What obligations does a modern university hold in regards to its students? According to acclaimed author Junot Díaz, a possible answer to this question is simple: give them more power.
In his talk on Monday, Díaz posited that corporate bureaucratic values inundate college campuses, instead of giving their students more power in administrative policies. At one point, he questioned the commitment of colleges to democracy if they are not willing to have students participate at an administrative level. He’s right to elicit this challenge. Kenyon does not have a student representative on the Board of Trustees.
Even though Kenyon is a private institution, it has an obligation to its students to allow us to have an active role in shaping policy moving forward. Arguments to this effect have been made repeatedly in past years, but it is an important sentiment to reiterate. That being said, increased student participation in administrative change can only work if students actually participate.
Public forums and informal polls have been issued by the College to students several times in regard to major issues concerning our student body (e.g. K-card access and the plans for the new library). Yet student attendance or participation in these solicitations is often paltry. We, as students, and the College, need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to be proactive in using our voices as students to perpetuate real change on this campus — not just to change the date of Summer Sendoff.
In order to create an environment for change on campus, we should take a page out of Díaz’s book and make room for underrepresented students to express their own needs and voice their own interests. Díaz demonstrated this very sentiment in the way he opened the floor for questions during his talk. By saying he wanted to limit the first round of question askers to “women of African descent,” Díaz used his considerable power on the stage of Rosse Hall — as an accomplished author, editor and professor — to make women of color feel heard and trusted, an experience that is rare at a predominantly white institution like Kenyon.
The College should follow Díaz’s example and take every opportunity to empower underrepresented students.
Díaz said during his talk that “I don’t know what anybody’s privilege is. I can only speak to mine and how I use mine to try to f—ing stop this horror. I think the question is, what are we doing?”
We want to pose the same question to the College and to our fellow students. We should all be thinking about how to use our own privileges to give power to those without.
The staff editorial is written weekly by the executive editors of the Collegian, co-editors-in-chief Bailey Blaker ’18 and Gabrielle Healy ’18 and managing editor Lauren Eller ’18. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.