feel very uncomfortable because of your stupidity. Can we investigate and ban you? I will sue if you are not banned from everything for life.
are you guys ill? they were dressed up as ghosts
Intentions and implications are two separate things.
Define ghost please. Ghost is really abstract and we don’t even know how does ghost really look like.
Care to define ghost? I don’t understand what is this ghost that you speak of? Do we have any evidence on how does the ghost look like? No, because we don’t know. Ghost isn’t always just WHITE. You’re full of nonsense.
Are you serious?
I agree. They could have been dressed as ghosts. That was MY first reaction. They don’t look or resemble anything like a Klansman. Speak of diversity and how do we not know that these aren’t devout Muslim’s in white burka’s? Talk about complete over reaching and over reaction! When the Nazi’s marched in Skokie THAT was diversity! I think we need to get over ourselves and simply let people be. Whoever these folks are they were not hurting anyone. They were not abridging anyone’s freedoms.
well then, check your privilege.
what does that even mean?
I saw them last night on Middle Path. They had eyes drawn on the sheets which to me clearly made them look like ghosts. I chuckled to myself and then didn’t think twice about it. I guess that’s just me. If the sheets were blue would we be having this issue? What if they had armholes? Polka dots? I guess I’m just missing the line.
The only thing that matters in this situation is how it was perceived. No matter what their intentions were, these students made a choice that made others feel uncomfortable in a way that shouldn’t happen on a college campus, and that is inexcusable. So no, we wouldn’t be having this issue if the sheets were polka dots, but they weren’t.
Being politically correct does not cure racism. It hides it. We cannot take into account every possible student when people can make choices. These people were clearly not trying to be racists. They did not wear pointed hats. They just wanted to be funny and dress like ghosts. People need to get over themselves.
this comment makes me feel unsafe. i demand kenyon looks into it and i will not sit still until social justice has been attained.
If you kill someone intentionally, it’s homocide; if it’s an accident, it’s manslaughter. If intentionality matters in murder, how could it not in a case like this?
The people who were made uncomfortable by this, and you, make me uncomfortable. My perception is the only thing that matters. This is inexcusable. I should never have to feel uncomfortable!! I, with intentions shimnentions, also demand an investigation.
This is BS! We have to be concerned about how everyone “feels”? There is absolutely no possible way to do anything publicly where everyone has neutral feelings. The person above brought up Skokie. Excellent example where diversity was on full display in a free country and there were hurt and angry people on all sides. Michael Douglas’s character said it best in that movie where he said we need to embrace those that anger us. I don’t believe these people in sheets believed we are so super sensitive that they would be the focus of an “investigation” based on their outerwear. Where in the hell are we headed?!
You’re right! Let’s ignore the way our actions make people feel!
I agree. You can’t please everyone.
There is going to be at least one person deeply offended by almost every action any one of us takes. It’s inevitable. People can’t live while trying to make everyone happy. It’s ridiculous.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being concerned about how everyone feels. I agree that there are very few things in life (if any) that people have neutral feelings about, but there is also a difference between a situation where either people kind of like something or they kind of don’t, and this one, where some people felt threatened. I’m privileged to be in a position where, when I first heard about this, I felt confused, yes, and angry (because even though I’ve since found out they were dressed as ghosts, that’s not what immediately came to mind for me), but not threatened. I know that many people at Kenyon share this position with me, but by no means does everyone feel this way. But in an instance like this, when so many people have reacted so strongly, I think it would be worthwhile to learn from this instead of judging others for how they’ve reacted and for how they feel. We’re all human here, so it’s natural to quickly jump to extremes and get angry (as I said earlier, I did that, too), but fighting with each other about whether we’re overreacting or not will do nothing for any of us. The school has decided that this incident will involve “community-wide conversations regarding social responsibility and sensitivity to others,” and I think that’s an important discussion to have, and one that shouldn’t need an occurrence like this one – a possible miscommunication – to get the ball rolling.
