Section: Opinion

The other 1%: Discussing Kenyon’s economic inequality

Since the conception of the 2020 Plan, the College has made a concerted effort to increase the diversity of its student body. The President’s Fund is an endowed scholarship that, according to the College’s website, aims to put a “Kenyon education within the financial reach of a more diverse pool of talented students for generations to come.” While this $20 million dollar fund might help to solve some of Kenyon’s more glaring diversity problems it won’t be enough.

The College has only raised about half the projected goal according to their website. When it is finally realized, the College expects the President’s Fund to help support the College’s ability to grant financial aid of students who qualify for a Pell Grant, which is a federal grant given to students whose families make less than $55,000 per year. 19.8% of Kenyon’s students are from the top 1% financial bracket and a paltry 1.7% of Kenyon students belong to the bottom 20%, according to a 2017 study published in the New York Times. I am one such student.

It is hard to feel welcomed when your family makes less than a sixth of Kenyon’s median income (213,500). While I feel that part of Kenyon’s problem with diversity stems from its limited ability to provide financial support to those students who most need it, throwing money at a problem as complex as socioeconomic diversity on this campus isn’t a viable solution in the long term. We need to work together as a community to provide a stronger support system to those students on this campus who grew up without the same amount of funds and the cultural privilege that comes with those funds.

Programs like the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP) — which reaches out to incoming students that identify as students of color or as first-generation college students —  help alleviate some of the pressures, both financial and emotional, that underrepresented students on this campus experience during their first year of college. These programs should be applauded for the services that they provide students, but again, they are not enough.

The problem that Kenyon faces is three-fold. The first issue arises in the form of concrete financial support, which the newly formed President’s Fund will allegedly address. The second issue is one of infrastructure and administrative support. More comprehensive student-led programs should be created to aid low-income and underrepresented students to navigate the entirety of their college experience, not just their first two years. The third issue is a cultural one. The community needs to be aware of the intrinsic barriers that come with being either a low-income or underrepresented student. These barriers include, but are not limited to, being able to purchase textbooks or supplies for studio art classes or music lessons and having to balance academic pursuits with part-time work.

While socioeconomic inequality thrives on this campus, it’s not something that is widely discussed. It should be.

Bailey Blaker ’18 is an English major from Morenci, Michigan. You can contact her at blakerb@kenyon.edu.

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