Atacama, written by Augusto Amador, is a play about two people who search for loved ones buried in the Atacama Desert three decades after General Augusto Pinochet’s reign in Chile. It calls for a minimal cast: one woman and one man, both Latinx.
At Kenyon, we are less likely to see a production of Atacama than of The Good Samaritan, the play written and recently withdrawn by Professor of Drama and James Michael Playwright-in-Residence Wendy MacLeod ’81. In some sense, this is inevitable — the College will always privilege the work of a professor over that of an outside playwright. But it is not inevitable that Atacama, or a play like it, remain unseen and unproduced at Kenyon.
Admittedly, Atacama is a cherry-picked example. There are several reasons why it has not graced the Bolton Theater yet. It is new, and it is not well-known. But it is the kind of play I would hope to see at Kenyon: a work that explores a history I do not know well, translating experiences otherwise inaccessible to me. In that regard, Atacama is not a lone example, but one of thousands of similar works.
I do not suggest that we replace The Good Samaritan, or the work of any member of the Kenyon community, with another work that better suits a sense of political correctness. But if freedom of expression is our defense of a play that makes its lone Latinx character a prop and a stereotype, we must commit to freedom of expression in full.
If a lack of diversity at Kenyon makes the production of a play with characters of color difficult, or if the blind spots and apathies of a mostly white, mostly affluent audience leave some ideas unheard, is that not also a threat to our freedom of expression?
We cannot claim free expression for those within the campus forum without considering those excluded from the forum entirely. We should measure our freedom not by what we can and cannot say, but what we will and will not hear.
I make this argument well aware of its limited applicability at Kenyon. This college cannot erase its inequities overnight. We cannot admit the whole world into our student body; we cannot hire every outstanding faculty candidate; and we cannot perform every play, screen every film or display every gallery exhibit that deserves our attention.
But it is precisely these limitations that require us to reckon with our idea of free expression. Our time here is precious and privileged. How are we spending that time? Which voices do we choose to hear, and which to ignore, and why? The honest answers to these questions, and how we act on those answers, are the real litmus test of our commitment to free expression, and the greater referendum on that commitment will not be the night The Good Samaritan opens in the Bolton, but the night a play like Atacama does.
Cameron Messinides ’19 is an American studies major from Camden, S.C. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.