Kenyon is in a period of great transition. Students today have the ability to shape our culture for the future. It is in our best interest to ground ourselves in our rich history and carry that into the future without leaving behind the lessons of past eras.
Perhaps we are experiencing the first signs of a new phase of Kenyon history. Is the “Our Path Forward” capital campaign and the College’s 2020 Strategic Plan a signal of the creation of a new Kenyon? What will life on the Hill be like when the construction is completed, and we gain a new class of students who never experienced these growing pains? We should not whitewash our past, but give it new life.
Chris Holden ’08 wrote a retrospective on the “commercialism” of Kenyon, which he felt was becoming a “New Ivy.” Eight years later, Timothy Broderick ’16 reshared this retrospective and added his own thoughts. I received Broderick’s email during finals week of my first year and recently returned to it.
When I arrived at Kenyon in August 2015, many things were different. The Cove was open and operational, the app Yik Yak provided the hottest takes, some students still lived off-campus, a K-Card could open any dorm, all-campus parties such as Shock Your Mom were thrown most weekends, the South Quad “play pen” at Summer Sendoff was a time to meet new people and students had a library.
Clearly, a lot has changed. Holden hoped that like policies of the past, the commercialization of Kenyon would also stop halfway, “being a strange mix of exterior commercially-enticing pretensions which still [has] … students and professors who love Kenyon no matter what U.S. News and World Reports has to say.”
The administration has made commercialization their main focus for the past decade. There are modular units (read: trailers) on Peirce Lawn, a giant pit in place of Olin and Chalmers Memorial Library with two cranes sticking out of it, storefronts that look like NCAs in place of Farr Hall. Gambier’s historic Black Box theater, a repurposed bank that was once robbed by famous gangster John Dillinger in October 1933, is now another white-washed storefront housing the Village Market and student apartments.
Policies that went unenforced for years were recently put into use, changing student life on campus. The off-campus housing ban was enforced in December 2015, the Cove announced its shutdown in February 2016, Sendoff changes faced campus-wide backlash in spring 2016 and a massive change to the K-Card policy was made in fall 2017. These policy changes and enforcements are intended to decrease liability of the college, but administrators should consider how this effects campus culture and the future of our College. Critics say that new administrators make policy changes to leverage their careers and boost their resumes. As a community, we should do what is best, not necessarily what is convenient.
This is an exciting time in our history and our reputation will only become more widely known. But who are we becoming? Our campus is becoming more exclusionary and segmented by the semester — I fear that the ambitions of the administration to grow a large endowment, build up Gambier’s infrastructure and become a more selective and competitive institution will eliminate the “Kenyonness” that Holden wrote about.
While the leaders of the College decide what Kenyon’s external identity is, I encourage everyone to think deeply about what it means to live on this Hill we call home, and ensure that while our alma mater builds muscle, it doesn’t lose its heart.
Eleven years later, Holden’s advice still stands: “Buy food from the farmer’s market. Wander along the Kokosing and the BFEC trails. Talk with upperclassmen and try and understand what Kenyon used to be like, even if you don’t agree. Make changes to Kenyon where you think changes should be made … Respect the administration, but don’t be a suck-up. Break the rules, but don’t hurt anybody. Be smart in class, but don’t be too smart not to make a fool of yourself at a party. Try and at least find a grudging respect for your fellow students, because for the most part you’re stuck with them for the next four years.”
Matt Mandel ’19 is a political science major from New York, New York. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.