Look, I don’t think you guys get it. Those of you who call this an overreaction or say that this “investigation” isn’t warranted. It is clear that you do not understand the history of people around us. Tell me, wouldn’t you be terrified if you were walking alone, back to your dorm, on middle path (which is not lit that well) and you see two figures in white walking slowly towards you? If you can’t understand why that would be so scary for a good number of people on campus – kudos to you for being insensitive and privileged.
If this were someplace like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York , any major city – this would not be tolerated. Try this in one of those cities and I guarantee that is a beat down waiting to happen. Even if the intent was not malicious. Sometimes people in other places are not as open and willing to listen to others like the people here at Kenyon.
I think, as a community, we just want it to be acknowledged that this is not ok. We don’t want things like this to be forgotten. There was the Jungle Fever incident a few years ago, there was the LGBT flags being destroyed and removed, and the Hispanic flags being removed during Hispanic Heritage Month.
We wouldn’t have problems like this on campus if people actually RESPECTED each other.
If you would just try to see why this has affected many people on campus, instead of discounting it due to overreaction – we wouldn’t be having these situations. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s foolish.
Probably the most pernicious consequence of living in an ultra-progressive bubble for 4 years is that it’s easy to lose all sense of proportion. You trivialize the very important issues of privilege, racism, and communal respect when you create an entirely unwarranted controversy over what is AT MOST a minor misunderstanding.
So please, PLEASE, stop telling people to “unpack [their] privilege” when they tie their shoes in a way that you “personally perceive in your own lived experience” to be offensive and degrading. Because no matter how valid and necessary such critiques may be, you make yourself look like a lunatic when you use them so flippantly.
Absolutely – everyone at Kenyon lives in a bubble of privilege – that’s pretty much what Kenyon is. That has nothing to do with this incident at all. Is our oversensitivity and political correctness born from a sense of guilt the Kenyon community feels for that privilege? Or is it an overreaction, and everyone who would believe that those two (I saw them walking past the VI) were in KKK outfits are projecting their own racism onto a harmless occurrence. Being offended by someones actions will happen to every single one of us in the real world – only in the Kenyon bubble is this remarkable or an “incident” where students emotional response warranted an investigation. The broader world is not like Kenyon – there is real racism and hatred out there – we make that racism and hatred less horrible when we equate this sort of thing to actual KKK rallies and hate crimes.
I second the amen. Well put.
Conversation about this is good. I have no issue with it. However, that these two are put in a position to second guess themselves doing a very passive thing that was “perceived” as insensitive by others who then overreacted and over reached is where I take issue. It was done as simply a college stunt that hurt no one. No property damage. No threatening behavior down middle path – people claimed to have found it humorous as they walked by – but because of one or two people who didn’t get it the whole campus goes on high alert and mobilizes to alleviate this perceived threat and a group steps in stamp out something that never occurred. Sorry. The discussions are good, but if you don’t see this as overreaction by the college community as a whole then we are living in a bizarro world.
Here is a situation that is analogous in some ways and not in others:
Imagine you are talking with your friends as someone walks by. As they pass, they overhear your conversation and think that you called them a racial slur. Understandably, they are uncomfortable and offended. Even if it wasn’t your intention or they misheard what you said, I think it’s really important to address their concern.
I really do feel like we have a great community here. There are people who feel upset about the incident, and whether it was malicious or not, those people’s feelings are legitimate. They should not be discounted or told they are overreacting. I want to tell those people that so many of my peers and I are so sorry you felt unsafe. We love this place and care about you and want you to know that you all are appreciated here. I think Kenyon is valuable enough to try and make it a good place for everyone. If you are made to feel uncomfortable, know that your feelings are legitimate and people in the community are listening to you.
Hate is a very real, current issue. Take a look at this map of hate organizations in the U.S.
Also, the KKK incident at Oberlin last year that made national headlines should have been enough of an indication that wearing white sheets might be a touchy subject.
I’m not saying that these people were intending to pook like KKK members, but I am saying that people might have cause to react strongly.
