During the annual Founders’ Day ceremony on Oct. 25, first years and new transfer students will take Kenyon’s updated matriculation oath. The oath was edited this fall for the first time in nearly 50 years and the second time in the College’s history.
A subcommittee of Campus Senate, composed of six students, faculty and staff members, formed last summer to begin developing the new oath. According to subcommittee member and Vice President for Communications Janet Marsden, they examined the language of the oath along with its “history and context.”
The committee rewrote the oath in its entirety with the exception of the introductory sentence. The new version uses more inclusive language — the former phrase “sons and daughters of Kenyon College,” for example, now reads “members of the Kenyon College community.”
Daniel Napsha ’21, one of the students on the subcommittee, said that “the focus [of the oath] has shifted from rules and regulations to the values of the college.”
As the Matriculation Oath now reads, new students will no longer swear to “strive by all proper means to promote Kenyon’s good name,” but rather commit themselves to “the shared values of mutual respect, inclusive citizenship, spirited inquiry and intellectual integrity.”
President Sean Decatur said that these values often come up in casual ways at Kenyon, and the updated oath fulfills a commonly expressed “desire to have some sort of clearer articulation of what it means to be part of the Kenyon community.”
Kenyon’s original matriculation oath was established by its third president, David Bates Douglass, in 1841. It would remain unchanged until the College began admitting women in 1969, at which point the word “daughters” was added to the phrase “faithful sons of Kenyon College.”
Before the Senate approved the new oath this fall, the subcommittee shared their draft with faculty executives, student council members, staff council members and senior staff members to gather feedback.
“Everyone seemed to really think it made sense and appreciated it being more grounded in values than rules that you obey,” Marsden said. Some of the new oath is based on the statement of student rights and responsibilities that Campus Senate adopted last April, which also emphasizes College principles such as respect and inclusion.
Last spring’s controversy surrounding James Michael Playwright-in-Residence and Professor of Drama Wendy MacLeod’s script for The Good Samaritan inspired Marsden to reexamine Kenyon’s ideals.
Marsden took part in “a very open [campus-wide] conversation about what we value here and what it means to be part of the Kenyon community.” Napsha became interested in Kenyon’s mission after spending time at Middlebury College this summer, where he was “struck by [Middlebury’s] ability to clearly communicate their values.” He emailed Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, who invited him to join the subcommittee.
The College was already planning to revise the oath based on a recommendation from Campus Senate last year to eliminate gender-specific language from official ceremonies, according to Decatur. “It seemed like an opportunity to revisit it,” he said. “It’s exciting.”
Marsden and Napsha confirmed that students, faculty and staff are also revising the College’s mission statement and student handbook. “But at the heart of the Kenyon experience is the matriculation oath,” Napsha said. “This is the first step in reaffirming and declaring our values.”