By Alex Harrover
The dark hardwood floors of Cromwell Cottage set an intimate tone for Tuesday evening’s conversation as Kenyon faculty, alumni and students gathered around President Sean Decatur’s dining room table, partaking in a discussion made public through live streaming.
“Live from Cromwell” examined fundamental elements of the Kenyon identity ﾗ its rich history, its relationship to the community and its liberal arts philosophy, speculating on the year 2020. With that year in mind, the College intended “2020” to serve as a double entendre for “20:20 vision,” as Decatur crafts a long-term vision for the College.
The year 2020, it seems, means different things to different people at Kenyon. Associate Professor of English Ivonne Garc?a cited a U.S. Census forecast, nothing that, “by 2050, 30 percent of the population in the United States is going to be Latinos.”
The exponential growth trend of the Latino population will undoubtedly affect the College. “How does Kenyon prepare for those demographic changes ﾅ in terms of the makeup of the population?” Garc?a asked.
“In order for Kenyon to continue to attract and bring in talented students,” Decatur replied, “we’re going to have to think about the changing demographics if we’re going to remain competitive in doing that. I think, in a practical sense, that means working hard to build pipelines in different places and in different ways than we have done before.”
He says this involves finding ways to bring the liberal arts experience to the southwestern regions that are experiencing the demographic shift firsthand.
However, there are some socioeconomic implications to consider. “Latinos are not at the highest level of socioeconomic status,” Garc?a said. This is also true of other minority groups within the student body.
Wanufi Teshome ’16 spoke on behalf of fellow students who worry about their futures in the job market.
“I want to learn, and I really care about learning,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t have the luxury of just being here to learn ﾗ it’s about a job, and I think that’s how it is for a lot of students.”
Associate Professor of Art Read Baldwin ’84 shared Teshome’s concerns and attribute this sense of worry to what he calls “a much more compressed sense of urgency.”
“I remember when I graduated from Kenyon, I remember thinking, You know, I’ll just [be a] waiter for a few years, kind of figure out what I want to do with my life, it’s a great time to sort of travel around,” Baldwin said.
In light of the economic climate today’s graduates face, Baldwin offered insight into gaining a competitive edge. “Yes, you need to be able to interview well and communicate well with future employers,” Baldwin said. “But you may have to create a job for yourself that hasn’t been there before.”
Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Knox County and Mount Vernon Sam Barone ’72 made the case that Kenyon students should consider local outreach opportunities right within the greater Knox County area because not only are they available, but they also did not always exist.
Barone reflected on his time at Kenyon. “My student years were very insular in terms of the outside community,” Barone said. “There was very little contact.”
However, times have changed. “Today,” he said, “the opportunities for internships and externships, if students ﾅ want to pursue them, are there.”
Student Council President Kevin Pan ’15 brought to attention counterproductive aspects of Kenyon’s liberal arts education; namely, math and science courses for non-majors.
“[These courses] knock out the [quantitative reasoning] requirement,” Pan said, “but you don’t learn the hard skills ﾅ [or] techniques that you could apply later on for a job.”
On the other hand, Co-Chair of Student Lectureships Caroline Ehinger ’14 sees hard skills lacking as incoming first-year students enter College life.
She acknowledged there is a disparity in preparedness for academic life, which is due to the variety of educational backgrounds.
“I think it would be a beneficial thing for students to have some kind of freshman seminar which could be related to the classic classes which people take here,” Ehinger said. “[These classes] would be really helpful to students because they would talk about interesting things in ways that [first years] could understand.”
“Live from Cromwell” lasted 45 minutes, at which point Decatur thanked his guests for participating in the conversation, indicating there would be more discussions of this nature in the future.
The next sessions, however, will be conducted perhaps once or twice a month via Google Hangouts, which Social Media Director Josh Fitzwater said he hopes will reach a broader audience.
Afterward, Decatur reflected on why he supports the transparent dialogue which characterized “Live at Cromwell.”
“Changes in technology and especially changes in social media have made it possible to engage a broader range of people,” Decatur said. “I’d like to see us finding ways to make this more interactive.”