At Kenyon, it seems a tense relationship with the Village is inevitable; how can it not be? Kenyon is an expensive, elite school in one of the poorer counties in Ohio, according to the January 2015 Ohio Poverty Report. The College’s priorities are fundamentally different from those of Gambier and Knox County residents, causing this tension. As students here we are able to ignore this most, if not all, of the time. That’s essentially the Kenyon bubble. No one should be faulted for only embracing the Kenyon community — it’s what we’re meant to do here, but it is also the predicament of being here. Should we be reaching out to the broader community or should we focus solely on life here on the Hill?
Every Friday, I descend the Hill to volunteer at East Knox Elementary School, where I work with a kindergarten class as part of the program Partnership for East Knox and Kenyon College. The kindergartners are adorable and their teacher is young and lively, but the school perfectly embodies the divide between Kenyon and its surroundings, and because of this, I often wonder if our presence at East Knox is actually beneficial.
What first stood out to me at East Knox is that the elementary school doesn’t recycle. Simply put, they cannot afford it; recycling would require hiring additional custodial workers, which is costly. East Knox makes it clear how homogenous Ohio is. The teacher of the kindergarten class is a graduate of The Ohio State University and also went to Mount Vernon Nazarene University — she has spent her professional life where she was born and educated. Most of the students’ parents were born and raised in Ohio as well. In fact, the most coherent thing this one student has yet to say to me is, “I am a fan of the Ohio State football team” — he is six years old. This seems particularly remarkable coming from a place that stresses leaving the nest to expand one’s frame of reference and return with acquired “worldliness.” This is such an accepted idea that there’s a show about it on HBO called Girls. The children in the kindergarten class at East Knox, like their teachers and parents, might never leave Ohio.
I leave East Knox every week feeling unsettled. Should we as students be fixing things we find wrong, changing things as we see fit, which perhaps the people who live their whole lives here wouldn’t change? Going to a liberal arts college is a privilege and we should enjoy the “Kenyon bubble” while we’re here, but we must acknowledge that this bubble and community exist oftentimes at the expense of ties to our neighbors. This school, like many other small liberal arts colleges in the country, could be anywhere, and nothing would be all that different. While Kenyon clings to a quaint midwestern state of being, the majority of the student body is far removed from understanding daily life in the Midwest. The white academic buildings leading up to Peirce resemble a scene out of New England more than they do anything else.
Eve Bromberg ’19 is undeclared from Brooklyn, N.Y. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.