In 2003, Kenyon received a brief mention from the infamous men’s lifestyle and entertainment magazine Playboy in a short article titled “Sex on Campus: Grades aren’t the only thing being made at our institutions of higher learning.” The article, which focused on exactly the kind of college activities that would attract the attention of Playboy’s readers, brought up the party for which Kenyon was once famous: Shock Your Mom.
The men’s and women’s swimming teams would usually host Shock Your Mom in the Spring after their dry season (when they could not consume alcohol because they were competing). It was an opportunity for them to let loose after a long season, and its name referred to its well-known lack of a dress code: Wearing, or in this case, not wearing clothing that would shock a student’s mom to see. The Playboy article provided two examples of the types of outfits at the 2003 Shock Your Mom party. One young woman dressed entirely in “pink plastic wrap,” while another wore only her school books. Even urbandictionary.com, an online dictionary focused on providing the definitions for slang words and phrases, has an entry for Shock Your Mom. The stated definition is “An epic party mentioned in playboy magazine hosted by the Kenyon Lords and Ladies Swim Teams, a party in which party goers dress in obscene costumes that would ‘shock their moms.’”
In a 2016 article titled “With storied history, Shock Your Mom still scandalizes,” The Kenyon Collegian reported that the dress code of the party was an area of concern and controversy for the College. In 2015, members of the swim team had to send an email to students warning potential party-goers of state and federal laws requiring people to cover their breasts and genitalia. Mariah Williamson ’16 wrote in the email, “Just a reminder that while we all want to shock everyone’s mother tomorrow night, we still have to follow state and federal laws. If your costume is deemed insufficient you may be asked to either further cover yourself or leave the party.” During the actual event, no student was asked to leave.
Shock Your Mom appeared here to stay; however, in a rapid turn of events, last spring marked the first time in nearly 30 years that the party was absent from the campus. In September 2017, then-Director of Athletics Peter Smith and Kelly Bryan, who remains the head women’s soccer coach, sent an email to all student-athletes explaining that the Kenyon Athletic Program would no longer sponsor registered alcoholic events hosted by athletic teams. According to Smith, athletic team-hosted parties require an administrative “sponsor” to provide a bank account number as a damage deposit.
The policy had existed for 11 years, but only now was the Athletic Department enforcing it.
For years, the coaches of teams had been unknowingly serving in the sponsor role for these parties. And if their coaches would not sign on as sponsors, teams would often go past them, getting signatures from administrators in the Office of Student Engagement (OSE), which put OSE in a risky liability position. After the email, all registered sports team-hosted parties came to an unofficial end.
The loss of Shock Your Mom is not the only recent change to Kenyon’s party scene. In the last five years, the College has undergone significant policy change that has rapidly altered the nightlife of the school.
Director of Student Engagement and Assistant Dean of Students Laura Kane said that the number of “open” or all-campus parties, which are hosted by student organizations and open to the entire student body, has gone down by more than 50 percent since spring of 2016. That semester there were 23 open parties; last spring there were 10. In that same time frame, the number of parties characterized as “closed,” typically Greek organization formals, has remained consistent.
Kane attributed this trend to national Fraternal Information Programming Group (FIPG) regulations on risk management that many of Kenyon’s Greek organizations must follow; like the policy for athletic team parties, its enforcement has recently gotten stricter. Under these rules, all-campus parties, as they are currently organized at Kenyon, are not allowed for liability reasons. The only Kenyon Greek organizations that do not have to follow FIPG regulations are the three non-national sororities, Zeta Alpha Pi, Theta Delta Phi, and Epsilon Delta Mu, and the coed service organization the Archons Society.
In addition, the College has suspended two different fraternities from campus in the last 10 years. Kenyon’s chapter of Psi Upsilon was suspended in 2010 and has not returned, while the Kenyon chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon, a frequent host of all-campus parties, was suspended this past summer for four years.
Another significant change has occurred on campus in the last five years. In January of 2016, the College announced in an all-campus email that the Gambier Grill, colloquially known as the Cove, would be demolished after the College decided not to renew the lease on the building. Snowden and Unity Houses now stand in its place. The destruction of this frequent late-night destination for Kenyon students — popular for its reputation of lackadaisically checking IDs — left students without a place on campus to go late at night for a drink. The Village Inn, which closes earlier and has less bar space than the Cove — not to mention a stricter ID policy that requires students to produce their K-card on top of a valid ID — has not fulfilled this role.
In the years since the Cove’s demolition, the College has seen fewer and fewer older students staying out late. Kane does not attribute this to the closing of the Cove. She sees it as the typical attitude and behavior of a college senior. According to her, upperclass students are less likely to feel the need to go out and binge-drink because of their easy access to alcohol. She thinks that once students turn 21, they aren’t as motivated to leave their houses to drink.
