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I am horrified and heart-broken. I hope I will still be able to communicate as eloquently as my Kenyon education taught me.

I came to Kenyon in 1991 because I fell in love. Heads over heels, first time on the Hill -- I never finished a college application to another college. The feel of the Hill and the flavor of the community told me everything I needed. I stayed through breaks and summers, working various Kenyon jobs, and took a full-time position with the college as soon as I graduated. I left college employment in 1999, and the geographical Kenyon community in 2000. I may have needed other experiences, but Kenyon never left my heart. I have retained close connections with the Peeps alumni group, I have returned to campus for reunion after reunion. Every time I have returned, I have been welcomed back by people who remember me, my "Kenyon Family". Those people include my professors and a few administrators, but the majority? Maintenance workers, groundskeepers, custodians, Bookstore employees.

These are the same people who welcomed me when I was a student; a maintenance helper who 'adopted' dozens of students over the years, he and his wife feeding and loving them whole-heartedly; custodians who picked up supplies for students before everyone had cars, who introduced students to new musical experiences; painters who welcomed student workers into their homes for pig roasts, the list goes on. I could fill pages (and have in the past) just talking about the impact Yauncey and Juanita Newman have had on this community we share.

These wonderful people are not auxiliary to our community, they are at the heart of it. Only one subset may be directly endangered now, but I don't doubt this outsourcing disease will spread to other departments if unchecked.

Let me be clear: there is absolutely no outsourcing option for Kenyon employees that is acceptable to me as an alum. I will work to my utmost to fight this, because I believe it destroys the very spirit of the community I love so deeply. I'm still angry that our cafeteria workers are shut out of our community like they are. Sodexo is among the worst of the worst, and leaves no doubt that someone's judgment must be deeply and seriously impaired, but a kinder and gentler death to employee benefits and union rights would be no more welcome.

I wish to make several discrete points as to why I find this so gut-wrenchingly horrific:

This is directly anti-union activity. Given that I learned at Kenyon to appreciate my 40-hour work week, my weekends, my benefits, I believe it is morally responsible to support unions, not weaken them further in the face of overwhelming odds. Kenyon takes deep pride in its liberal arts tradition, in teaching its students to go out into the world and attempt to apply their ethics to their lives. We learn the history of social justice movements, the power of protest. When it comes to applying these at home, though, we have often fallen short, much to my dismay. Right now I see the administration as taking a clear "Do as we say, not as we do" approach in this regard. I saw something similar in 1997 when the maintenance workers were locked out by the College during negotiations.

This feeds Kenyon's class problem. We've always had a hard time talking about class on campus; it hits a bit too close to home. I was a middle-class scholarship kid so it felt especially noticeable to me. The Town/Gown split has always made me sad and uncomfortable. What really mediated that was the constant (if relatively small) stream of local kids who attended Kenyon thanks to the GLCA tuition benefit. Local kids don't just increase our class diversity, they provide deeply needed connections to our larger local community. As far as I can see, any change that takes away the protection of being a true Kenyon employee means that those GLCA benefits will fall. If not now, soon. Also, having worked for the college, I can say with comfort that the pay scale sucks. It does. We all know it when we go into academic support. We work for love and benefits. The GLCA tuition benefit is the most intergenerationally valuable, but access to TIAA-CREF and College matching funds? Our health insurance? Does anyone have the audacity or naivete to believe that what our Maintenance workers will receive in the future could come close to approximating these?

Kenyon is not about efficiency. If we were, we'd be a completely different institution. We'd stop wasting time and money on all these pretty buildings and trees, wrangle 30 or 40 students into a class at a time. Liberal Arts itself is not about efficiency! I have proudly defended my choice of pursuing a liberal arts degree, and encouraged others to do the same, because it didn't just efficiently train me for a job. It prepared me for life. Honestly and truly, Kenyon brochure material, it has added so dramatically to the quality of my life that I couldn't imagine ever regretting the choice. Is it less efficient to treat our employees like human beings and valued friends? Of course it is. Do we have to figure out how to squeeze a little tighter to make sure they receive what is fair and right? Maybe so. It is our moral duty to do so. To do otherwise puts us on the wrong side of history and justice, just as I learned at Kenyon.

This is an attack on people I love and their children. What else can I say? I am in enraged mama bear mode over this threat to them, and Kenyon convinced me to dedicate my life focus to activism work. Expect to see a lot of me, starting this Wednesday.

Sarah Young
Class of '95

(cross-posted to all relevant facebook groups, and hosted on my primary blog at http://moominmuppet.livejournal.com/1669224.html)


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2012 09:56 am (UTC)
Sarah, I love you. I wish you all possible luck in your campaign.
Jun. 12th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!

Last time they had my employment to hold over me to kinda sorta keep my mouth shut (not very successfully). This time I get to be 100% pissed off alum, so I plan to use that however I can.
Jun. 11th, 2012 11:58 am (UTC)
This is a great letter. I really hope they change their minds.
Jun. 12th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
Thanks! I have hopes that this is a small enough environment (1600 student enrollment) that a moderate number of furious alums can put the fear of god into the administration.
Jun. 11th, 2012 05:45 pm (UTC)
This was well written. And so relevant, thanks for posting it.
Jun. 12th, 2012 02:22 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! I think in all my years of activism, this is my first open letter.
Jun. 12th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
This is a great letter, but you might be well served to put in bold letters "I am an alum, and I will not donate to Kenyon while this policy is in place." Get a few hundred alumni to say that, and they'll pay attention really damn quick.
Jun. 13th, 2012 12:08 am (UTC)
I'm too poor for it to make all that much difference coming from me. Quite a number of very large donors have already been saying that part quite loudly, though!
Jun. 13th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
The size of the donation doesn't matter from a university perspective. Remember that you're fighting people who have demonstrated that they only care about money; you have to hit what they care about, because you can be sure they only care about lofty ideals if it keeps the alumni donations rolling in.

If that sounds depressing, I refer you to my user name.
Jun. 15th, 2012 06:30 pm (UTC)
Why are you so angry about this instance of outsourcing? Food preparation has been outsourcing for decades at Kenyon, and was during your time at school.

Please do not hurt the educational opportunities of future students because of a single instance of cost-cutting measures. Kenyon does not want to destroy unions. They want to provide education, and by refusing to give money you are actively harming this wish.
Jun. 15th, 2012 06:39 pm (UTC)
Actually, I've spoken against the fait accompli of food service outsourcing -since- I was a student. It's simply way more difficult to roll back those kinds of decisions once they're entrenched.

Why no signature?
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )