“Kenyon is the eighth least socioeconomically diverse elite college in the country, according to a New York Times article,” Jenna Rochelle ’18 said during her presentation on March 29. This presentation was part of Speak Out Week, a series of events put on by the Diversity Advisors (DAs) to raise awareness about a specific topic or issue of diversity. This year, the theme was “Class and Community: A Deeper Understanding.”
“We wanted to focus on socioeconomic status specifically because it is an issue that’s not really talked about on this campus,” DA Nasra Farah ’18 said.
The first event of Speak Out Week was a community panel. Each panelist discussed what class meant to them and how to talk about it on campus. The panel consisted of Rochelle, Administrative Assistant in the Office for Community Partnerships Alyssa Lawrence ’10 and Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Ric Sheffield.
For the second event, Rochelle presented her seniors honors project in anthropology about low-income Kenyon students and their experiences at college, specifically their relationship with food. “I started this project the first semester of my freshman year because I felt like I was a complete outsider on campus,” she said.
Rochelle also put booklets about her project in the Peirce Dining Hall atrium. “Although the quotes are presented anonymously within this book, it is crucial to remember the identity of these students,” she wrote in her booklet. “They could be your lab partner, your teammate, your roommate, a close friend, someone you awkwardly smile at on Middle Path.”
Rochelle hopes students who listened to her presentation and read the booklet will be more careful about how they act. “We have control over how we interact with people, how we talk about ourselves, and what kind of activities we do,” she said. “I think the big thing I am hoping is that students are more reflective about where they come from and how they talk about where they come from.”
Later that day, Sit with a Stranger took place in Peirce. The DAs encouraged students to sit somewhere new and talk to different people. “Our goal for this exercise is to bring our community closer together and to get people to go outside of their comfort zones to learn more about each other,” the DAs wrote in an email to the student body.
The final event was Story Time with Peg Tazewell ’03, who is executive director of Knox County Head Start, a program that works in partnership with the community to provide quality preschool, child care and family services. She talked about her background of being in a low-income family and how that experience has shaped who she is today.
“I loved it,” Brittany Beckley ’20, who attended Tazewell’s Storytime, said. “[Storytimes are] usually about their personal lives and what we can learn from that but she also talked about resources around us in the community.”
The DAs wanted to include a member from the community to go along with this year’s theme. “The reason why we did that this year was because we know that class is not talked about on our campus, but also people’s perception of class on this campus versus our greater community are very different,” Farah said. “It was a great way to end it.”