A large proportion of Kenyon students are likely unfamiliar with the College’s motto, let alone its interpretation. While working in the Greenslade Special Collections and Archives this past summer, I had little choice but to think about our history and traditions, with a particular focus on the motto.
Magnanimiter crucem sustine. In translation, “Valiantly bear the Cross.” Philander Chase founded this college primarily to train Episcopal ministers, so this expressly religious motto makes sense in context. But Kenyon is no longer a strictly Christian school. The baccalaureate service alone pays homage to six faith traditions, to say nothing of the many students and faculty members who subscribe to no religion whatsoever. What then do we make of a religious motto in this secular setting?
This summer, I devised an allegorical interpretation of the words emblazoned on the College seal. In this mode, the “cross” becomes symbolic of the task of liberal arts education, and the motto as a whole becomes an exhortation to uphold the values celebrated in the curriculum. Challenges to liberal education run rampant in our world; as Kenyon students, it should be our duty to protect it from these assaults. It is our job to “valiantly bear” the hallmarks of a liberal arts education — notably, rigorous inquiry and academic freedom.
Liberal education has recently come under harsh scrutiny by the political right. A poll taken by Pew Research found that 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents view higher education as having a negative influence on the country. President Trump disregards the recommendations of climate scientists and dismisses as “fake news” the investigative work of journalists. These scientists and journalists make a career out of the rigorous inquiry celebrated by a liberal education, so Trump’s criticisms seem almost an assault on liberal education itself.
Meanwhile, individuals on the left have also played a role in undermining our shared values. Student protests at both Claremont McKenna College and Middlebury College have nearly shut down the campus appearances of controversial speakers. It’s one thing to protest a particular lecture — such protests provide the all-too-important second opinion which a bystander can judge against the argument of the featured speaker. But to attempt to cancel an event does anything but provide a second opinion; in fact, it serves to provide the only opinion. To claim only one side of an argument deserves to be heard threatens true academic freedom.
I view my work in the archives as an extension of my liberal arts education, and I view my job at The Kenyon Collegian in a similar light. The opinions section of the Collegian will cherish the values of liberal education even when the world at large does not. I will run this section on the principles of academic freedom and rigorous inquiry.
I look forward to publishing a wide variety of carefully considered opinions about administrative policies, visiting speakers and campus life. If any member of our community notices problems that interfere with Kenyon’s mission of liberal education, I encourage them to submit a piece to have their voice heard.
This campus is our campus, and this education is our education. Let us valiantly bear the cross together.
Cameron Austin ’20 is a mathematics major from Chattanooga, Tenn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.