On Friday, Sept. 9, Kenyon’s annual Community Feast returned in full force for the first time since 2019. The comeback was executed primarily by the Office of Campus Events (OCE), which worked closely with AVI and the Maintenance Department to organize the event. Open to all members of the Kenyon community, including students, faculty, staff and their families, the event included dinner catered by AVI, a concert performed by the Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE), yard games and a number of activities run by different student organizations and academic departments.
An annual, community-oriented dinner has been an integral part of Kenyon tradition for decades. According to Assistant Director of Academic and Ceremonial Events Samantha Turner ’10, the Office of Student Engagement began the tradition of a community meal when it began hosting annual picnics. The Gund Gallery hosted the first community farm-to-fork “Feast” in 2014 in conjunction with an exhibit on display called Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art and continued to hold the event each year until 2020, when it was canceled due to the pandemic. The OCE planned the event for the first time last year, though only students were allowed to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Friday’s feast was a celebration of the convening of the entire Kenyon community for the first time since the pandemic began. “The event was meant to bolster the sense of community on the Hill, providing the opportunity for students, faculty and staff to reconnect, meet family members and make new friends,” Director of Campus Events Howard Grier wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Friday’s feast looked different this year in terms of layout, mainly due to supply chain issues. Instead of the eight-foot-long tables placed side by side along the entirety of Middle Path from the Gund Gallery’s Feast events, for example, this year’s attendees could sit at circular tables clustered in front of the library and Ransom Hall or on picnic blankets on the lawns. Also missing were the straw bales that in years past acted as benches at the dining tables. However, Turner noted that the loss of this hallmark feature of a Gund Gallery Feast added to, rather than took away from, the spirit of the event, as it helped create a more inclusive setting.
“There’s something much more symbolic of community when you’re sitting in a circle and you can see the people at the table with you,” Turner said. She also noted that the straw bales were not particularly accommodating to those with hay or grass allergies. “It seemed really unfair that there was a whole section of campus that couldn’t participate in that event wholly because the only option was to sit on something that they were allergic to,” she said.
In order to recultivate this sense of community, the OCE asked a number of student organizations and academic departments to lead activity stations for attendees, a new feature to the Feast event. Some of these activities included Mid-Autumn Festival Calligraphy sponsored by the Center for Global Engagement and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, as well as Scientific Soap Making sponsored by oSTEM. The soap-making station in particular appealed to a number of Kenyon students, according to oSTEM Vice President Andrew Pilat ’25. “It seemed really popular with people who live in NCAs, who have to clean their own bathrooms and have to buy their own materials,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I need soap!’ And then they get the soap and I think they’re actually using it.”
Despite having only a few weeks to rehearse, SWE performed several songs at the event, including “The Imperial March” from Star Wars and Giacchino’s “The Incredibles” theme song to create a family-friendly atmosphere. Linnea Parker ’25, who plays flute in the ensemble, noted that having the opportunity to contribute to the success of the event was a very rewarding experience. “I’ve always been passionate about music so I was excited that SWE could share what we had been working on with the Kenyon community,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Acting President Jeff Bowman acknowledged the liveliness of the Feast, due largely in part to the students who ran activities or performed with SWE. “It was marvelous to see everybody on Middle Path and all the attractions alongside it,” he said. “It felt like the energy was really good for all kinds of students and employees and their families.”
Turner hopes that next year’s feast sees even more organizations engaging with the community in similar ways. “I hope now that we’ve done it once that more departments and offices will jump on board on the idea of, ‘I’d love to supply an activity’ or ‘I’d love for my students to get to do this thing at the event. How do I make that happen?’ I think that that’s part of how we create community is through activities together,” she said.
Stephanie Kaufman ’23, a student manager for the OCE and a member of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, reiterated the notion that these activities, as well as the musical performance, encouraged attendees of all ages not only to dine together, but to engage closely with one another as well. “I’ve heard from several faculty and staff members that they valued how Kenyon students interacted with the kids that were there, especially by the games. I think it’s important to embrace events like these because sometimes it can feel that college has to be all about the bass dropping in a tiny apartment with solo cups in hand,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “There can be value in that, but there’s also value in simply sharing a peaceful space.”
This year’s feast was ultimately a success, as it allowed all members of the Kenyon community to reassemble after many months of COVID-19 restrictions. For many Kenyon students, this was the first time they were able to experience a campus event that was open to the entire community, not just students. “The College is great about offering opportunities for the employees to get together, but I love that this particular event is for the entire College community,” said Production and Box Office Manager for Dept Dance, Drama, Film Kris Conant. “It was such a great way to start the weekend.”
Kaufman concurred, reflecting on the event’s success in re-instilling a true sense of unity on campus. “It felt like the first year since my freshman year that the community and school were truly able to come together and celebrate together.”