An all-student email this week posed the question, “Are there two Kenyons?” In a series of emails, students, alumni and faculty alike debated the validity of Kenyon’s recent financial decisions. Ignoring the slight jabs within the emails, the initial email was over whether we want to be a Kenyon that prioritizes new buildings or a Kenyon that prioritizes supporting low-income students. Although email tug-of-war is one of my favorite parts of Kenyon culture, I believe that the “two Kenyons” we need to discuss are not those in the email, but the Kenyon experience that was promised versus the Kenyon experience that we received. Until Kenyon can balance both the needs of current and future students, the disparity between the College’s promises and its execution will only increase.
From a purely numerical perspective, the Kenyon of present is not the Kenyon I applied to in the fall of 2020. Since applying, the student population has increased by nearly 200 students. Not only was this rise in students unexpected, but the rest of the school has failed to keep up with such rapid growth.
The over-enrollment of 2021 was softened by the implementation of the Copenhagen study abroad program, as well as the use of the Kenyon Inn and the Pines of Apple Valley for student housing. This year, however, Kenyon relied on the use of modular housing. This housing alternative has sequestered 150 members of our tight-knit community to malfunctioning metal boxes at the bottom of the Hill. The metaphorical and physical distance between the Mods and the rest of campus has resulted in a disjointed version of the idealized Kenyon community.
An increase in student enrollment has also highlighted a disparity between the advertised course selection and the achievable course selection at Kenyon. Without enough faculty to teach necessary courses, students are left on seemingly endless waitlists. For the courses students do manage to register for, they will likely find themselves in classes larger than the advertised average class size of 15 people. According to Kenyon’s enrollment and class size statistics, the average class size at Kenyon is now 16.7 students.
To allow for larger class sizes in the future, Kenyon has also invested in various new buildings. This continuous construction has undoubtedly impacted Kenyon’s previously held position as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. Additionally, the construction timeline has not prioritized current students, with new parking lots and admissions offices coming before new housing. It is hard not to notice that the buildings most seen by prospective students are the ones being built and renovated first. Decisions that consistently prioritize optics over reality make it difficult for students to assume their interests are being valued.
Ultimately, the promised Kenyon and the delivered Kenyon might be one and the same for students years from now. But current students are forced to endure inadequate conditions, without many of the advertised Kenyon benefits, to fulfill the College’s promises of new buildings and returned scenery in the future. Between now and 2024, when South Quad construction is expected to conclude, there are ways to bring the Kenyon reality closer to the Kenyon ideal. Deep cleaning existing dorms, seriously checking for mold and avoiding over-enrollment and new construction until current conditions improve are all ways that Kenyon can deliver on its promise. Every Kenyon student should feel they are a part of something great, not merely a stepping stone between the flawed now and a perfect future. The present should not be wholly sacrificed in service to the future.