It sounds like this was a very absentminded prank.
i see no hate located around knox county
What the hell did I do?
Exactly. Why is everyone so completely humorless? Does disdain make you more self-important? Here’s something on this subject from my neighbor, the funniest person I’ve ever met with whom I will share this entire ghastly “incident.” http://www.snotr.com/video/3726/Dave_Chappelle
i truly feel that many people at this school just can’t wait for things like this to happen so that they can show how sensitive and progressive they are. i also fear for my friends and classmates who would build a controversy over two kids walking around as ghosts – you have long, difficult lives ahead of you if THIS makes you outraged. no one is saying what these kids did was smart, but if you stopped to think for even a minute about what the social implications of dressing as a klansman around campus would be, you could all but eliminate the possibility that they were trying to be racially insensitive.
I’m truly sorry that you feel that people at this school get excited for uncomfortable situations to occur to “show how sensitive and progressive they are.” That’s quite a pessimistic view, that offers little faith in people, specifically Kenyon people. I don’t think one can just write off sincerity. Why criticize students who are sincerely looking out for each other, for trying to maintain a positive environment, and trying to be aware of things that could marginalize or threaten our community members? I just don’t think we should cut down those who are trying to be sensitive to other people’s feelings.
They say I talk with so much emphasis. Oooh they so sensitive.
Why criticize them? Because these idiots, who are supposedly the future, need to snap out of this mindset. Two people were seen in ghost costumes just walking around, doing absolutely nothing threatening, and this causes some peoples’ worlds to fall apart! Quite frankly, these types of reactions offend me immensely.
Look at the comments here about “sensitivity” and “privilege.” Of course there are lots of people that want things like this to happen. They love to make something out of nothing as an excuse to push these ideas.
I am, however, always glad when situations like this come to light. I would never hire any of the putzes that attend these institutions to work for me. Dumber than a big box of rocks and lawsuits waiting to happen.
The reactionary comments being posted here highlight exactly why it IS important that this incident is addressed. I’m really alarmed by one comment among others that says “PLEASE, stop telling people to ‘unpack their privilege’” so “flippantly.” No one is trying to “build controversy” here. Student Affairs, the BSU, etc. are trying to create a productive discussion about a situation in which students felt threatened and unsafe. Trivializing/dismissing their experience is unacceptable. As a community we need to strive for understanding and respect for one another, and part of that IS understanding one’s own privilege. You might have just seen a ghost, but that’s because racist intimidation is not a part of your reality. That’s not your FAULT, but don’t be dismissive of those who DID feel threatened.
Thank you Lily
Only at a place like Kenyon is it considered “reactionary” to suggest that there exists a standard of reasonable conduct dependent on more than just the perceptions of one aggrieved party.
God help you if you should ever have a substantial encounter with the law, or even a (non-Kenyon) organizational bureaucracy.
As the author of that comment, I want to say that you’re right and that I apologize. It was inappropriate of me to dismiss the very real feelings of fear and intimidation that this student or students felt as a consequence of the situation. I very often get angry at fellow Kenyon students for what I perceive as a lack of perspective on important issues, and ESPECIALLY when I agree wholeheartedly with their general position, as I do here. In reality, Kenyon, protective bubble or not, is the social and intellectual space in which people practice and prepare to take issues of racial privilege and injustice out into the “real world”. I offer this not as an excuse for my previous post, for which there is none, but only as an explanation. Again, I apologize for my insensitivity.
i for one am COMPLETELY APPALLED at the lack of these students’ insensitivity. sure, they get to dress up as ghosts, but i have to BE ONE every damn day of my eternal existence. my people are not a costume for you to make fun of, we go through emotional pain and suffering and all i can do is mess with the lights in rosse sometimes. check your life privilege, I’M DEAD ASSHOLE
whole incident is sprooky
This is literally unbelievable. WE HAVE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Regardless to whether or not this act was malicious in intent (I do not think it was but that is beside the point), people have the fundamental right to expression, including the right to protest. So, hypothetically, if it was an act of white supremacy (I repeat, I wholeheartedly doubt it was), these two fools have the right to do so. To be persecuted for doing this is violating the rights that our founding fathers set forth. I think that we need to be less sensitive and realize that life isn’t fair and people aren’t nice. College is a time that we are supposed to become prepared for life. By coddling it’s super sensitive, supposedly righteous students, Kenyon is doing nothing more than producing softies. There is no discussion needed because this is a non-issue. Get tougher skin and understand your rights.
