There are undoubtedly many people on this Hill upset by the Board of Trustees’ refusal to divest the College’s endowment from fossil fuel corporations, the focus of an overnight encampment hosted by DivestKenyon on Ransom Lawn while the trustees were on campus. But this frustration may overshadow a glimmer of success in the form of increased accessibility to the trustees while they were in Gambier last week.
Collegian editors had the privilege of interviewing three trustees for an hour and a half last Friday; we included key points from that interview in our article “Trustees address divestment, status of the capital campaign.” Other trustees met with members of the Kenyon Democrats and of DivestKenyon. Students may have felt their concerns went unheard, but we are glad the trustees gave students the opportunity to voice them. On the other hand, it is clear that students unassociated with specific organizations had little chance to interact with trustees.
During our interview, Judith Hoff Gilbert ’91, Joseph Lipscomb ’87 and Matthew Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13 spoke freely with us about the endowment, increasing diversity and the prioritization of buildings for the Master Plan. These trustees were eager to listen to us, but one exchange on building plan was particularly memoriable. One trustee remarked that, out of all the students this trustee had spoken to, not a single one had mentioned new housing as something they wanted to prioritize. The trustee suggested that only parents seemed to care about housing. When two Collegian editors countered that students definitely care about housing, this trustee indicated that it is difficult to access a representative sample of students.
We believe the board needs to make a more concerted effort to find that representative sample. Our meeting was an incredibly insightful look into the operations of the board. Every Kenyon student deserves to have that insight and the chance to ask questions. Students and trustees must develop more mutual understanding.
That should begin with a new survey. Several trustees tout a student survey whose results yielded the library as the top choice by students. But this survey was sent during the 2014-2015 school year. Come May 20, only one class of current Kenyon students will have contributed to this list of student wants. A new student survey would allow the board to hear what current students believe the College needs, to supplement what respondents in the 2014-2015 academic year want to prioritize.
We commend the board for their attempts at hosting lunches with students, but these groups are self-selecting because students must apply. Trustees would reap a greater benefit from a public panel with several trustees. Along the lines of the public Q&A between Graham Gund ’63 H’81 and Winkler earlier this semester, such a panel would enable more students to engage with the trustees. These may seem like small measures, but would represent a significant step toward increasing understanding between students and trustees and effecting the change that the majority of campus — not just a select few — believes Kenyon needs.