Look no further than downtown Gambier – three white, taupe and beige bungalows, all blending with each other into a haze of boredom. The dark, chintzy Deli transformed by some invisible hand into a Panera Bread. A cheap, plastic-y village of apartments out back. This blandification is not only limited to downtown: Funky, rotting Sunset Cottage was wrenched from the hands of the Department of English and replaced with two colorless huts awkwardly climbing their way up the Hill.
If these new buildings were only ugly, they might be easier to stomach. But on top of being ugly, they have the durability of a sheet of cardboard. Sagging ceilings, flooding basements. My friend told me that the latch of their North Campus Apartment’s bathroom door doesn’t fit in its lock. It’s not enough that the door won’t close, but it’s just enough so that they have to force it each time. It’s not that the wood is warped — it’s brand new. It’s as if the door and the doorframe were made in two different factories. Do you understand how pernicious that is? The slow psychological burn of forcing your bathroom door closed, day after day, feeling like you are living in a display village?
There are oodles of justifications for all this shuffling. Farr Hall and Sunset cost the administration tons in repairs. More housing needed to be built as the student body continued to grow. But couldn’t some time, some effort, some consideration for aesthetics, for culture, for social cohesion, have been put into the solution? Instead of randomly tossing buildings across campus that look like they were fully digested by a zoning board, then eaten and digested again, couldn’t these designs be made with a mind towards what had been there before? In the new Deli the owners have hung pictures of what the place used to look like: chalkboards and wood-paneling and stands full of junk food. Is that the closest we’re going to get to what this campus used to be?
People are shaped by the place where they live, and at a four-year college our collective memory is short. Pretty soon there will be no undergraduates left who know what this place used to look like. I’m a victim of this cycle: I wasn’t here for the Cove, or off-campus housing. My only experiences with the old downtown are from a summer program in high school. You could say that every generation of Kenyon students suffers some degree of this amnesia, but the changes being made these past two years feel unprecedented. Our admissions brochure has come to life and is trying to swallow us whole. I hope to God it leaves some survivors.
Dante Kanter ’21 is an undeclared major from Saugerties, N.Y. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.