For the majority of Kenyon’s students, school breaks mean a trip back home and long days spent hanging around their hometown. But for those who stay on campus, it can mean seeing an entirely different side of Gambier.
“It didn’t feel so much like college,” Jalon Eason ’17 said. “There weren’t a lot of people surrounding you, and you didn’t see your professors.” Eason stayed during the second half of spring breaks after touring with the Chamber Singers and also during summer breaks as a break Community Advisor (CA).
Students stay on campus for a variety of reasons, most commonly because they live too far away to make travel feasible, because going home is too expensive or because they have difficult relationships with their families, according to Jill Engel-Hellman, the director of residential life and assistant dean of students. Whatever the reason, around 100 students stay on campus for most breaks. This past Thanksgiving break, 109 students stayed for the full week. Many more stayed for just a few days.
“For some people, it’s really not a choice,” Engel-Hellman “Kenyon becomes their home for four years when they come here.”
What is Gambier like for these students? What do they do? They certainly do their fair share of Netflix-watching, but they also have the opportunity to experience Gambier in an entirely new way. Without the usual college environment surrounding them, students can expand their social networks, meeting other students and local residents and visiting nearby places that they would not normally get to see.
“There’s this store in Mount Vernon that’s completely dedicated to clocks… It’s like clocks and then kaleidoscopes,” Shara Morgan ’20, who stayed on campus this past Thanksgiving break, said. “I made friends with the people who owned that shop, and I talked about D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] with the son of the man who owns it for like an hour.”
Morgan, who could not afford to travel home over the break, decided to spend a day wandering around Mount Vernon. She took photos of the town and chatted with many shop owners around the Mount Vernon square.
Eason traveled even farther during breaks. He visited Serpent Mound, a more than 400-meter-long serpent-shaped effigy mound in southern Ohio, and nearby Honey Run Falls in Danville. He also enjoyed the mix of students he found on campus. Every summer, the students who are on campus form a community with its own Facebook group called “Camp Kenyon.”
“You get to hang out with people who you otherwise wouldn’t normally talk to,” Eason said. “I made a lot of friends over the summer.”
Xiaoxuan Hu ’20 even got to see a production put on by a children’s theater group in Mount Vernon while she was at Kenyon during a break. The host mother (international students at Kenyon receive host families) of one of Hu’s friends took her into town, and together they saw the local children’s rendition of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Hu also occasionally ate dinner with that family.
As an international student from Wuhan, China, it can be expensive for Hu to fly home, so instead she has spent her past three breaks at Kenyon. She holds several jobs on campus, both as a tour guide and an office assistant for the Center for Global Engagement (CGE). Because she is working most days, she said that during breaks it can sometimes feel as if she is no longer a college student.
“It feels just like work life as a proper adult,” she said.
Eason agreed. “The only time I left the house was to do my duty rounds or get food and then I’d go back to my apartment,” he said.
Part of that “adult” routine involves preparing meals for yourself. Without access to Peirce, students must cook for themselves, occasionally coming together to have meals but frequently cooking on their own. For the students who stay on campus because of financial reasons, this can present a problem. They cannot go home because it is too expensive, but if they stay at Kenyon, they must pay for their own meals. The Office of Residential Life (ResLife) piloted a program this year to address this issue.
Students who are staying on campus over break can apply for a food stipend. Those who qualify receive $10 a day from ResLife to support the purchase of food. Morgan used this program and found it extremely helpful.
“It’s accessible. You just have to push for it,” she said. “It was definitely really helpful because I could not have afforded to feed myself otherwise.”
With students staying indoors or taking trips elsewhere, it would seem like Kenyon’s campus was a ghost town during breaks, but there is still some life, especially during the summer. Eason said that one of the more interesting parts of Kenyon during summer breaks was all the different conferences and camps that happened on campus. He saw band camps, religious camps, cheer camps and even a conference for barbershop quartets pass through.
“A bunch of quartets came,” he said. “We saw them at the Cove [a bar that used to exist in Gambier] and they were doing different things. They would just sing to us and we got to go to their concerts.”
But students have their own events too. This past break, Hu went to two events sponsored by the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. The first was a trip in Mount Vernon to see the movie A Murder on the Orient Express, and the second was a special Thanksgiving dinner.
As a break CA, Eason organized several events over the summers. He coordinated cookouts, potluck dinners, t-shirt making activities and runs to the farmer’s market in Mount Vernon.
Though Hu has come to enjoy the calm of breaks, she finds herself getting asked to do a lot of favors for people, such as taking care of their plants, because she stays on campus.
“Every time someone asks me if I’m staying over break, I know they want something from me,” she said. She will be staying on campus again this winter break, this time with the company of someone else’s plants.