There are so many responses I could formulate to your misplaced, tactless and extremely unsympathetic comment, but the main point is that Kenyon is a private institution that is allowed to establish policies that govern the conduct of the people within that particular institution. Read your student handbook.
Thank you, Rim. The libertarian argument regarding the intersection of speech and race is so unfortunate and so incredibly ignorant….
The whole debate boils down to some folks who were “hurt” by this incident. If they feel they were somehow wronged then they should seek out solace in some organization, person, institutional blanket, etc. It is their right to do so. However, it is my right, to not participate in a campus wide group sensitivity therapy session when a couple of classmates decided to wear some bed sheets. As one person over coffee stated yesterday, “Their mistake was wearing them above the neck”. Another stated, “I thought they were attending a Muslim wedding.” Still another stated, “Don’t you think they looked a bit like Cousin It?” Another table chimed in, “No way did they look anything like a Klansman!”
This whole “diversity” stuff is muddled anyway. I treat all people the way I would wish to be treated. Period. I don’t segregate out due to some special surface prejudice. My ONLY prejudice is against ignorance. People who are super sensitized to external stimuli, like a pair of bozos dressed as ghosts walking down Middle Path, need to determine if this is something worth making a HUGE deal over. Because in their lives moving forward when they are outside our bubble of Gambier they will be faced with much larger issues they will need to prioritize. And from my experience having lost a good friend just a short time ago who was our classmate, this is a VERY small issue in this very LARGE world. We better be prepared to take off our rose colored glasses when we drive out of here. In my opinion, THAT is what this discussion is about!
This trend of borderline criminalizing people not for an objective wrong that they’ve done, but rather for a perceived wrong, is really dangerous – and does a poor job of preparing students for life outside the Kenyon bubble.
The students dressed up as ghosts did nothing wrong. They were not violent or destructive. They took off their sheets when asked. The fact that someone was upset due to a misperception is not the ghosts’ burden to bear. If , for instance, someone dressed up as Charlie Chaplin and I (a Jew) mistook him for Hitler, that is not the guy dressed as Charlie Chaplin’s fault. Yes, we should try to look out for others’ feelings, but that is not always possible when feelings are so subjective and prone to misunderstanding – and accidentally hurting someone’s feelings should not be treated as criminal behavior!
Save your fight for the things that matter. You trivialize the very real problems of racism, classism, sexism, etc. when you act like trivial things like this are problems.
Oh, and the “check your privilege!” people – do you even realize how privileged you are that the scariest thing in your life right now is two college kids dressed up as ghosts?
What do everyone here think would be a reasonable punishment for this kind of behavior?
This is the best response I’ve read about this incident. Well said.
I have to disagree- the students really are not being treated as criminals. From what I understand college did a brief investigation to make sure there WASN’T mal-intent, and then responded by making sure there was a dialogue about it. I don’t think dialogues about the incident trivialize issues of race, I think they’re quite important. Rather we trivialize race issues when we refuse to listen to those who felt hurt or threatened by the actions of these students.
It’s important to consider that the intention here had nothing to do with racism or making anyone feel alienated. It’s also important to consider that the intentions in an incident like this, where people ended up being hurt and feeling less safe, are not at all everything that matters. I love this article – maybe relevant – check it out:
Funny that no one has any comments on this:
Dear Kenyon students, faculty, staff, and administration,
Two nights ago, we put white sheets with painted black eyes over our heads and walked around campus. Our idea, born of Kenyon bucket-list fancy, was to pose as ghosts on a haunted campus. Our action ended up materializing many more severe ghosts—both within ourselves and our peers—than we knew existed.
