On Monday, Kenyon marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the 10th annual Day of Dialogue, headlined by keynote speaker Leslie M. Harris, professor of history at Northwestern University. Kenyon students, staff and faculty gathered in Rosse Hall to hear Harris deliver her talk, “Community is a Verb: Access to Equity in Higher Education.”
Harris is a scholar who specializes in African American history, with research interests including pre-Civil War African American labor and social history, slavery in the U.S. and African American women’s, gender and sexuality history. Before joining Northwestern in 2016, Harris was a faculty member at Emory University. During her time there, she co-founded and co-directed the Transforming Community Project, an initiative that aimed to increase dialogue about diversity and race in higher education.
“Her scholarly work as a historian is about how communities form themselves,” Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ted Mason said. “I think particularly for a place like Kenyon that prides itself on an idea of community — and I don’t think we’re wrong about that — but what do we actually mean when we say that and how do we know? So getting inside of those questions, I think, is what her work is going to help us do.”
Mason was on the committee that organized this year’s Day of Dialogue events, along with Assistant Director of Academic and Ceremonial Events Courtney DeCosky and Associate Dean of Students/Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chris Kennerly.
During the address, Harris talked about the role of higher education in establishing an equitable society.
“No matter what kind of school we are, we have to be aware of the diverse world in which we live in now, but also the world that our students will live in the future. she said. “I would ask the Kenyon community to consider if they are living into community as a verb. Community is not a place that you arrive at, it is a place that you create and recreate through your actions day after day after day.”
In addition to Harris’ keynote address, the Day of Dialogue program included remarks by President Sean Decatur, a performance from the Chamber Singers and a panel that included Mason, Assistant Professor of Sociology Austin Johnson and Michaela Jenkins ’19, a sociology major and president of the Black Student Union. Each panel participant discussed their understanding of community.
“I’ve begun to meditate on how Kenyon College students can continue to make the intentional choice of being a part of the Kenyon community each day,” Jenkins said during the panel. “I’d say what is more challenging is choosing this community not only as it is, but as it could be: Intentionally saying that Kenyon is the place that we make it.”
Prior to the afternoon address, the 16th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Breakfast was held in partnership with Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Harris also served as keynote speaker there, focusing on the theme “Sisters in the Struggle: Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement.”