According to Alex Gilkey ’21, flags are a “symbolic projection” of an organization and he doesn’t think that Kenyon’s official flag measures up. In fact, Gilkey is proposing a redesign that he believes is more concise, clear and representative of the current student body.
The flag that flies outside of Peirce — a white K on a purple background — is not Kenyon College’s official flag. College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Tom Stamp ’73 told Alex Gilkey that the flag currently flying to the south of Ransom Hall is the Kenyon athletic flag. It is standing in for the College’s original flag, which is in storage awaiting repairs. The official Kenyon flag features Kenyon’s seal, adapted from Lord Kenyon’s coat of arms, on a purple background; under the seal, a banner reads, “Kenyon College, 1824.”
Gilkey says that Kenyon’s flag is too “aesthetically muddled,” with its seven colors and complex imagery. “One of the basic rules is that if a child can draw it from memory, you have achieved a good flag,” Gilkey said. It would take an exceptionally artistic kindergartener to sketch Kenyon’s flag accurately.
Gilkey was inspired after reading a Collegian article about the newly revised matriculation oath, which this year’s incoming class recited for the first time. The revised oath was changed to better represent students, and Gilkey believes that a similar sort of undertaking can be directed toward Kenyon’s flag.
In October of last year, Gilkey contacted the North American Vexillological Association with a request to compare his redesign to the original Kenyon flag. The organization responded within a week; out of a 10 point scale, the panel of judges rated the original Kenyon flag an average of 2.5 points, and they gave Gilkey’s redesign an average of 8.8. That was the confirmation Gilkey needed that he was on the right track.
Gilkey first became interested in vexillology — the study of flag design — as a high schooler, after watching a TED Talk by radio producer Roman Mars in which Mars talks about the design of city flags. There is a rich history or meaning behind every flag, and Gilkey thinks that people should take flags more seriously as representations of those values. According to Gilkey, a good flag should be simple and distinctive: It should be limited to two or three basic colors, symbolically meaningful and have no text or seals. One particular favorite of Gilkey’s is the flag of Amsterdam: a red-and-black-striped flag with three white Xs across the center stripe.
Although Gilkey understands that some might think this issue is irrelevant, he stands firmly behind his cause. “A flag is more than some colors and stripes on a sheet,” he said. “It’s a symbol of the values that flag represents for the people who use it.”
Gilkey thinks that now is an appropriate time for the redesign in light of all the recent changes on campus — from the College’s largest construction project in the last two decades, to the newly revised matriculation oath. Gilkey has future surveys and even a flag-designing contest in the works. He hopes that the Kenyon community will support his initiative of designing a new symbol for a changing Kenyon.