Kenyon’s 19th President Sean Decatur leaned back in a simple, brown-and-tan patchwork chair behind the sturdy wooden table in his office. “Once in a while I’d say that there are things that still feel a little bit surreal,” he said of his still fairly new position. “The ‘President Decatur’ still seems like an odd phrase when I hear it, but I think in general I’m feeling pretty settled in at Kenyon and pretty settled into the role.”
Now, a little more than a year into his job, Decatur says he is working to harness his own values and the values of the College as he shapes his 20/20 plan, unveils a new Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) and welcomes the Class of 2018 to campus.
After a fall spent consulting with students, alumni and Kenyon administrators, Decatur unveiled his 20/20 plan last spring, outlining where he hopes the College will be in the year 2020. The extensive list of changes includes plans for new first-year housing, increased upperclassman housing, an updated library and even an underground parking garage, with the general goal of improving the “arc of the student experience, making the College accessible and building community on campus,” according to Decatur’s chief of staff Susan Morse.
Decatur says he appreciates advice from students and faculty that brings attention to things he might not be aware of yet. “I think that the students now have a lot to contribute in terms of your thoughts on the Kenyon experience, your thoughts on how you’re looking forward to your own graduation and what Kenyon is doing to prepare you for that,” he said.
Students have appreciated Decatur’s continued attention to their opinions; “I think he’s doing a really great job,” Megan Morris ’16 said. “He shows that he really cares in what has changed and happened in the past year.”
Decatur plans to continue the conversations he has throughout the fall into next spring, According to Mather Residence Hall CA Luke Kresslein ’15 with hopes of finalizing 20/20 by the end of the academic year.
Along with continuing to develop and eventually complete his 20/20 plan, President Decatur will also keep up the effort to fill vacant leadership positions on campus.
“The ongoing search for a new Dean of Admissions, the search for leadership change within Student Affairs, those are the two things that are at the top of my priority list,” Decatur said.
Perhaps the most obvious large-scale change under Decatur is the current overhauling of Middle Path. There are plans to continue construction on Middle Path over the next few years in order to eventually make it fully accessible to those with disabilities. Decatur defended the controversial decision to restore Middle Path, saying, “My sense is that there is an understanding on why the project to restore Middle Path is important, to make it as beautiful as we all know it to be as well as making it more accessible.”
The ODEI, too, addresses Kenyon’s struggle with something that has been lacking: diversity. The ODEI will oversee the Kenyon Education Enrichment Program, the REACH mentoring program, the Diversity Advisory Council and the Discrimination Advisors, as well as serving as a resource for all areas of campus that could make an effort to increase diversity.
“Kenyon’s success will be measured by how well we welcome and teach students of all backgrounds, first-generation students and those at all economic levels,” Decatur said.
Along with welcoming the entire first-year class to Kenyon, Decatur welcomed his own advisees, students whom he helped coach through first-year class registration, and whom he will continue to assist during their time at Kenyon.
“The key things are to, especially in the first semester, be willing to explore and experiment with different courses, to not get terribly stressed out by the registration process,” Dectaur said of the advice he gives his advisees. “I am always encouraging folks to look down the line.”
Thinking four years down the line himself, Decatur hopes the Class of 2018 will graduate with a thorough understanding of “what it means to live in a community;” that they will be able to tackle leadership positions and take on responsibility in life; and “have an understanding and appreciation of knowledge and learning and what it means to make one happy.”