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Miscellaneous

I am currently a sophomore at Kenyon College, and in my freshman year, my friends and I have encountered some problems that we think need to be dealt with, but we're not sure exactly how to go about it. Kenyon College was originally an all-male college, until they became coeducational in the seventies. Because they have been all-male for so long, the social scene is dominated by a preponderance of fraternities, but there are really no active sororities. When I first decided on Kenyon, I liked the fact that there were no sororities, but I have since found out that the lack of sororities or any prominent women headed or even coeducational social organizations makes for a social scene that is not at all equal. Fraternity members slip invites to frat parties under the dorm doors of attractive freshman women, whom they have picked out of the "Baby Book," a book containing the photos of all incoming freshman, given to all freshman and available to upperclassmen at the campus bookstore. The freshman women know that these invitations are made only on the basis of their appearance, this is often their first glimpse of Kenyon social life, and sadly, not an uncommon one.

Because there are no active women's organizations, the freshman women have no upper-class women mentors to tell them what to expect, and they have no other social options open to them than frat parties. This is not the only example of a gendered social atmosphere on campus, the main dining hall is also considered to be male dominated, the tables in that students must walk through to reach the cafeteria are arranged so there is a so-called "catwalk" that students must walk down, one that many women feel uncomfortable walking down because of certain male groups, mostly frat, that claim tables with a good view of the catwalk so that they can comment on girl's appearances.

Though I personally do not feel uncomfortable with the catwalk, and there are many other women who are fine with it also, there are a few women who are uncomfortable with it, and I think that the tables need to be changed in order to make them feel more comfortable, and to make the dining hall into a totally ungendered space.

These are the main problems we are facing, and we have started to make changes, though I'm not sure they're enough. For one thing, this year some Kenyon women have started the Kenyon Women's Collective, a nonpolitical women's group that intends to help balance the male social scene by throwing parties, and also to provide a space where women can discuss gender issues comfortably, without fear of social ostracization from frat members (for an all-student e-mail my friends and I sent out addressing the gender problem on campus, and calling for more discussion of the issue, we received several rude e-mails from frat members, one of which said that we were to be blacklisted from all further frat functions.) We also hope to see the organization become an umbrella group, encompassing many smaller women's organizations.

Another action some women on campus have taken is to establish a Big Sister program, in which all freshman girls will receive an upper-class woman mentor, to help guide her through her freshman year, and hopefully to make her more informed about the social scene and its dangers.

There's so much more I could write, but I'm tired of writing! I hope that this long e-mail doesn't bother you, I know you're busy. I would appreciate any ideas that you have on these issues. Thanks, Rebecca


Thanks so much for your note to FEMINIST.COM. I think that all of the work that you proposed sounds great. Given the environment on your campus, I think it's important that women find their own sense of community--otherwise, they must contiually measure their value system against what the men on your campus have deemed important.

As for specifically how to do that, I think that growing out from the Women's Collective is the best way to start. While I think it's important that there are many different outlets for all different women, it's also important that none of these are seen in "competition" to the others. So with the Collective as the Umbrella, you can build from there.

Is the Collective actually physically housed anywhere? Just as the Frats have their houses, the Collective should have its own space. I know that it is just symbolic, but "having a room of one's own," is important. So if that isn't already available perhaps you can lobby for that. Purely on an economic stand you should be able to get at least one space--I mean men don't pay more tuition for their Frats--and even if some of the Frats' expenses are underwriten by their chapters, the college kicks in some money--and since this is for men only--an equal amount should be allocated to women's programs.

Have you thought of Sororities? In general, I know that they have a bad rap, but you could change that--and the whole notion behind a sorority is sisterhood, so make it live up to that name. It could be called a "Salon" rather than a sorority--since that's where traditionally women got radicalized - both in intellectual ones and in beauty ones.

One of the other things to do under the Umbrella could be an "issues" club, where every month (the first Wed. of every month) you had a standing meeting, where you addressed a given issue.

These are good formats for letting people 1.) be heard and 2.) be valued and 3.) empathize. Because these can also leave you sullen--another thing to do is to pick two events a year--and have planning committees. For instance, sometime during the third week of Oct. is young Women's Day of Action--you could plan a women's film festival on your campus. And March is women's history month--so you could plan something else.

I had one thought about the "Baby Book"--is there anyway that you could get women to boycott putting their picture in it or all putting the same picture in. For instance, rather than submitting their own picture, you could all ask them to submit the same picture--i.e. a head shot of the same person. I hate those books--we had them in my high school and it was so awful.

I realize that I have rambled on. I hope there is some thread here to grab onto. Also, please feel free to write back again. Good luck--and I join the women on your campus who are certainly thanking you for changing the situation for women at Kenyon - Amy


Amy

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