In the wake of our antics, we have begun to understand that “intentions and implications” are not, as many of our peers commented at the bottom of the Thrill post reporting the incident, “two separate things”—at least not in the respectful and enlightened community that Kenyon aims to create. In the community we want Kenyon to be, individuals are not only responsible for the actions they take, but also for the effects that those actions have on their peers—all of their peers. What’s more, we should consider the effects our actions could have on others before we perform them.
That our intentions were innocent is not what’s important. What’s important is that the harmless sheet ghosts that we envisioned appeared to many of our peers as life threatening Klansmen. In a historically racist part of rural America, we still managed to overlook the implications of white sheets at night. Only in hindsight, when confronted with the visceral fear and righteous anger of peers for whom our costumes unearthed generations of violence and inhumanity, did we begin to make the connection. That the severe implications of our actions only occurred to us after the fact is an expression of unchecked privilege and uncompassionate, selfish thoughtlessness.
Another comment under the Thrill post read, “It was done as simply a college stunt that hurt no one.” This comment is utterly false. Although we did not intend to hurt anyone, this does not negate the very real feelings of threat, terror, pain, and rage we engendered in many of our peers. Indeed, it is for giving our peers cause to question their safety on this campus—feelings they have built up after years of working through justified insecurities in the face of a lifetime of unjust experiences—that we are most sorry. We could dredge the very bottoms of our hearts, scrape every ounce of apology from it, and still not have an adequate expression of remorse—but we are trying.
Part of our effort includes the recognition that this incident represents not only a personal failure on our front, but a political problem that implicates the entire campus. Because of our white, male, middle-class backgrounds, we do not live with the history of racism at the forefront of our minds. It is because of this privileged existence that the association with the Klan was not an immediate one for us. Nor, we have noticed, was it for many of our peers—mostly white. The fact that many commenters on the Thrill felt justified decrying the “one or two people who didn’t get it”—“it” being the joke we intended, the “one or two people” being students who were offended by it—is a sign that the majority of our campus does not live with the history of racism at the forefront of its mind, either. However, a majority opinion does not amount to an ethical position.
Indeed, the majority of the reactions we received the other night, as well as those posted in the Thrill comments, indicate the prevalence of privilege on Kenyon’s campus. There is nothing inherently wrong with that privilege, but when it goes unquestioned by a consideration for our peers, it becomes highly problematic. A prime example of that problem is our actions the other night. In dressing as sheet ghosts, we not only exposed our peers to the ghosts of racism that continue to haunt their worst nightmares, but also ourselves to the ghosts of privilege and insensitivity that lead to such hurtful acts.
This has been an incredibly humbling and educational experience for us. As such, we hope that it will prove to be similarly edifying for the rest of campus. Although it was primarily racial minorities who were emotionally jarred by our antics, the incident involves every member of this community. Following Thanksgiving break, as campus-wide discussions occur about the racially sensitive issues underlying our community at large, we encourage everyone to participate and thereby gain the perspective and understanding that is needed if Kenyon is to become a truly enlightened community.
We’d like to thank Dean Toutain, Director of Counseling Patrick Gilligan, and Director of Safety Bob Hooper for their guidance and support throughout this incident. We’d also like to thank the Kenyon community, friends, and especially the Black Student Union for the criticality, compassion, and emotional honesty with which they responded to this incident.
Patrick Schober & Dan Kipp
I strongly encourage anyone who has posted on this thread to read this e-mail in its entirety.
In response to this email, and this thread, I think one huge issue at hand here is a general sloppiness of language used by all sides involved. I think that loose language serves to reduce the level of discourse surrounding these fundamentally serious issues.
Patrick and Dan wrote: “In dressing as sheet ghosts, we not only exposed our peers to the ghosts of racism that continue to haunt their worst nightmares, but also ourselves to the ghosts of privilege and insensitivity that lead to such hurtful acts.”
