Few corners of this campus have escaped construction projects begun in the last 20 years. With the influx of new buildings comes the responsibility to maintain them for the future — and the question of who bears this responsibility.
The answer to this will ultimately determine the way students perceive and interact with this campus.
Assistant Manager of Facility Services Lori Moore recalled a time decades ago, when she witnessed students disposing of personal belongings with reckless abandon. “I can remember my very first Commencement, I had to go to Lewis [Residence Hall], and we opened up the outside door … and you couldn’t see floor. They had opened their rooms and thrown everything out into the hallway that they didn’t want to take home.”
While Moore noted improvement, students’ treatment of campus property still remains an obstacle — in particular their treatment of residence halls and apartments. “It makes me sad that they don’t respect the places that they live here,” she said. “You always have, no matter where you’re at, a few [students] that don’t seem to respect that area, and to me that’s sad, because I think with the new builds … they’re beautiful. I hope they can stay that way.”
Manager of Facility Services Gary Sweeney emphasized that while his staff keeps in mind that the students are young, he has still been surprised to discover the damage that students can cause over the course of a year. “It’s an extremely eye-opening experience to know that you can walk into a brand-new home, an apartment, and at the end of the year, basically we have to go in and completely remodel.” After check-out, what students don’t see is the repair work that often occurs, including repainting walls, fixing holes in the wall, and re-carpeting the floors — all before summer residents move into the buildings for summer conferences.
“It’s really an uphill battle,” Sweeney said. “If we were able to change anything on this campus, it would probably be the respect for property.”
When the damage happens — which Sweeney understands may happen when students may host parties or other events — the ideal course of action is for the students to reach out and cooperate with those in the Maintenance Department. “Anything that you guys can do that will help us out, taking care of those issues as they happen,” he said, “it would be greatly appreciated.”
According to Associate Director of Housing and Operations Lisa Train, there are some common student damages that can be easily avoided. “People use bookshelves as ladders, when we ask them not to do that,” she said. “If they loft their bed, they like to climb up the bookshelf. The bookshelf will not hold that kind of weight … Now that, to me, is purposeful damage.”
Students can also help minimize the amount of work that falls on the Office of Residential Life and maintenance staff by ensuring that all furniture and school-owned property stays in its associated room, Train said. According to Train, students often move furniture between rooms, especially in apartments. It can be time-intensive — and if the furniture is large, labor-intensive — to track down and replace the belongings.
Ultimately, Train explained that assessing damages involves “checks and balances.” Community Advisors (CAs) perform pre-closing checks and then room checks when residence halls close at the end of the year, after which maintenance staff will perform a separate check and begin necessary repairs. Damages that are not reflected in Room Condition Reports, which CAs fill out each August for every dorm room, will be charged to student accounts. Next year, this process may change slightly, as students, instead of CAs, will fill out their own Room Condition Reports online, according to Train.
“I think that might be better, because I think it might be more intentional that way,” Train said. “I think what happens with a lot of students missing damage on their Room Condition Report is they kind of look at it quickly, they see stuff written on it, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, the CAs got it.’”
Train emphasized that these policies are in place so students will not find themselves responsible for previous residents’ repair costs, and if students do not update the Room Condition Report, there is less recourse if they are then charged. If the fines for damages to a student residence exceed the actual repair costs — which include materials and labor — the student’s account will be refunded the difference, according to Train. If the repair costs exceed the fine charged to a student, on the other hand, “the school would just absorb that cost,” Train said.
According to Vice President for Finance Todd Burson, the cost to replace existing building components is $4,360,000 annually. This cost includes all campus buildings. Burson said that a small portion of the charges for student housing is set aside in a reserve account and used to replace worn-out furniture and other pieces of equipment throughout the year.
“As we work our way towards the end of the West Quad project, we will be focusing our efforts on doing some much needed work in the student residences,” Burson wrote in an email to The Collegian Magazine.
Mark Kohlman, Kenyon’s chief business officer, stressed that student damages do not so much drain college finances as human resources. “We have a $150 million budget … [Student damage repairs are] probably less than one percent,” Kohlman said, “but on top of the cost, it takes a lot of people-time and effort to manage all of those issues. Student Affairs is involved, Campus Safety is involved, Maintenance is involved.”
While Kohlman noted the decreasing prevalence of student damage to college property, he has seen some recent upticks, particularly in the instances of graffiti on the West Quad construction wall and library buildings.
However, incidents of property damage are not exclusive to campus construction sites. The grounds of the North Campus Apartments (NCAs), according to Grounds Manager Steve Vaden, become littered with trash on many weekends. Vaden’s department has tried to work with the area’s worst offenders. “They clean up, somewhat, but the next time it’s a pretty weekend, it’s trashed again,” Vaden said. “We’ll offer them the opportunity to go clean it up. If they don’t clean it up, we tell them we’re going to charge them … That’s about the only leverage we have.”
Clearly, many students do care for Kenyon’s campus: Vaden’s department has partnered with numerous student organizations for litter-collecting service projects. Still, Vaden noted that groundspeople consistently deal with the consequences of student actions — driving on paved paths unsuited for daily use and allowing racoons to paw through garbage left outside, for example. “[Kenyon] has a beautiful setting,” Vaden said. “I guess my fear is folks take that for granted a little too much.”
Environmental Campus Organization (ECO) Co-President Jackie O’Malley ’21 expressed similar views: hopeful for the future, though concerned about some current behavior. “I think a big issue is ignorance,” O’Malley said. She drew a connection between environmental justice and campus maintenance. Just as students may not fully consider the effect their actions on maintenance workers, they also may not fully consider the environmental repercussions of their actions. “If you present those consequences to people, it becomes more real to them,” O’Malley said.
Decisions made on this campus impact not only the College community but also the surrounding environment. Recycling, in particular, bridges the gap between local actions and broader consequences. Students have long struggled to properly sort their recycling, according to Sweeney. Both ECO and the Maintenance Department have sought to improve the situation; in fact, it was an ECO initiative that first brought small recycling bins to rooms in first-year residence halls. However, because unrecyclable containers still frequently end up in a recycling bin, fully extracting all recyclable materials would require a significant workload. Placing non-recyclable or food-contaminated materials in recycling bins runs the risk of having the entire bag — recyclables included — trashed.
Kenyon partners with Gateway Recycling to transport aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, and certain types of paper and plastics off-campus. The recycling company — based in Cleveland — lacks the capacity to recycle many plastic and paper products. The only plastics it recycles are #1 or #2 (identifiable by the appropriate number within the recycling logo, typically found on the underside of containers), and the paper products it recycles are limited to newspapers, magazines, and sheets of computer paper.
“At a basic level, there needs to be an overhaul of the attitude that Kenyon students have regarding the waste that they produce, the way they treat this campus,” O’Malley said. “Something as simple as leaving Peirce dishes around — that’s someone’s job. … It makes me frustrated and disappointed that Kenyon students — not all Kenyon students — can’t even take responsibility for the smallest of actions.”