In this tumultuous time, we cannot separate politics from education and campus life. Kenyon professors are integrating current events into their classrooms more than ever. Though the discussions are often well-intended, bringing politics into the classroom inherently affects some students — those who are BIPOC, religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ+ or otherwise part of marginalized communities — more than others.
Due to the hyper-political nature of civil rights in America, these students often have to sit through debates on their rights to housing, education, healthcare and other necessities. When the rights and safety of you, your family or your loved ones are subjects of political debate, it is impossible to not let it affect your mental health. Administrators and professors must be aware of how these discussions will affect these students.
Some professors have casually brought up the vice presidential debate in class. Others compare the present to the past, connecting ancient philosophy and European history to American democracy. These are undoubtedly important conversations to have, but there are no guidelines in place for how to address them.
Microaggressions, instances of indirect discrimination against members of marginalized groups minor enough that students would be hesitant to report them, can negatively impact classroom dynamics. At times, memories of my high school classroom come rushing back to me: sitting in silence as my classmates debate my human rights and expose themselves as people I feel unsafe to be around. Even at Kenyon, some professors rely on the only minority present to educate other students on the issues that affect them.
The College must make an effort to reduce microaggressions like these and the burden they lay on students. The College should host additional training sessions for faculty and staff, prompt professors to check in with students whose mental health might be especially impaired by classroom discussions and, most importantly, listen to them, especially those students who are most directly affected by politics.
Election Day is in less than two weeks. I am happy to witness professors encouraging their students to vote and assigning less work during important debate nights. In this way, faculty are living up to the objective of a liberal arts education: to teach students to care about the community and the world around them. However, this election is a matter of life or death for some students. Another four years under Donald Trump will put the lives of many students who are BIPOC, religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ+ or otherwise part of marginalized communities at risk.
Kenyon must give students room to reflect and recover post-election. Having a primarily white and privileged student body allows the administration to ignore the concerns of marginalized students, who might not feel equally encouraged to speak, in the classroom or otherwise.
There will be even more political discourse in the classroom following the election, and the administration needs to be more intentional about how such discourse takes place.