I cannot help but think that this language is not purely their own. Perhaps Dean Toutain or someone else put this wording in their heads, but that is an assumption on my part. Dan and Patrick did not “expose [their] peers to the ghosts of racism that continue to haunt their worst nightmares.” Personally, I think that the act of insensitive stupidity on their part cannot be seen as a “ghost of racism” that inhabits a “nightmare,” but rather an expression of real racism in a real world. If people, as reported, felt threatened by Dan and Patrick’s actions, this illustrates the pervasive nature of racism in our society. I would argue that the mistake Dan and Patrick made was not understanding that their personal actions (dressing as ghosts=not inherently racist) cannot, unfortunately, be separated from a historically racist social movement (the KKK and their signature white robes). Therefor, Dan and Patrick unknowingly represented an iconic symbol of white racial superiority, a symbol that is undeniably offensive, insensitive and racist.
They go on to note that “we…exposed…ourselves to the ghosts of privilege and insensitivity that lead to such hurtful acts.” Again, I take issue with the wording. They did not expose themselves to “ghosts of privilege.” This is a markedly passive way of saying something: if I make a homophobic joke I am not ‘exposing myself to the ghosts of straight privilege.’ Rather, I am being homophobic, which could (if you want to beat around the bush) be explained as a quality of an ignorant, privileged existence but is more significantly a specific act of homophobia. What about the privilege of a liberal, progressive, maybe private school/college education? This sort of education might allow someone to become versed in the language of social justice and progressive identity politics. So is this form of economic privilege wrapped up in the same sort of privilege that “lead to such hurtful acts?” It would seem that Dan and Patrick are able to write the letter they did precisely because they are privileged enough to have a progressive education- I don’t think it is precisely privilege that is the problem, but a failure to apply the knowledge they have in their actions. In other words, the problem is a lack of foresight, an issue of carelessness that is definitely linked to privilege, but not necessarily caused by it.
I would argue that the acts were insensitive not precisely because of Dan and Patricks privilege but because of a long, historical narrative of horrible racial injustice in America. While privilege can have many forms, and many implications, I think that it is not personal privilege that should be blamed here, but larger systems of racial injustice. Privilege should not necessitate ignorance, and if fact I believe there are many students at Kenyon college who are better informed and more socially sensitive precisely because of their privilege to attend a (fairly) progressive college.
Finally, I take issue with this statement: “Part of our effort includes the recognition that this incident represents not only a personal failure on our front, but a political problem that implicates the entire campus.” I do not feel implicated in this particular issue. Rather, I feel implicated in a cultural history of racism in America. This is a genealogy that none of my personal politics can separate me from. However, I feel that this is a personal failure on Dan and Patricks part, a failure to critically engage with the potential ramifications of their actions. I think it is the response from many people on the Thrill, and other people I have talked to, which represents the “political problem” on the part of the larger community. The political problem, however, is not something that is particular to Kenyon. This is a problem that is present across our country, and all around the world. To isolate it within this community denies the scope and reality of these issues of racial injustice. To mask what has happened behind the language and rhetoric of “privilege” and the “ghosts of racism” obscure the issues involved. Further, it is my opinion that language such as this can be more self-serving than anything else, implying that the person who identifies privilege in another is not subject to the same, larger social forces that have caused these racist acts. Let us speak directly when we talk about things that are this important, not hide behind the rhetoric of political ideology.
well articulated, I think you get at some important points here. I thought Dan and Patrick’s email was much more flowery than substantive myself. What a horrible situation, all in all, but made much worse by the low level of discussion featured here between both sides on this thread.
it reads as if someone held a gun to their heads as they typed
There were no guns held to temples, only feelings of remorse swimming inside them. The words were ours, and we meant them.
As for the flowery language, there’s no hiding it — I like words, often to a fault (it sets me back in essays and story writing, too).
