When I was applying to college, I knew I didn’t want to go to a conservative, Christian school where everyone would agree with me by default. I valued diversity in my friendships and in my education. Kenyon seemed to me, as a 17-year-old high school senior, a wonderful place where I would find friendships and educational opportunities that would allow me to grow not just in my views, but in my character.
I am now a senior at Kenyon. When I look back on my time at this college, I can say that the experience I thought I was going to have here is not what I received.
I am not quiet about my views. Like many Kenyon students, I am respectfully open about my opinions on social media and in the classroom. The issue of abortion is something I feel especially strong about and feel compelled to speak out on. I believe offering a different perspective to my Kenyon peers is important, just as I believe it is important for me to hear their perspectives. People don’t have to agree, but I do think people should treat everyone with respect. Sadly, respect for my views and beliefs is not something I have experienced at Kenyon.
I had a rude awakening upon arriving in Gambier as my peers saw my differing views not as something that could enrich a potential friendship, but as a reason to not be my friend, and in many cases, to harass and bully me. Over the past three years, I have been consistently cyber-bullied, singled out and gossiped about. I have found it difficult to make friends, and I have lost friendships. I have been denied a leadership opportunity in a student group, with my political beliefs being cited as the reason why I was unfit for the role. My character has been consistently questioned by both students and professors.
The primary accusations against me, usually in direct messages on social media, have been that I am “anti-woman,” “immoral,” a “bad Christian” and “racist.” None of these accusations have been supported by examples of how I treat people, with people’s perception of my views being the only evidence. Beyond how I have been personally treated, my friends outside of Kenyon have been subject to harassment online by anonymous Twitter accounts who I believe belong to Kenyon students based on their followers and information in their bios.
I am not sharing my experience as a means to seek pity or as any sort of revenge against anyone. I share my experience out of a deep concern for the kind of community that Kenyon fosters and for the people who will join this community after I graduate in May. Fellow Kenyon students and alumni have shared with me that during their time here, they didn’t feel that they could be open about their conservative views like I have been, and it is disheartening. I want to leave Kenyon knowing that when we say we welcome diversity, we actually welcome diversity in all its forms, including diversity of political thought. Isn’t that what the liberal arts experience is all about — exposure to different people and perspectives?
This culture at Kenyon is not about conservative versus liberal. It is bigger than that. Diversity is what makes the Kenyon community and educational experience special, but if we want to maintain our sense of community, we cannot let it be torn apart by an inability to accept differing beliefs and viewpoints.
Genevieve Harding ’22 is a religious studies major from Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at email@example.com.