This post was guest written by Dante Kanter ’21.
Kenyon College is not a democracy. This is not a radical statement. No level of Kenyon’s decision making requires the majority vote of its students or employees. While students can elect members of Student Government, Student Government has only the power of suggestion at its disposal. There are no checks and balances in Kenyon’s decision making process. And why would there be? This is a business. Despite the fact that Kenyon is where we live, work, study, and celebrate, despite the fact that Kenyon is the institution which has the most direct effect on our lives, at the end of the day, students and employees are here to preserve Kenyon’s bottom line. Any demands we might have that go against that bottom line are inconsequential. Is there anyone to blame? No. I don’t blame anybody. This is the way things work. There are no villains in this story. But that doesn’t mean we can’t demand something better.
A student worker’s union is not about pushing a single set of beliefs. It is about allowing all student workers, regardless of their economic background, race, sexual identity or citizen status, to fight for what they believe in without fear of retaliation from the college. The union is not a closed fist, pounding on the table with a laundry list of demands. It’s an open hand, asking anyone who wants to climb on to climb on. A union is not about a single idea. It is about establishing an ethical relationship between workers and their managers that will allow the full spectrum of Kenyon student’s ideas to be heard and respected by those in power.
In my four years at Kenyon, I have watched the college’s administration bullishly push through a series of wildly unpopular policies, from the backfiring prohibitions of the Alcohol Task Force, to the destruction of downtown Gambier, the en-masse firing of councillors that led to a mental health crisis on campus. I have watched reports of racial discrimination against Kenyon students met with sensitivity panels. I’ve seen Kenyon take credit for decades of anti-racism work and activism by BIPOC students. I have watched the Title-IX cases of close friends be treated with bureaucratic indifference as those credibly accused of sexual assault go on to recieve high academic honors and scholarships. I have watched administration completely undermine the student senate. And in the world of student employment, I have seen workers, who are disproportionately low-income and non-white, be bullied by managers who know that their employees have no other options.
This will only get worse as COVID gets worse. As Kenyon begins to hunker down into austerity, there will be cuts to the college’s budget. The path of least resistance for these cuts is through Kenyon’s employees. We have already seen an attempt at this, when Kenyon sought to cut employees’ retirement benefits. Thankfully, through the work of the Stop the Cuts Coalition and the UE, these cuts were prevented. Through their organizing this summer, the CA’s have ensured that their on-campus jobs are safe, accessible, and appropriately compensated. This past week, there has been an overwhelming show of support for the union, from students, alumni and faculty. The fight, however, is not over. Students need a foothold in the college, a place where they can express their needs, their misgivings, and their pain. They need leverage. The only way out is to unionize. To organize and consolidate the student labor that is essential for making the college run. Kenyon is where we learn new ways of seeing the world. It’s where we meet our life-long friends, where we fall in love. It can only follow that we have a say in the way it is organized. Unionize!