As for the imprecision of language: (1) I agree about our acts being “an expression of real racism in a real world”; (2) by “ghosts of privilege” we meant something that haunts us though we often do not see it; (3) I agree that we failed to apply the lessons in social justice and history we have gained from Kenyon (the oversight is, again, one that haunts me) — in this way, I see our failing as not only a personal one, but, yes, one with very real, political, and historical implications; (4) while the problem is one born from a very real political and historical past, and continues to exist throughout America in the present, our intention in using the language of “privilege” and focusing on the Kenyon community was to implicate in future discussions more than those directly involved in this incident — ourselves, and those we we offended — and to move in a more productively towards the unexamined attitudes that keep Kenyon (and, yes, America) from the ideal place of understanding and equality we want it to be.
Thank you for your response Dan, I see that you have grappled with the issues that I raised in my post. My intention was not to just call you out, but more to make the point that in this conversation, the language we use is VERY important. Small distinctions should not be overlooked. I agree with the sentiment of your response. I think looking at “unexamined attitudes” is of vital importance.
There is irony, I think, in every single post here such as: “There is no discussion needed because this is a non-issue.” Yes we understand issues of freedom of speech. Let us exercise ours and discuss this very important issue. If this was a non-issue, there would have been no reaction to it! I am glad to see that you feel the need to engage with these issues, Dan, it illustrates something in your character that goes beyond your shortsighted decision last week. Keep on challenging your own thoughts and decisions, man.
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Excellent response from the two who participated. Both humbling and educational. However, this incident is not only about White guilt, but about the rights of all. You had the right to display your art and express yourself as you did. That your guilt came to the fore and expressed itself is commendable. But as the previous poster stated in the comparison of Chaplin and Hitler – should that person not dress as Chaplin on the chance there could be a person who might be offended that the character may look like Hitler? Each time I see Dennis Kucinich I see Hitler. But Chaplin characters still exist and Dennis Kucinich still pops up on TV and offends. But I would fight to allow them to continue to be seen. Because we are diverse.
I always feel talked down to by members of POV and Crozier. I think I am pretty smart and interested in these topics, but members of the community make me feel like I am a stupid racist, and totally demean my opinions. People are more interested in hearing themselves speak than creating a dialogue- this is totally offensive, in my opinion.
Amen. We all have a voice, and opinions are not right or wrong.
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How many of these people writing comments that everyone should “check their privilege” are white and privileged themselves?
The campus is “lucky” to even be given an apology on this issue. However, to then critique the language used in the apology and say it’s not good enough etc is absolutely ridiculous. This whole event is laughable and outrageously overblown. Also, all of these, “white guilt” and “white privledge” tag lines make me feel unsafe and persecuted against.
LORDS AND LADIES: TOUGHEN UP. ALL OF YOU. DROP THIS SHIT AND STOP BITCHING OR I PERSONALLY WILL SLAP YOU ALL IN THE FACE WITH A DEAD FISH.
Jesus Christ, I’m glad I’m glad I don’t go there anymore. The kids made a dumb mistake, it happens. No need to bring the campus to a standstill. Wait until you guys go outside the Kenyon Bubble into the real world, where you face shit far worse than this all the time.
ALL HAIL THE OMNISCIENT ALUMNUS! WE ARE SO IGNORANT COMPARED TO THOU! WE BESEECH YOU, HAVE MERCY ON OUR POOR UNDERGRAD SOULS
Again, save your smugness until after graduation. See if anyone in the real world gives a shit when your feelings are hurt by a non-event.
I enjoy this blog discussion because it really allows all of us to discuss something that is important. Words mean things and too many times we get pushed into buckling under to those who push this guilt on us because someone’s feelings were hurt. Toughen up! Dress up as a ghost if you want. Kenyon looks like Hogwarts! Watch Dennis Kucinich on TV and wonder how he gets away with it. Appreciate the social lab you can experiment in called Gambier/Kenyon to get a clue on how to deal with real issues outside in the real world.
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rofl, Kenyon is turning into a white-guilt hate YT fest like most colleges around the country. Can’t wait to see them all fold under.
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