Accessibility for all is more important than the aesthetics of the traditional gravel path
Recent weather transformed Middle Path into a mud pit, resulting in soiled dorm floors and the perennial student lamentations regarding the general inaccessibility of the campus’s main artery. What on the surface appears to be nothing more than shallow complaints by bored young adults with nothing better to do are in fact just the beginning of a discourse surrounding the roots of Kenyon’s identity that has lasted for years — whether we should pave the traditionally gravel path.
As a child of Kenyon faculty members, I’ve spent my entire life in or around the campus, and issues of safety and accessibility regarding the main thoroughfare have been articulated by students for as long as I can remember. The student body has long called for substantive renovations to the path, such as paving.
The compromise brokered in 2013 by the administration approving the significant overhaul of Middle Path with “stabilized gravel” was supposed to satisfy both sides: stay true to Middle Path’s original identity by keeping it gravel, but improve its overall condition to make it safer and more accessible to students with disabilities.
Unfortunately, the recurrence of these issues shows the debate is far from resolved. Middle Path requires further improvements.
My understanding is that alumni who oppose renovations to Middle Path do so out of a desire to preserve the cultural touchstones that give Kenyon its particular identity. Paving Middle Path, in their eyes, would further remove Kenyon away from their idealized, nostalgic vision of the campus, which more than likely closely resembles Kenyon as it was during the four years they attended.
However, Kenyon has changed a lot over time, and despite what P.F. Kluge or the Collegian editorial staff may hyperbolically claim, it is still essentially Kenyon. I remember a time before the Kenyon Athletic Center, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
When the College built the KAC, students and faculty discussed how its construction would change Kenyon’s image. Now, it’s an iconic and integral part of campus, providing a significant upgrade in athletic facilities over the derelict Wertheimer Field House.
The aesthetic details of Kenyon’s amenities do not create its identity. When students’ needs aren’t being met, the top priority should be meeting them, not preserving the campus as a perfect time capsule for Reunion Weekend.
It is my hope that the Kenyon administration, alumni and student body eventually come to an understanding results is actual meaningful improvements to Middle Path.
Toby Baumann ’19 is undeclared from Mount Vernon, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.