As an East Knox graduate, I profoundly hope that Eve Bromberg’s recent op-ed does not represent Kenyon’s greater attitudes toward our community. Her views reveal a troubling lack of understanding of other people’s values and ways of life. It is far from a thoughtful examination of social and economic stratification and our role as community members. The limitations of her op-ed offer an opportunity to begin what I believe is a necessary conversation on this campus — it is a call for us to consider how we allow our own values and ideals to distort our views, and even our treatment, of people who may differ from us. Her op-ed is an example of blind classism and unchecked privilege, which together threaten the fabric of meaningful connections in any community, and especially this one.
She asks, “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?” This makes a gross assumption about our role as Kenyon students relative to the rest of the community. We are not here to “fix” anything we find wrong. We are not here to make broad value judgments about local residents and their lifestyles. Our role as members of the larger community is to cultivate a deeper and more meaningful sense of community in a humanizing and equal way. Volunteering is one of the many ways we do that. I commend all my classmates who volunteer each week. I am confident most Kenyon students who volunteer in our schools do so with pure intentions, or are volunteering because they want to be a part of our community — and they are.
Bromberg’s piece falls prey to the easy misconception that rural poverty and rural life embody a certain helplessness. The assumption that Knox County residents need to be saved and educated by outsiders is false and elitist. Bromberg continues to comment on the homogeneity of Knox County’s local culture, saying she leaves East Knox each week feeling “unsettled.” Let me ask you: What is unsettling about an Ohio-educated and Ohio-employed teacher? What is unsettling about a six-year-old boy who gets excited about Ohio sports? It appears Bromberg takes issue with local identity and residents remaining local. There is nothing wrong or unsettling about living one’s life in Ohio. Knox County residents choose to live and contribute to life here, and there is nothing helpless about this choice.
This is a beautiful community with a rich history. It is tight-knit, family-focused and hardworking. Many people have been here their whole lives. Many people have left and chosen to return. It is all the same, because this is a community to which we all contribute and for which we all care. That is not to say we don’t have our problems — every community does — but we try hard to address them properly. Our community has always been resilient, and individuals within it have always had agency over their decisions. Remember that our role in the community is to be a part of it without imposing our own ideals on its members who already know where they are and where they want to be. It is important to understand that a liberal arts education is not a dogma, but one potential pathway to becoming better community members.
Zach Sawicki ’16 is a political science major from Howard, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.