To Kenyon College, for failing my little sister:
by Michael Hayes
Every Kenyon student who knows either one of us almost certainly knows that Chelsie and I grew up in Gambier. We grew up around thousands of Kenyon students—students who tutored my sister at Wiggin Street Elementary School, for example, and students who helped coach our YMCA soccer teams at the fields by the Community Center from where we watched the KAC being built over the course of almost three years. On those muddy fields, Chelsie dreamed of playing soccer as a Kenyon student, even as a young girl. In those days, there was still a tall wooden castle for us to play in and shelves stuffed with Beanie Babies on sale in the bookstore. Tradition still dictated that nobody could use their cellphones on Middle Path without confrontation and social repercussions, market dogs were still 50 cents and Middle Ground was still Middle Ground. We went to a cappella concerts together, watched plays and sporting events. Kenyon has been our home for so much of our lives, and we loved it so much that we chose to stay for college. We felt like we were exactly where we should be. Hearing the friends who I became an adult with at Kenyon College, who I will know and love for the rest of my life, call Kenyon “home” for the first time was one of the best feelings of my life—every time it happened.
When I learned that Chelsie was accepted to Kenyon and would be playing soccer there, it made me cry. Being a student at Kenyon set my life on a path that nobody in my family had ever been down before—I’m the first in my family to go to college—and I couldn’t wait for her to have those moments where an entire class becomes silent after a professor changes the way the world looks and feels to everyone in an instant—everyone quiet during the professor’s pause in mutual acknowledgment of having grown a little more together. Not only that, either, because I remembered Chelsie as a little Wiggin Street student watching the KAC being built and dreaming of playing soccer like the girls whose games we would watch next to the Kenyon students of over a decade ago. Her dream had come true. And I imagined how my mother must have felt knowing that she—a single mother by the age of 19—had raised two children who were accepted to Ohio’s oldest private college with full scholarships. I graduated from Kenyon in 2014, and months later, Chelsie scored a goal during her first exhibition game as a member of the Kenyon College Women’s Soccer team. Against all odds, we made it—a Kenyon family through and through.
But on Sunday, November 8, 2015 at 5:14 PM, Kenyon College—my hometown and alma mater—became unfamiliar to me for the first time in my life:
“Katie is taking Chelsie to the hospital. She was raped last night.”
My mother followed up with handfuls of messages about how it didn’t feel real yet, how everything in our lives had changed while I was so far away and how we had to remain strong for Chelsie with the knowledge that she showered the morning after debating whether or not she wanted to commit suicide. I found strength in the faith I had that Kenyon would see that justice was done for a girl who spent so much of her life wanting to be there—a Wiggin Street kid whose dream had come true, and the little sister of a Kenyon graduate who loved that place with his whole heart.
Kenyon’s Title IX and Violence Against Women Act policy begins with these words: “The College is committed to fostering a climate free from sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence, intimate partner violence and stalking through clear and effective policies, a coordinated education and prevention program, and prompt and equitable procedures for resolution of reports of conduct prohibited under this policy.” In November, I trusted that those words were true.
As the administrative process ran its course, though, that trust was tested at every stage along the way. And now, at the end of April, the process has officially concluded with the rejection of an appeal by a 19-year-old young woman who was sexually assaulted in her dorm room—in and out of consciousness—after drinking a bottle of wine, a couple of beers at the Cove, taking her three prescribed medications, and falling asleep in a residence hall that I, too, had lived in when I was her age, by a boy who insisted to her and to others that she was “too cute to be a lesbian.” Despite her documented injuries, a bed stained with her own blood, her sexual orientation, and the combination of that much alcohol and prescription medication in her body, the college concluded—both initially and on appeal—that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that it was more likely than not that the college’s policy on sexual assault had been broken at all.
Kenyon has betrayed my trust—a trust with the strength of 23 years. Kenyon failed my little sister in a way that I, with her permission, refuse to be silent about.
We used to walk around campus when we were younger, both separately and together, because it is the most beautiful and relaxing place I know. It feels so safe. In my teens, Aaron Lynn and I would walk down Middle Path during Send-Off to see what college parties really looked like. More than once, I crashed graduation just to see a famous speaker (John Kerry!) or to try to spot a celebrity parent in the audience (Sharon Stone! Jamie Lee Curtis!). I noticed that there were some graduates who had their hoods affixed to their robes by a family member just before they walked across the stage, and I learned eventually that it was a tradition and privilege for family members who had also graduated from Kenyon to do so. When I learned that Chelsie was going to attend Kenyon, I thought with the proudest anticipation of what an incredible feeling it would be to stand there with her right before she went on stage to get the diploma that I also have.
But that will never happen, because now my little sister is leaving Kenyon. And it feels as though we have both lost one of our oldest and closest friends.
So it is with the broken heart of our little Kenyon family that I offer these most familiar words:
Farewell, Old Kenyon,
Fare thee well.
Class of 2014