Though Kenyon has always touted its strong sense of community, that sense, at least as it exists now, is definitely lacking. It was once the case that cell phone use on Middle Path was widely frowned upon, but I have never been a part of that Kenyon community.
Now, many of us walk with our heads down and headphones in, scrolling through messages or social media to avoid potentially awkward eye contact with fellow students and faculty. Because many of us have regular schedules, it is not uncommon to see the same people day after day. Although we are rarely forced to interact with these familiar strangers, sometimes it feels nice simply to smile, tired of pretending other people don’t exist.
Avoiding acknowledgement is a strange problem, and social media and omnipresent technology become the scapegoat. Our fear of eye contact with strangers makes little sense: We are all members of the same community, probably on campus for similar reasons, with overlapping desires and fears. It is ridiculous for us to continue to pretend that the people outside our immediate friend groups do not exist.
There is a new group, known as Lighthouse, that is taking a large and difficult step to combat this issue, whether or not it is the intention of the organization. The group markets itself as an art collective, and a safe space for students to share their art in non-judgmental settings, unstifled by fear of grades or unwelcome suggestions. The group is doing more than just giving a space for students to exhibit their work. Its members strive to build a community by hosting events that encourage talking to strangers, initiating conversations that avoid small talk and encourage the human instinct to be purely oneself. I think of the pop-up cafes with homemade baked goods and hot drinks, and their Sunday night dance parties outside of Rosse Hall as prime examples.
In the past, the College has tried to encourage groups to promote community by requiring them to host campus contributions, or non-alcoholic events the entire campus is invited to attend. Depending on the group or event, especially when hosted by sports teams, hardly anyone shows up besides the group’s active members and maybe their immediate friends. The minimal attendance is not accidental; in fact, it is almost expected. While this is no one’s fault in particular, especially because the fear of attending some event alone or with total strangers is understandably intimidating, that we don’t interact with new people is still a real problem that we, as a community, need to address.
Of course, it would be unrealistic to expect everyone on campus to suddenly join or create a new club on campus dedicated to making connections across the student body. But maybe if we all smiled at each other in passing more often, we could plant the seeds for future generations to feel safer starting conversations — like the ones I have enjoyed through Lighthouse events — with the familiar faces we cannot escape on such a small and isolated campus.
Elizabeth Iduma ’20 is a film major from Silver Spring, Md. You can contact her at email@example.com.