I never wanted to be an English major.
Three years ago, I stood in the bookstore checkout line with an armful of materials for my biology courses, confident I would leave Kenyon an experienced biologist ready to jump into the field.
That changed. I changed. I took my first few college English classes and fell in love — if not with the English department, then with my professors’ enthusiasm, the books we read and the way I walked out of each class in Sunset Cottage looking forward to the next one.
According to the Master Plan, Sunset Cottage (home to literature classes and English department offices) will soon be torn down to make room for a performing arts building, two new English buildings and an underground parking garage, all part of a new West Quad.
The desire to redesign the area of campus behind the library doesn’t concern me. No one who lives or works at Kenyon could say that Sunset doesn’t need repairs. But necessity falls apart at the application of the Master Plan, since so many blueprints provided by the GUND Partnership call for the destruction of long-standing campus buildings like Sunset Cottage and the recently-destroyed Black Box Theater.
No doubt, every college needs its Graham Gund ’63. Without ours, we wouldn’t have New Side (Thomas Hall in Peirce), a sparkling, hangar-like athletic center, nor the funds the College needs to give financial aid to students. I will never say that Gund hasn’t benefitted the College in more ways than administrators could have imagined.
I will say, however, that Gund needs to change his attitude.
Sunset Cottage is a living, breathing space. Professors hold classes, office hours and discussions there; students work and study there. Just like any other academic building, you can step into Sunset and find students napping in a corner, and some sitting at a table for hours on end, writing brilliant papers over the course of a single night.
Then again, Sunset isn’t just like any other academic building.
If I could, I would ask Graham Gund if he has ever watched the sun actually set from inside the Sunset seminar room. Has he ever watched the dying daylight stream through the trees and flash and dance across the room’s wooden panelling? Has he ever had a seminar in Sunset, or stayed late to finish a paper, and watched the sun sink lower and lower until the whole room takes on the deep, burning red of a sun just about to go out?
If he had, I don’t think he would be so eager to smash the heart of Kenyon’s English department to pieces. If he had taken the time to peruse the dozens of books lining the shelves, or sit still and listen to the history of squeaks and creaks in a building almost as old as the College itself, I think he, and others involved with the details of the Master Plan, would have second thoughts about their plan to increase the number of on-campus parking spots.
When I say Gund needs to change his attitude, I mean he needs to stop giving up on Kenyon. Yes, Sunset has its faults — most buildings on this campus have faults. Yet Gund apparently cannot bear to fix these buildings — repair them, renovate them, bring new beauty to them — so he destroys them. And he starts over.
Did I have an almost-quarter-life crisis when I realized I didn’t actually want a career in biology? Yes. I panicked and talked to friends, family and faculty I trusted. But I didn’t abandon the college experience I had worked so long and hard to attain. I sat down and compromised — I would keep taking the biology classes I wanted to take — and then I began pursuing what really matters to me.
Gund and the administration need to learn how to compromise. Without Sunset, students and faculty of the English department — and undoubtedly even those outside of it — will find themselves without an academic home. And with the destruction of Sunset, I fear we are losing sight of what really matters.
Amy Schatz ’17 is an English major from West Hartford, Conn. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.