After a group of faculty, administrators and one student attended the Divided Community Project’s Academy Initiative in early March, Kenyon administrators have put together a concrete plan to revise the College’s long-standing mission statement.
The conference ran from March 3 through 5 in Chicago, Ill. The College selected eight attendees, including faculty, administrators and one student, with the goal of maximizing diverse perspectives.
“It was a lot of different folks from a lot of different areas of the College, and it was encouraging that we were able to come together and decide on what really needs focus for Kenyon’s future,” Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, who attended the conference, said.
Vice President of Student Council and Chair of Academic Affairs Delaney Barker ‘20 was the only student in attendance. Though she admitted to being the “youngest and least accomplished in the room,” Barker said that her inexperience didn’t take away from her enjoyment of the program. “But that was okay, [since] I learned a lot,” she said.
Barker believes the College’s participation in the Academy Initiative will prove effective at making change in the community. “In a sense we went there as a reaction to what happened with the Good Samaritan [policy], but being there we kind of learned how to be proactive about a bigger situation,” she said.
She also described the benefits of materials presented at the conference, many of which focused on facilitating dialogue between diverse groups. “In our situation I think that was particularly helpful — how maybe the Kenyon administration should utilize social media to explain their positions or why they’re doing things,” she said.
The Academy Initiative, which included four groups from around the country, kicked off with an opening dinner and a panel discussion, featuring people who had been in leadership roles during periods of civil unrest; this included someone from the 2016 Orlando nightclub shootings, as well as a city manager from Sanford, Fl — notorious for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
On the second day of the conference the groups travelled to the AVA section of dispute settlement office, where they engaged in a simulation of a city under civil unrest.
The final day of the conference was dedicated to individual group planning, specifically coming up with an “action plan” to implement upon return to respective communities, according to Ombudsperson Carrie Knell. The attendees decided to focus on the College’s mission statement, which has not been updated since President Nugent’s tenure.
“We kind of brainstormed different areas that we would like to look at, and one of them that took a big portion of our conversation was the mission statement, and that was something I believe we want to focus on going forward,” Knell said.
Bonham agreed, noting that current conceptions of Kenyon’s core values are uncertain, and often depend on the person you ask. An updated mission statement, she said, will align the community’s principles.
“In order to provide definition to who we are as a community and what we aspire to be, we need a foundational document,” she said. “Therefore, that is the most critical component of this work moving forward.”
A committee charged with revamping the mission statement has already been formed and, according to Bonham, will meet in the next few weeks to take the first steps toward revising the document. Along with herself, Bonham said the revision process will also involve President Sean Decatur and other members of senior staff.
While Knell pointed out that the committee was not made up of the group who attended the Academy Initiative event, she expects that their conversations and the group’s debriefing session — scheduled for late April — will “feed into” the revision of the mission statement.
Overall, Knell said she was satisfied that the Academy Initiative provided an opportunity to enhance conflict-resolution skills and get a start on reworking the College’s mission statement, which she sees as a necessary compass for directing future change.
“Without that goal or that long-view, it’s harder to define or decide how to accomplish that or how to focus that,” she said. “It’s the destination, it’s the goal, it’s the ideal. Everything should be striving to meet that.”