I often describe Kenyon as an island or an ivory tower; it’s as if someone picked up a chunk of affluent New England and dropped it smack dab in the middle of rural Ohio. The value of the Kenyon community is not always apparent to those outside of it who see a place with offensively affluent circumstances and radically different values. As a result, perceptions and attitudes related to Kenyon are frequently less than positive. Though past and recent efforts to foster community outreach are valuable and admirable, this goal should be pursued in a way that keeps these differences in attitude in mind.
A notable recent example of this divide came with the College’s acquisition of the Buckeye Candy and Tobacco building in downtown Mount Vernon. Both the location and uses of the building are significant — it provides a physical location for Kenyon’s community engagement office and for SPI Spot, a nonprofit science initiative for children. Yet, the controversy surrounding the acquisition overshadowed the progress that it was intended to generate: after acquiring the building, our administration announced the decision to remove the Mail Pouch Tobacco ad from its exterior. The ad is decades old, and it is one of many painted to advertise Mail Pouch Tobacco. Now, the buildings are often seen as historic landmarks — especially as their numbers dwindle — as many were barns or other wooden facilities that are now in disrepair or have been demolished entirely.
It’s in no small part thanks to the advertisement that the Buckeye Candy building is arguably the most iconic piece of the Mount Vernon cityscape. For visitors, it is one of the few things that makes this place stand out from hundreds of other small midwestern towns. However, Kenyon saw the sign simply as unsavory promotion of an unhealthy lifestyle. Though the administration eventually relented, the message was clear: total imposition of our values is more important than your community’s desire to preserve your traditions.
That’s why the continued presence of the Christian protesters on Middle Path fails to shock me in the same way it did many fellow students. While their rhetoric and beliefs are certainly extreme, the underlying attitudes that drive their abrasive actions are felt, in some part at least, by a significant portion of the Knox County community: Kenyon students are strange and different and don’t belong here. To change this, our community outreach needs to place significantly more emphasis on the community.
Tobias Baumann ’19 is undeclared from Mount Vernon, Ohio. Contact him at email@example.com.