by Emily Sakamoto
A decade-long discussion about the accessibility of Middle Path came into focus again at a faculty meeting on Monday — challenges ranged from everything from wheelchairs to baby strollers.
Erin Salva, director of student accessibility and support services, has been grappling with the issue for years, and has presented it to the Board of Trustees before. Salva’s interest in the topic was spurred by a campus tour she took with a prospective student in a wheelchair.
“It happened to be a power chair, and he chose not to come to Kenyon because we were not accessible for him,” Salva said. “This past week I toured campus with an admitted student in a chair, and she’s faced with a very difficult decision of whether or not she can come to Kenyon because of the inaccessibility of Middle Path.”
President Sean Decatur dismissed what Professor of Anthropology Pat Urban referred to as the “cult of Middle Path” — alumni who have threatened to cease contributions to the College if it paves Middle Path.
“I’ve heard the comment, ‘Never pave Middle Path,’” Decatur said. “To the contrary, I think that to have the symbol of our school fundamentally rooted in inaccessibility and discrimination against people who have mobility challenges is problematic.”
The current master plan already has funds allocated to the approved project of attempting to find new alternatives to the gravel. Past test patches have failed, including one synthetic surface tested last year behind Old Kenyon Residence Hall. But, a patch tested this current academic year on the north end of Middle Path near Bexley Hall fared decently in the winter season.
“I think it depends on if, in fact, that looks like a viable option — then there can really be work starting this summer,” Decatur said. “What Middle Path is really is a gravel walk, but it is a lifeblood and flow of the institution, and we need to figure out a way to make that work.”
Restoration of Middle Path has been underway for several years, while landscape artists and college employees attempt to find a solution. The academic quad on South campus — which Middle Path runs through — is notably one of the most traversed areas on campus, and is critical when considering accessibility, according to Salva.
One of the proposed surface materials is an aggregate — essentially a layer of concrete embedded with rocks that closely resembles gravel.
Fervor for the topic was renewed when faculty and students raised concerns at a recent faculty meeting about Middle Path being unsafe, especially in the winter months when ice coats the walkway and makes walking to class into a dangerous activity. Campus’s main artery took an especially hard hit this past winter, with conditions so bad one student with cerebral palsy brought up that she fell at least half a dozen times each week.
But people with mobility handicaps aren’t the only ones falling victim to the perils of Middle Path. Salva also listed parents with baby strollers or IT employees with tech carts among those affected by Middle Path’s challenging surface.
At their most recent meeting, some faculty members called for more focus on the Middle Path restoration project. “It’s people who live in this community, who deal with Middle Path everyday, who understand the importance of making it universally accessible,” Salva said. “I’m an alum myself, but I see the day-to-day realities of sustaining it, of getting around.”
Jordi Alonso ’14 traverses campus on a Segway, but expressed a neutrality in comparison to the immediacy others expressed.
“I understand both sides of the argument,” Alonso said. “I feel like if it were paved, we’d lose a lot of the Kenyon ethos, so to speak. But at the same time, having spent four winters [here], it’s really damn hard to get to class if you live South. [If] you have to get to Lentz House or something, you have to get on Middle Path at some point.”
Instead of resurfacing Middle Path, Alonso suggested alternate routes. “It’s really difficult to navigate,” Alonso said. “It’s part of the accessibility thing, but I think that goes for everyone, no matter what one’s physical circumstances may be.”