This week, Kenyon students and faculty received a news bulletin from President Sean Decatur announcing the official process for updating the Kenyon moniker. After the expressed concerns of students, who believe that the monikers “Lords” and “Ladies” perpetuates a gender binary that no longer contributes to a sense of full belonging in our community, Decatur agrees that change is necessary and the school should adopt a moniker more reflective of the current Kenyon community. As closure is now in sight to this longstanding dispute, it’s interesting to reflect on how our community’s ethical debate over Kenyon’s monikers has evolved over the years.
Some of the first evidence of discussion over the issue appears in the Jan. 30, 1992 edition of the Kenyon Collegian, written by the Collegian’s own editorial board. They highlighted the increased concern among students around the school’s monikers — though Kenyon students of 1992 were questioning it for different reasons than today. “Many feel that “Ladies” does not denote a strong athletic presence, or that it is an offensive, gender-based term that implies inequality,” they wrote.
In the Collegian’s following edition, published on Feb. 6, 1992, former Women’s Soccer Captain Erica Wolff ’92 submitted an op-ed recapitulating the Board’s previous piece, giving her perspective as a woman in Kenyon athletics. She argued that the term “Ladies” does not evoke her identity as an athlete. “Such a mascot doesn’t provide those qualities and ideals that women athletes are striving to project,” she said. After the publication of Wolff’s op-ed, the conversation surrounding the moniker seemed to have died down on campus, at least in the Collegian publications. But the conversation was far from over.
On April 6, 1995, the debate made a resurgence: One op-ed in particular, written by Sarah Bothe ’95 and Eiley Patterson ’95, sparked a monthlong debate with students, faculty and coaches responding (and re-responding) to each other through the opinions section of the Collegian.
Bothe and Patterson touched upon issues outside the gender binary, insisting that the monikers raises additional questions concerning inequalities in economic status and Eurocentrism. “Such a change would reflect the College’s belief in diversity and equality,” they wrote. They expressed that the community had moved far beyond the time when lords founded Kenyon, pointing out that students, faculty, alumni and College presidents have made changes to the community since then and that the moniker ought to reflect those contributions. Bothe and Patterson also cited Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’s many definitions of the word “lady,” insisting that the word itself holds an inherent inferiority and does not fairly reflect the school’s female athletes.
Responses to Bothe and Patterson’s article came pouring in the following week. Former Professor of English Language and Literature Perry Lentz ’64, Mark Rich ’98 and Tres Waterfield ’97 all took issue with Bothe and Patterson’s argument. Lentz asserted the importance of honoring the school’s founders. “The fact is neither this College nor this Village would exist except for the extraordinary generosity of members of the British upper class, including Lady Rosse,” he wrote.
In his article, Rich argued that a school’s mascot does not have to be a literal reflection of the student, but should hold a symbolic meaning. “A mascot is not meant to be an exact image of a Kenyon student, but a figure in which we take pride. Duke’s students are not actually Blue Devils, Miami of Florida’s students are not actually Hurricanes, and Michigan’s students are not actually Wolverines,” he said.
Waterfield, more so than Lentz or Rich, reacted passionately to Bothe and Patterson’s plea to change the monikers, believing the idea to be “preposterous.” He stated that doing so would be a “biological impossibility” because one can not erase the gender line. “Any mascot we could change to would not erase the gender line between our respective athletic teams. Unless, of course, we proposed to change our mascot to the Kenyon Hermaphrodites,” he said.
Lentz, Rich and Waterfield all argued that, in their mind’s eye, the term “lady” is one of honor due to the “word’s implications about her innate personal rank,” as Lentz put it. “When I hear the name “Lady,” I do not think of a “mistress” but of a very sophisticated, elegant woman deserving of respect,” Rich said.
After Lentz, Rich, and Waterfield’s respective responses to the op-ed, people began submitting articles defending Bothe and Patterson. Laura Noah ’95 expressed her personal distaste with the term “Ladies,” claiming to have “winced” every time she heard the name. She pointed out that those who attacked Bothe and Patterson’s article in the April 13 publication were all men, and therefore couldn’t understand what it was like to be a woman on campus. Noah insisted that tradition is important, but not as much as repairing the “silencing and disempowering of a large segment of the population.”
Many athletics coaches defended Bothe and Patterson’s argument as well. Head Volleyball Coach Jennie Bruening, Head Field Hockey and Lacrosse Coach Susan Eicher, and Associate Athletic Director and Head Basketball Coach Ann Osborne all cooperated on an op-ed, sympathizing with female athletes at Kenyon. “They no longer want to be separated from their male fellow student-athletes by a name, as their predecessors no longer wanted to be separated by which schools they could attend,” they said.
Throughout the rest of the month’s publications, students, alumni and faculty continued submitting a slew of articles on the subject; everyone wanted their voice to be heard. Rich even wrote another article, responding to those who attacked his previous response.
After April of 1995, conversation surrounding the moniker debate seemed to have died down significantly. That time of debate clearly held significance, though, because the conversation hasn’t stopped since, over 30 years later.