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Kenyon joins growing tide in equitable admissions

Kenyon is “turning the tide” to make admissions more equitable.

Turning the Tide, a movement that began at Harvard University and is now sponsored by 60 colleges and universities across the U.S., strives to do what some see as impossible: create a more equitable and less stressful college admissions process. On Jan. 20, Kenyon became one of its sponsors by signing on to a report that lays out the movement’s missions.

The 32-page report was authored by Making Caring Common, a project sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The report advises admissions offices to “promote greater ethical engagement among aspiring students, reduce excessive achievement pressure and level the playing field for economically disadvantaged students.”

Encouraging “quality over quantity” when it comes to extracurricular activities and valuing students who work outside the home to provide needed income are two recommendations the report offers.

“I think the idea behind this movement, and this initiative, is to make a case that what’s important as part of the application process isn’t having a list of a thousand different activities that one can document that one did in high school,” President Sean Decatur said, “but being able to show what you’ve done that’s important to yourself and your own development, and what you’ve done that basically has an impact on the broader world.”

Diane Anci, Kenyon’s vice president of enrollment management and dean of admissions, said the movement’s mission aligns with Kenyon’s values. “The values in the Turning the Tide movement are not new to Kenyon,” Anci said. “The values that are coursing through this movement are values that have coursed through the admissions process.”

Decatur said, “This is actually in keeping with the values that, I think, Kenyon has had for many years in evaluating applicants and in trying to shape a class that is coming in.”

Kenyon still has room for improvement Anci said. She plans to profile different sorts of students in Kenyon brochures and on the Kenyon website to communicate a broader vision of the typical Kenyon student. For example, the Kenyon website has a running series called “Along Middle Path,” in which student achievements are highlighted. Anci sees a possibility to promote Turning the Tide’s values through these profiles.

“What would it look like if more institutions were to profile some students who maybe did one extracurricular in high school?” Anci said. “And if that activity was work? And not the Westinghouse finalist who’s going to the next summer Olympics for fencing?”

The report also encourages the admittance of students who have had meaningful engagement with diversity ­— people of different races, classes, ethnicities, religions or otherwise. The goal is for students to interact with those different from themselves. As this is a goal relevant to the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), Anci foresees partnering with the ODEI to promote Turning the Tide ideals. Chris Kennerly, associate dean of students and director of ODEI, said he had not been contacted about this initiative.

“We will start in admissions and then, we have many campus partners and ODEI is a major campus partnership,” Anci said. “We could turn to our ODEI colleagues and say, ‘We think we could be more supportive of your efforts if we were to do this.’”

The admissions office is currently working to select Kenyon’s Class of 2020. Once they have done so, they will direct their attention toward implementing Turning the Tide, according to Anci. They will communicate with various offices and committees on campus to create a more unified effort.

“If you are going to shift a culture, it’s not 10 people in the admissions office shifting the culture,” Anci said. “Institutions will, at some level, need to sign on to this as well.”

Peer institutions are in a similar position. For example, Denison University is also a sponsor of the movement, is discussing ways it can further align itself with the mission of Turning the Tide, according to Denison’s director of admissions, Michael Hills.

“It is clear, however, that we are going to put a greater emphasis in our publications, website, and interviews on the importance of meaningful ethical engagement, community service, work and family service,” Hills said. “We are much more interested in enrolling students who are passionately involved and dedicated to a smaller number of extracurricular activities than those applicants who submit a laundry list of activities with little to no engagement.”

Susan Dileno, Ohio Wesleyan University’s vice president for enrollment management said OWU’s admissions officers were going to revise the language on their website and application to emphasize Turning the Tide values. They also plan to update the extracurricular section on their application to reflect the movement’s mission.

“On the application form for next year, we’re going to revise the extracurriculars section and make it shorter and more concise and let them know that we value family and work time as much as we would an extracurricular,” Dileno said.

Isabella Bird ’18 is skeptical Kenyon will end up doing as much as these peer institutions are doing.

“The sentiment of Turning the Tide is wonderful, and I think that every school — not only Kenyon — has to make the application process more accessible to students who aren’t middle-class or upper-middle-class,” Bird said. “The school would be much more diverse, not only in the color sense but in the economic sense, which is also very important to break the Kenyon bubble. But I honestly tend to doubt the ability of the administration to implement these changes.”

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