This belief seems to come from her experience with the College’s short-lived and unpopular replacement for the Cove, Peirce Pub. “We gave students a late night spot where they could get food and even alcohol by opening the Pub up on weekends, and very few people took advantage of that opportunity,” she said.
Kane also does not believe that the decline in late-night activity for Kenyon students can be attributed entirely to any one change. “I think it is just a gradual change in college students in general,” she said. “Look at this class of first-year students. We’re getting much more into a generation where students would rather spend a weekend night watching a movie with friends than going out and binge-drinking.”
According to Robert Hooper, director of campus safety, this sentiment is a trend that safety officers have observed as well. They have responded to fewer instances of “over-drinking” this semester. “I believe there is a trend of people choosing not to drink, or to drink more on a social level, not drink to get drunk,” he said.
Perhaps because of this, Kane does not think the majority of the student body will miss many of these all-campus parties. “Shock Your Mom was maybe the best known party at the College but it was not actually that popular,” she said. “I would hear from students that most of the time the party only consisted of the two swim teams and a few other non-members of the teams. I think most people would show up to the party at some point in their Kenyon career to see what the fuss was about and then never go again.”
Hooper, however, said Shock Your Mom was one of the most difficult parties for Campus Safety to handle. In his view, it was generally well-attended. It was “always busy” and safety officers would have to deal with the double challenge of a large crowd and frequent over-drinking. “It was not our favorite event,” he said.
Wyatt Semenuk ’19, a former swimmer who swam from 2015-16, felt that Shock Your Mom had a positive effect on campus but had significant flaws. “I think in theory it was a good idea, but in practice it just turned into who could wear the least clothing,” he said. “In this era of liability, that’s not an image that a college would want to have out there.”
This semester, the evidence suggests that the remaining all-campus parties are as popular as ever. Lines to enter them continue to stretch outside their venues during peak hours, even when the parties aren’t serving alcohol. For the most part though, the all-campus parties are a way for first and second year students to meet. “If you did a poll of the people who attend all-campuses, you’d see that, outside of the organization members themselves, most of the attendees are freshmen or sophomores for whom the novelty has not worn off yet,” Semenuk said.
In these types of parties’ absence, Kenyon loses perhaps its biggest vehicle for newer students to mix across usually divided groups on campus. Sophie Thurschwell ’22 said that most first-year students she knows tend to go to the North Campus Apartments (NCAs) now when they want to go out on the weekend, even if they don’t have a specific destination in mind. They have to jump from party to party in order to keep themselves entertained. “I’ve seen a lot of my high school friends at schools like [University of] Michigan have a much different nightlife scene with bars,” she said. “It’s more difficult to meet other people at these smaller parties when you just see the same people over and over again.”
One upperclass swimmer, who asked not to be named because of his place as a leader on the team, acknowledged that Shock Your Mom was “just another party.” Still, he thought it was a great tradition and viewed it more as the team’s contribution to the public campus. Without it, he doesn’t think the team gets to meet as many new people, especially first-years. “As a freshman, I looked forward to the communal aspect of all campus parties,” he said.
’Stache Bash, an October party hosted by the men’s soccer team, also disappeared last year. It was a time for soccer players to grow out their moustaches, as the name implies, but it was also part of a once-plentiful list of fall parties that would welcome first years and returning students to campus and give them the opportunity to meet. The men’s soccer team was aware of the communal aspect to their event. “If we wanted to throw a party ourselves, we would just do it at our own houses. But because [’Stache Bash] is an all-campus party, it includes everyone,” one soccer player explained.
While most student athletes comprehended why the rule had to be enforced, there were many that disagreed with the decision and believed that it would cause more problems than it solved. One 2018 alumnus who declined to speak under his name so as to avoid bringing attention to his former team said, “these parties are going to be held in upperclassman housing, and [the upperclass students] will just have to take the fall for it.”
According to Hooper, that prediction is already coming true. His officers have observed a higher number of small parties in apartments or houses in the last couple of semesters. As a response to the dwindling number of public nightlife spaces at Kenyon, students have simply turned to private ones. Now, if a student wants to go out on a weekend night, it’s becoming increasingly necessary that they secure an invite to a closed event.
The upperclass swimmer thought that the loss of a more communal nightlife at Kenyon took away from the college experience. “What is college for? We do our studying, we take part in our extracurriculars, but it’s also to be social individuals and to learn from others,” he said. “Kenyon is a community, it’s not everyone just doing their own thing. It’s all of us taking part in this great experience together.”
Though some people at Kenyon, like Kane, don’t see Kenyon’s changing party scene as a bad thing, the shift still has its ramifications. The increasing number of private, unregistered parties could make it harder for Campus Safety to monitor students’ drinking. Perhaps more importantly, without these public spaces, Kenyon students have even less of a reason to come together as a larger community. The motivation for getting out of your room on a weekend night is diminishing. But of course, there’s always Netflix.