Most Kenyon students agree that stepping on the College seal in the entrance to Peirce Dining Hall is bad, but the tradition surrounding the seal is clouded in muddy waters. Not everyone agrees on why it should be avoided or what fate faces those who forego the warning, and, while some dismiss the superstition, the tradition is real for many.
The seal embedded in the floor of what is officially Philander Chase Tower has been there since 1929, but only recently have students started to avoid walking on it. “Generations of students walked ‘blithely’ over the seal prior to the birth of the various legends about dire consequences for doing the same,” College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp ’73 wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Kenyon’s seal is not the only college seal steeped in superstition; many institutions have a stigma around stepping on their seal, including University of Chicago and even Denison University. However, the consequences of overstepping vary. While Denison’s tradition holds that students who walk on their seal will not graduate, those in Chicago may only fail to do so in four years; as UChicago’s website states, “there’s always a chance that means you’ll graduate in three.”
Just as these institutions’ traditions lack a consensus on the consequences of seal-stepping, Kenyon’s students are similarly polarized on the topic. According to a survey conducted by the Collegian, 23 out of 48 mostly underclass students said that stepping on the seal would result in not graduating whatsoever, while 16 believed the consequence would be graduating late. Five students were unsure of what would happen and the remaining four had a variety of answers: general bad luck, failing one’s next exam, failing a class or sleeping through exams.
Although a Collegian article from August 2017 states the tradition is “one of Kenyon’s newest,” its origin is still unknown. A minority of students said that they heard the tradition from their peers, but most students said they learned of the tradition while taking a campus tour as prospective students.
“Our tour guides are trained about Kenyon ‘lore,’ including not stepping on the seal,” Ellen Turner, senior associate director from the Office of Admissions, said in an email to the Collegian. “Some [tour guides] see it as a sign of respect and some see it as a tradition,” Turner added. Indeed, while 28 students said they avoid treading on the seal because of the tradition, six students said they avoid doing so out of respect or to keep it clean.
First-year student Molly Orr noticed an additional benefit of the seal’s tradition: traffic control. She pointed out that the seal may act like a traffic lane: Students entering Peirce going around the seal one way would not be held up by those leaving around the other side. Although, this is only effective if students always go around the same way. “It does keep the seal clean, so either way the superstition serves a practical purpose,” Orr said.
While the debate surrounding the tradition is ongoing, it looks like the seal’s lore is here to stay.