by Emma Welsh-Huggins
Ever wonder who is behind bringing such speakers as John Green ’00, Ransom Riggs ’01 or Brendan Jay Sullivan? This job falls to the little-recognized Student Lectureships and Faculty Lectureships committees. Because the Student Lectureships Committee is a student-run organization, challenges have arisen in the past regarding tight budgets, a lack of effective advertising and a general lack of student interest.
Professor of Music Reginald Sanders currently leads Faculty Lectureships. Members of the College’s faculty submit speaker nominations, which the Faculty Lectureship committee then considers. “We’re looking for people who are currently making an impact in their field, people on the forefront, who are innovators and free thinkers,” Sanders wrote in an email to the Collegian. “We are also interested in people who have particular insight into important issues facing the nation or communities like ours.”
By considering past positions or accomplishments of nominees, “we strive to bring a variety of speakers to campus,” he wrote, emphasizing the importance of a speaker who will appeal to students, faculty and community members alike.
“The mission of the committee is to represent the interests of the community at large,” Sanders wrote. “In the past, we haven’t worked closely with the Student Lectureships Committee. We try to be aware, however, of whom they’re bringing to campus to avoid bringing speakers in similar fields.”
Co-President of Student Lectureships Rachel Hall ’15 said that, in contrast to Faculty Lectureships, her group is fairly casual. “People will just come in and we’ll brainstorm about speakers we want to bring, like who we’re interested in,” Hall said. This year, the group consists of about 25 students. Because last year’s committee consisted almost entirely of seniors, this semester posed the challenge of rebuilding the group’s membership from the ground up. The issue of membership is rooted mainly in “bringing awareness to the campus that we actually exist [and are] something you can actually be involved in,” according to Hall. “Students don’t usually think they can have a say in who comes to speak.”
Hall and Co-President Celia Lown ’15 say they hope to dispel this notion. In actuality, Student Lectureships is responsible for booking the eagerly anticipated R.J. Mitte, who played Walter White Jr. in the popular show “Breaking Bad.” Mitte will speak in Rosse Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 11.
Another challenge the Committee runs into — and one they encountered with Mitte — is their budget. As a student-run group, their access to funds from the Business and Finance Committee is limited. “Because Kenyon is so small, we can’t get really big speakers most times,” Hall said. “All of our funding comes from the Business and Finance Committee. Honestly, we usually have $10,000 at the most.” Because Mitte’s booking took up their entire budget for the fall semester, approximately $10,000, speakers for the spring will be limited to those who can be brought to campus for more affordable fees. The group is planning to apply for supplemental funds to help offset the cost of bringing Mitte to campus.
The group is also responsible for ensuring that an audience actually shows up for their speakers. This explains the flyers, posters and all-student emails that pervade the campus in the weeks prior to an event. Turnout has proven to be another issue for Student Lectureships in the past. Last year, “We didn’t start sending out emails soon enough,” Hall said, “So it didn’t get a big turnout at all, so that was kind of a huge letdown.”