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Wake Up, Kenyon: Why The Cove Destruction Matters More Than We Realize

When I heard the news that students had damaged the Cove, I was angry. I was angry for the owners, and I was angry for the college. I was even angry for the students. But I was also angry for myself. Kenyon looks different to students and employees, and being on the other side of a business makes you see student-business interactions in a different light. As a barista at Wiggin Street Coffee, I have been both student and employee; sometimes one or the other, sometimes both at once. Because of that, I understand what it feels like to have your business disrespected on a personal level, because it happens to me on a smaller scale every workday. I don’t think people realize how much they don’t say please or thank you; I also don’t think they realize that they answer a genuine “hi, how are you?” with “large coffee please,” over and over again or that when they stay until the minute before close at 10 PM, I sometimes have to work forty minutes later cleaning up after them and then start my homework. These small disturbances are part of an otherwise rewarding job, but they hurt, especially coming from peers and friends.

But really, what happens to me at Wiggin Street is pretty minor. Other areas of campus suffer more from student disregard and disrespect. The problem stems from a lack of empathy for those who work in Gambier. When I saw this, I’m not implying that all Kenyon students don’t care (and I also think they have valid reasons to feel upset, especially about the Cove), but I think that we can become so caught up in our own routines that we forget the people with whom we interact. This happens especially when we’re tired, stressed, drunk, or angry. I think the incidents at the Cove involved students who were feeling all those things at once.

However, we could potentially create a more productive Kenyon with a change of outlook. When we focus on ourselves, we also fail to see the work that many people do to make Kenyon possible at all. As a student, I catch myself often only focusing on the products of people’s hard work and forget the people. Think about your average morning in Peirce, for instance: there is someone who wakes up early (probably earlier than you) to make your breakfast, and there is someone who wakes up even earlier to unlock the building and turn on all the ovens. There are people who drive around the local area to deliver the produce, and there are people who clean the floors and repair the building and even create the software that makes employee scheduling. These people are no less integral or important than we are. Their time is no less valid and their lives are no less full. Without even one of them, the entire system would unravel.

Our public spaces are also not magically cleaned. There are people who come in and make sure our common room surfaces are wiped off and take out the trashes on a daily basis. Our refusal to see these people makes it seem like when we spill something it goes away without us cleaning it up. And that is just not truesomeone else cleans it up without us knowing. I’ve heard horror stories of students who “just didn’t have time” to clean up entire tubs of ice cream that they spilled on the floor or moldy food that they forgot about. At Kenyon, other people quietly sacrifice to take care of these issues for us.

But that is not how the real world works. In the real world, if you bring your dinner dishes to a local coffee shop, they don’t wash them for you. If you sit down in a local business without buying anything from them, the owners kick you out. If you deface a building that belongs to someone else, you are arrested.

If we don’t want to have a “Kenyon bubble,” we should stop treating Kenyon like it’s a bubble. It’s not; Kenyon exists in the real world. Although the college may lease buildings on campus, many spaces actually belong to residents of Gambier. Most of those spaces employ people from Gambier and Mount Vernon, people from the “real world” that we profess to miss so much. The irony is that the real world is right in front of us, being willfully ignored.

The answer, I think, is simple yet difficult. In order to prevent students from feeling caught in their own stressful and sometimes mundane lives, we need to promote a culture of open-eyed empathy. We need to promote a culture that says thank you when things are given to us, whether that’s a beer or a safe, clean place to sleep. We need to acknowledge that our tuition at Kenyon does not buy us the liberty to disrespect any space, whether Kenyon owns that space or not. And we have to realize that the Cove, the VI, Wiggin Street, the Market, the Deli, and even Peirce encompass so much more than the products they supply us with. They employ living, breathing people who work extremely hard and most often go unnoticed. Many of them work in service because they love people and want to get to know others. All of them are interesting, all lead lives of value. Trust me; I know many of them now. In fact, I am one of them.

Because these events exist on the continuum and the lack of empathy exists on multiple levels, I would like to see the Cove draw attention to ways in which we can improve how we treat local businesses. That way, we can use a frustrating, unproductive situation for productive means. Many people here complain about being treated like children. Acting respectful towards your community is a way to mark yourself as an adult and an involved citizen. So next time you feel tempted to vent your anger on a space like the Cove, think of the people who have to clean it up. Think of the people who served you for so long and valued you not only as customers but as people. Think of them, picking through the rubble that was once a space they felt proud of. And next time you go to Peirce or Wiggins or anywhere, try to notice that your food and drinks and entertainment and clean carpets and safety don’t come out of nowhere. Someone made it that way for you. And they would be happy to be thanked, because they probably don’t hear it enough.


Image Credit: YikYak, Lena Mazel, Hallie Schulwolf

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Lena Mazel

Kenyon '18

Lena Mazel is a junior English major who is currently studying at Oxford University. She enjoys finding new music, making coffee, and taking photos of coffee she is about to drink. You can find her on Instagram at instagram.com/lmazel, on Wordpress at lenamazel.wordpress.com, or by email at [email protected] Lena lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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