President Sean Decatur called the 2020 Plan a “distillation of our institutional priorities” in a March 21 blog post on the College’s website. Yet it seems the administration has confused an idealized version of a college campus with needs specific to Kenyon.
According to Decatur, the new plan will prepare “students for postgraduate success,” but the College recently announced a move to demolish the Black Box Theater, one of the only independent performing arts spaces on campus, which seems contrary to the goal of preparing students for postgraduate life, at least until another space is built with similar function.
This decision forces student groups to find new spaces to perform their work— or not perform it at all. Don’t these independent projects have postgraduate value? I have yet to see the reintegration of spaces for such groups in the Master Plan, or a concrete answer to how a modernized Village and new apartment-style housing will better prepare students for the future.
Cut away the pretentious jargon of the blog post and you don’t get a whole lot of anything. Decatur’s blog post also confesses weaknesses in the current facilities on campus, including handicapped accessibility, but makes no promise that addressing these issues will take priority.
In fact, take a look at the 2020 Strategic Plan website — the word ‘accessible’ is never used in reference to physical accessibility, only in terms of accessing information, or making the school more available to a diverse range of students. The post outlines broad goals without much in terms of how the plan will actually achieve them.
Decatur says he is interested in the opinions of those whom this plan will most affect. It seems, though, despite publications by students and community memebrs in the Collegian, Her Campus, and the Thrill, as well as spoken concerns about a number of decisions on the part of the administration, very few things have changed.
Student Council’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, a group that seems only to send emails instead of actually incorporating the general student body into the discussion, is ineffective as a mediator between students and the administration. The group complains of a lack of attendance at their poorly publicized events, but this stems from the general feeling among students that they will not see any results, even if they express their opinions. If we want it to be an effective group on campus, we need to feel that the Buildings and Grounds Committee is a true middleman in the conversation, instead of a distanced group with ambiguous objectives.
The Master Plan hopes to “revitalize” Gambier, but look closer, and what it’s really saying is it wants to take away the small-town charm and replace it with a manufactured version of Gambier.
When Gambier’s Planning and Zoning Commission granted the College’s permit to Black Box, Mayor Kachen Kimmell urged, “the citizens of the Village to be more considerate” of the “millions of dollars [the College has] invested in infrastructure in this town.”
Yet, as residents of Kenyon and Gambier, is it not our right and obligation to stand up for what we think is best for the community? This might mean disagreeing with the structure and ideals of the current Master Plan.
When Decatur writes that he looks “forward in continuing the community conversation,” I sincerely hope this does not mean prioritizing the opinions of College donors over the opinions of those who are directly affected by the decisions — citizens of Gambier, faculty, staff, students and others who have their fingers on the pulse of the current issues and weaknesses at Kenyon. It is one thing to say you want to hear opinions; it is another to act on them.
Reagan Neviska ’17 is an anthropology major from Fredericktown, Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.