Starting this year, Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Ric Sheffield will serve as Kenyon’s first Peter M. Rutkoff Distinguished Teaching Professor in American Studies.
A group of Rutkoff’s former students provided funding for the professorship, stating in a press release on the Kenyon website that they feel they benefited from his commitment to diversity in the classroom.
“Social justice has been a defining mantra for Peter,” Nina P. Freedman ’77, a former student of Rutkoff and current Kenyon trustee who contributed to the new professorship, said in the release. “He turns thought into action.”
Rutkoff, who joined the Kenyon faculty in 1971, founded the American studies major and co-founded the Crossroads Faculty Seminar, a group of Kenyon faculty and administrators that come together to discuss issues in African diaspora studies.
Rutkoff has also worked to enhance the quality of education outside of Kenyon. For 34 years, he has been a member of the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP) and now serves as the program’s executive director. KAP works to enhance the education of high school students in Ohio by helping their teachers adapt Kenyon courses to their own classrooms.
Sheffield plans to honor Rutkoff’s legacy by continuing to work to increase diversity within the Kenyon curriculum while also engaging with the surrounding community.
“A major responsibility for the holder of this chair should be to create opportunities and devise strategies for enhancing academic exploration of diversity and facilitate multi-disciplinary engagement with the concept,” Sheffield said.
The professorship grants Sheffield the opportunity to pursue academic projects at Kenyon and in conjunction with other organizations including the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) and the Five Colleges of Ohio.
The title of Sheffield’s overarching project is “Diversity in the Heartland.” The focus of this project “will be to explore what ‘diversity’ means in a rural American context and the various ways that it is manifested” Sheffield said.
“The vast majority of the academic literature on this topic looks at it through an urban or metropolitan lens,” Sheffield said. “Academics and policymakers alike tend to act as though ‘rural life’ and ‘diversity’ are oxymorons. Such an approach grossly underestimates how social life evolves in environments that have both fewer institutions and smaller numbers of inhabitants.”
One of Sheffield’s projects will include a community study in Knox County on the “experience of ‘difference’ or ‘otherness.’” Kenyon students will have the opportunity to be involved in this research as part of a year-long course starting next fall.
“[The] course will involve significant experiences through community-engaged learning, research methods ranging from oral history interviews and surveys to archival exploration, and the creation of digital productions like podcasts, museum exhibits and radio shows,” Sheffield said.
A meeting for potential enrollees will occur in early spring after Sheffield returns from sabbatical.