by Claire Oxford
It’s unusual to imagine a Kenyon classroom where students can lounge back in their chairs, smoking cigarettes during a professor’s lecture. However, three generations ago, smoking in class was commonplace.
From the perspective of a three-generation-legacy family, one can see some of these changes from generation to generation. There have been huge shifts at Kenyon throughout the years. For instance, during the 1950s, Kenyon was all male, predominantly white and had about a third of the current population, with over half of students going Greek. Sixty years later, Kenyon’s demographics have clearly shifted — a truth shown in the varying experiences of multigenerational legacies.
For example, the Fenns and McCoys are two of the few three-generation families with students currently on campus.
Caroline Fenn ’16 and Sarah Fenn ’18 are sisters; their parents, Geoffrey Fenn ’86 and Catherine Fenn ’86, met their first year at Kenyon and dated all four years, and Geoffrey’s father Richard Fenn graduated in 1957. Caroline described some of the fraternity antics of her grandfather’s generation, stories that have been passed down through the family. “He tells us so many,” she said. “The pranks they used to pull, like putting baby powder in the organ so when the organ master started playing, it would explode.” Beyond practical jokes, the Fenn sisters’ grandfather has told them about how Kenyon students were also supposed to adhere to traditions that are now nonexistent — such as mandatory church attendance for a set number of Sundays per semester, or wearing formal jackets to Peirce dinners and serving each other family-style at meals. Richard said a huge difference on campus was the lack of women, the fact that it was virtually an all-white student body and the strength of the fraternities. However, as his son Geoffrey noted, Kenyon underwent changes, taking initiative to increase diversity and technology on campus. Having women on campus was his biggest example.
David McCoy ’60 shared many tell-tale Kenyon experiences from his generation: fraternities singing College songs on Old Side every Sunday, students putting cigarettes out on the floor during class and the infamously titled “cattle car” — a dance where Denison University women were invited on blind dates with Kenyon first years. Caitelin’s father, Steve McCoy ’87, also noted a couple important similarities. “Kenyon’s been very smart not to change the student-to-faculty ratio, as well as continually thinking of … the interests of the individual student,” he said.
Caitelin McCoy ’17 explained she doesn’t know much about her father or grandfather’s experiences — except that the three of them participated in drama at Kenyon. Caitelin compared her experience to her father’s, saying, “[My dad] was a techie. Whenever they wanted lightning [and thunder in a production] he would shake a sheet of heavy tin under the stage for a heavy reverberating sound … and [today] I’m just pressing a button.” McCoy said she sees herself as part of a family story. She felt this connection especially on the days when both of them visited and she walked down Middle Path with her father and grandfather at her sides.
Geoffrey was moved by the connection between generations when his two daughters signed the matriculation book and found and photographed their father’s and grandfather’s signatures. “They signed the same book,” he said. From his perspective as a parent, sharing this rite of passage was something remarkable.