On Monday, more than 10 emails were sent to students titled “You are not a ’N-Word’; An Open Letter.” This letter addresses black students at Kenyon. It closes with the statement, “We all deserve to exist without having to justify our existence. In that regard, Kenyon continues to fail you, but we will not.”
This letter, in response to students on campus using racial slurs, does not mark the first time this semester that we have failed. It also, I suspect, will not be the last.
Last year, I reported on how the Office of Admissions hypothesized that the size of the applicant pool dropped because many of our applicants come from liberal communities and are dissuaded by the Confederate flags and Trump signs in communities around Kenyon. Pinning the problem on our neighbors is easy. What’s hard is seeing how we contribute to an exclusionary campus in our daily actions.
Being a member of the Kenyon community should mean thinking about the kind of environment you are contributing to by the way you act within and outside of your friend groups on this campus.
To this end, I have a few observations.
First, anonymity, or the freedom from consequences, does not make an action OK. Just because in many contexts, including in a locker room, what you say will go unheard does not mean that you should say idiotic, harmful things. Similarly, just because you can intimidate women’s groups through graffiti without facing consequences does not mean doing so is an acceptable way to try and start a conversation.
Second, slurs: Whenever these sorts of things happen, a common response is to say, “I cannot believe that in (enter year here) we are still talking about this.” At this point, I can. It does not surprise me at all that we are having this conversation right now. It disheartens me to think that on this campus this instance will not be the final time we have to talk about this.
If we as a student body are serious about Kenyon being a welcoming place, we have to do more than just express our grievances about the more prominent examples of our exclusion.
After half of a semester riddled with controversy, I think the ways in which Kenyon is not welcoming should weigh more heavily on our collective conscience.
It is not the Trump signs in Knox County that will turn prospective students away from the College. It is a culture of complacency among students and administrators who move on and forget every time the Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy racially profiles Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop attendees, every time a satire created in this community peddles stereotypes, every time an unnamed male vandalizes a poster for women’s health and every time students perpetuate the use of harmful slurs.
Overcoming this culture of complacency begins with respecting our peers out of compassion, not merely out of fear of consequences.
Tommy Johnson ’20 is a political science major from Pittsboro, N.C. He is the editor of the opinions section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.