Unity House Rallies Support
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Two pride flags were stolen from Unity House (North Campus Apartment 3A) on Saturday night, according to a report filed with Campus Safety. The flags, which are an ensign of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, were later found in the woods behind the F-Block of the New Apartments. “They were all torn and muddy,” Unity House resident Linda Mullin ’13 said. “The top part of the pole for the one of them had been broken off.”
The motive behind the theft remains unclear. Unity House believes it may have been an act of vandalism, but Mullin acknowledged “it might have just been a prank.” In any event, detaching the flagpole would have required some effort. “I’ve tried, and I can’t do it,” Mullin said. “So I thought it was very strange that some drunkards just passing by would do that, but I don’t know.”
According to Campus Safety Officer Deborah Shelhorn, the incident is still under investigation, but the initial report makes no mention of vandalism. If that status changes, Campus Safety is prepared to implement additional security measures. “There’s a lot of ways we can help out in that situation if they feel like they’re being targeted,” Shelhorn said. “You know, we have extra officers come in. We keep an officer in that area. Things like that.”
A report was also filed with the Discrimination Advisors (DAs), who have “decided not to do additional programming, but are helping out with all of the preexisting responses by Unity House and the rest of the community,” DA Gregory Stark ’13 said in an email.
On Sunday, the four residents of Unity House sent an open letter via All-Student and all-employee email detailing the incident. “We talked about how we have no idea if there was any malicious intent behind it or not,” Mullin said. “But whether it was directed against LGBT people or not, it still made us feel unsafe on our own campus, in our own home, and we wanted to address that.”
In the email, the group wrote: “We keep our rainbow flags flying outside to show our pride, and to make us visible to the Kenyon community. To have both of them taken down and thrown into the forest makes us believe that it wasn’t an accident.”
Within an hour, Liz Keeney, former dean of academic advising and a member of the Board of Spiritual and Religious Life, responded with a charge: “I donated one of those flags to Unity House. I feel personally violated. But I know what to do to fix that. I will replace one of the flags. Who will step up to the plate to replace the other? Put your money where your mouth is, allies.”
Over the next few days, dozens of pledges streamed in from faculty and staff. “That really heartened me,” Keeney said. “People were sort of vying to be the person that donated the second flag. And then we started dreaming a little bigger.” On Wednesday morning, Unity House members lined Middle Path with miniature pride flags. And the College will fly a pride flag on the pole behind Ransom Hall in honor of LGBT History Month, President S. Georgia Nugent said.
At January’s faculty meeting, Unity House will also present on LGBT issues and their organization’s awareness initiatives, the group’s co-manager Robbie Sellers ’14 said.
In the meantime, Unity House plans to distribute “Safe Space” stickers and magnets for students, faculty and staff members to adhere to their dorm or office doors.
“We wanted to send this message that Unity House is a safe space,” Unity House Co-Manager Ben Kress ’14 said. “And the fact that that safe space was damaged in any way, and that we didn’t feel safe, or that any members of our community haven’t felt safe, is something that needed to be addressed. And it’s amazing what hopefully will come from this.”
“I would hope that we can keep the conversation alive for awhile,” Keeney said. “If we let it die now, if we say, ‘okay, well, fine, we’ve replaced the flags, everything’s great,’ that would be a real lost opportunity.”
Nugent will be listening to that conversation, but she will refrain from participating. “I’ve arrived at a view that, by-and-large, it’s more successful for these conversations to be grassroots. I will say, the tendency, and my own tendency, often, is to want to come out and issue a statement and speak on behalf of the community,” she said. “But experience seems to me to show that that’s actually not very successful. … There’s actually much more traction if students themselves organize.