by Madeleine Thompson
According to the last U.S. Census, which was completed in 2010, by the end of the current decade no one race will make up a majority of American children under 18. It also projected that by the year 2043, the U.S. will be a majority-minority nation, in which no single racial group constitutes the majority. Last week, Kenyon President Sean Decatur introduced a new initiative that will be tasked with keeping the College on a par with and ahead of those statistics.
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) will institutionalize Kenyon’s efforts to reach students of all geographical locations and backgrounds, and to provide an education that represents various demographics and perspectives. Associate Professor of English Ivonne García, who will lead the ODEI as associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, called diversity not just important but “crucial.”
“We live in a world that, in a few years, is going to shift significantly,” García said. “Right now it’s shifting culturally and linguistically. How do we prepare our students to handle that world? To be leaders in that world? … We cannot ignore the future.”
García said the ODEI would not be policing departments but would be available to work with them on increasing diversity in their curricula. “I want to be a resource for the faculty,” García said. “I’m not somebody who’s going to go, ‘Well how much diversity do you have?’”
Instead, the goal will be to raise awareness about various diversity efforts that already exist on campus and give them the support they need, as well as filling in gaps between reaching out to high school students interested in Kenyon and keeping in touch after they graduate. Snowden House, Unity House, the
Diversity Advisory Council (OAC), the Discrimination Advisors and the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP), along with its Recognizing Each Other’s Ability to Conquer the Hill (R.E.A.C.H.) program, will now fall under the ODEI umbrella.
A few of the office’s seven official charges include advising the president, supporting diversity education programs and carrying out efforts in equal opportunity hiring. The office itself will be financially supported by a small portion of a $100,000 presidential discretionary grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — which makes grants to institutions in higher education — and by the existing budgets of various campus groups.
Decatur said the idea of creating the ODEI had been in the works for a while, especially amongst the DAC, which is composed of faculty, administrative and student representatives. “I think we have good people doing the work for both establishing this office and getting us on good footing for coordination moving forward,” Decatur said. He also acknowledged that the ODEI’s goals set a high bar for Kenyon, but said it was “one we should aim for.”
For Associate Dean of Students Chris Kennerly, who has been named director of the ODEI, equity is one the most important aspects of the initiative. “We haven’t had a chance to address a lot of the equity kinds of things,” Kennerly said. “For example, … students being able to afford to participate in all the aspects of Kenyon.”
Kennerly cited last year’s change in the way North Campus Apartments are priced to make them more affordable for upperclassmen as an example of what he hopes to achieve, and noted other efforts towards equity such as helping to bring parents to campus for graduation and paying for the Graduate Record Examinations required for admission to most U.S. graduate schools. “There are lots of other small things,” he said.
Qossay Alsattari ’16 has been a member of several diversity-focused groups, including the DAC, since his first year at Kenyon, and called the formation of the ODEI a “keystone” step in developing Kenyon’s inclusiveness. “It reflects our seriousness as a community to kind of have a more diverse student body,” Alsattari said, praising the tangible commitment the office represents.
He has specific hopes for his involvement with the office, too, such as being able to give suggestions about curriculum changes and attracting more diverse students to campus. “I think at Kenyon, we need to see a lot of curriculum changes to make it … more well-rounded,” Alsattari said.
As for whether or not Kenyon will successfully be able to implement and follow through on the many ideas and aspirations of those involved with this latest diversity initiative, García is confident in the community’s willingness to do the hard work. “Kenyon students are like none I have ever met at any of the institutions I have worked [at],” García said. “In my experience, Kenyon is ideally situated and the students are going to benefit tremendously from being able to have this office that is diversity, equity and inclusion. When you think about it, there can never be anything wrong with those three words.”