When I first received my acceptance letter for Kenyon, almost everything about the school seemed perfect. I loved the beauty of the campus, the history and companionship of the swimming and diving team and the intimacy and rigor of Kenyon students’ academic life. However, one aspect of Kenyon struck me as off-putting: My new, defining mascot was a “Lady.” That moniker didn’t fit me — as an individual or as a student-athlete.
I think it’s time to discuss the Kenyon community’s continued use of the labels “Lords” and “Ladies.” While one-third of students at Kenyon participate in varsity athletics, it’s an important discussion to have not only within the athletic sphere, but also as an inclusive and progressive campus on the whole. As of 2015, 95 schools among all colleges and universities in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) used gendered mascots to differentiate men’s and women’s athletic teams — many of which use “Lady” (or some form of that word) to signify women’s sports.
Fundamentally, gendered mascots emphasize the difference between men’s and women’s sports teams, prioritizing an athlete’s gender — and the gendered expectations that go along with it — over their efforts in their sport. It’s also important to recognize that nearly all gendered mascots, such as the “Lady Vols” women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee, only use gendered language to refer to women’s teams. Mascots for women’s teams are generally just feminized versions of the college or university’s “standard” mascot. This reinforces the notion of men’s athletic teams as the “standard,” broadening the rift in equality we see between men’s and women’s sports at intermediate, collegiate and professional levels.
Kenyon’s own mascots, the Lords and Ladies, carry similar and ultimately damaging gendered connotations, even if they sometimes do so subconsciously. Because they are used to designate gender, the labels of “Lord” and “Lady” bear gendered images that are then linked to the object of that label. Although both hold a sense of regality, “Lord” further connotes elitism, power and superiority, but “Lady” implies decorum, softness and, ultimately, subservience to a lord. Moreover, the two categories, Lord and Lady, reinforce the gender binary, implying that there is nothing in between.
Now that I’ve spent over a year as a swimmer on Kenyon’s women’s team, I know that being a Lady means so much more than these sexist, antiquated stereotypes. The Kenyon Ladies, as I know them, have reclaimed many of the connotations of their label. We are classy and proudly feminine. But we are also many things that complicate the traditional gender stereotypes of a “Lady”: We are loud and messy; strong and fierce; dominant and independent. Although Kenyon students and student-athletes write their own significance into the labels “Lords” and “Ladies,” the social and historical implications of these epithets eclipse the more substantive nuances we give to them.
I acknowledge that we selected the names “Lords” and “Ladies” to pay homage to the second Lord Kenyon, who, along with Lord Gambier, gave Bishop Philander Chase the funds to inaugurate a new seminary in Ohio. Still, I think there are ways that we at Kenyon College can simultaneously celebrate our past and create a more equitable future for gender on this campus. Changing our mascots could be just the thing to get the wheels turning.
Emmerson Mirus ’21 is a Spanish and sociology major from Madison, Wis. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.