On Feb. 1, a man showed up uninvited at the Gund Gallery, where he began filming young kids and accusing the Gund Gallery’s Story Time program of brainwashing. This incident should alarm us — indeed, the ease with which this man was able to walk uninvited into Gund Gallery should lead the College to consider more stringent methods of monitoring unwelcome visitors. Unfortunately, this week’s news story reveals more questions than it does answers on how to deal with people who come to campus with the stated goal of spreading hate. However, it should convey to all of us the gravity of taking our campus’ openness for granted. We at the Collegian encourage the College’s faculty, staff and students to think more creatively about what it takes to ensure that Kenyon keeps its fundamental promise to students. Students should be free to think critically, ask big questions and live together amicably. Intruders who tell us that our whole project at Kenyon is a sin condemnable to an eternity in hell have not bought into the College’s mission. We are under no obligation to pay lip service to them.
Campus visitors are a tricky subject. As Chaplain and Priest-in-Charge of Harcourt Parish Rachel Kessler ’04 rightly pointed out, outright banning religious ideologies from public spaces would likely only play into the narrative that their ideas are under attack. The notion of keeping random folks out of Gund Gallery during programming for children, though, is not as overbearing. Whenever our campus is infiltrated by people who do not even pretend to like us, we tend to let the situation blow over. The Gallery incident reveals that simply ignoring these people is not the answer.
Hoping to change the minds of Middle Path preachers through civil discourse is also not the answer, though. In 2018, the Middle Path preachers displayed signs listing ‘God’s role for women’ and denigrating all forms of queerness as sin. Students expressed dismay over how little regard the preachers had for the effects their words might have on students struggling with their own identity. The preachers, while they have humored Kenyon students that have tried to confront their ideas, are not there to listen.
The man who showed up at the Gund Gallery represents an more dangerous manifestation of this behavior. When we are navigating through the complicated process of identity formation, self-discovery and self-knowledge, our childhoods serve as very important bases for figuring out who we want to be—and, just as importantly, who we think we are allowed to be. It is hard to imagine how jarring an experience like this would be for a young kid.
Questions of identity notwithstanding, there are serious ethical implications to the intruder’s actions that should give us all pause. Here we have a man with clear intentions of disrupting an event so harmless as reading a book to young kids who was able to, for the most part, do as he pleased before the parents and Ashley Li ’22 caught wind of what was happening.
Kenyon’s open campus and inviting Middle Path can make us forget that there are folks out there who do not agree with the fundamental values of toleration, free expression and critical thought that make a liberal arts college what it is. The man that disrupted the Story Time event declared that he would be back. The College should start making efforts to guarantee that he will not be.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and Adam Schwager ’20 and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.