Not to toot our own collective horn, but Kenyon students are smart. In my short time here, I’ve been lucky enough to engage in truly enlightening conversations fostered by the intellect of this community. Although I am in awe of so many of the ideas I’ve come across, as a whole I think that we are falling short of our potential exciting conversation because of a collective Kenyon fear. Kenyon students are scared of having bad opinions and being wrong. I have seen frequent conversations that repeat the same “acceptable” opinions instead of advancing a dialogue through a risky idea that may be controversial. Kenyon students are too interesting to silence their thoughts to avoid making an unpopular claim. This self-censorship limits the depth and diversity of campus dialogues.
In my limited experience as a columnist, I have already witnessed and been the subject of less-than-constructive feedback to my opinions. Many of the disagreements I heard in regard to my last article tended to focus on the town I am from as opposed to my opinion. The critiques seemed more aimed at me as a person than the ideas I shared. People are afraid of saying something that anyone could disagree with because instead of a rebuttal to the argument that could start meaningful dialogue, the loudest response to an unfavorable opinion tends to be one that can be personally hurtful and unproductive.
Don’t worry, I’m not throwing myself a pity party or singling anyone out for criticism. Instead, I hope to share my experience as a way to examine the tendency at Kenyon to judge an individual’s character based on a singular opinion or a person’s background. This practice also relies on making rigid assumptions based on a narrow slice of their identity. These judgements are hard to escape and may not even be true.
This culture is especially harmful in a small community like Kenyon. Students have a palpable fear of being labeled as ignorant, intolerant or unreasonable. Many are wary of having their entire character defined by one expressed opinion, which might be just a fragment of who they are. An opinion that someone may no longer hold or may have never fully endorsed can completely dictate how they are perceived. The Kenyon community misses out on countless worthwhile ideas and opinions because people are scared to assert an opinion that isn’t easily digestible, perfectly clean and established societally as permissible. Which leads me to what I’ve decided I want for this column, and what I want from those of you reading.
I want to promote the exchange of any opinion, good or bad, and to start conversations that express opinions without using personal attacks or judging an individual’s character. I hope that from this, respectful dialogue can develop. Truthfully, it was exciting to witness the discussion my article sparked. While I might prefer to engage in these conversations in a manner other than YikYak, I do appreciate any kind of productive feedback.
Let’s just start talking. About anything. I really love a bad opinion. I love a good opinion, too, but bad opinions have so much more potential to start great conversations. I’ll take the plunge first. I wrote this article. You now know my “bad” opinion. I embarrass myself by publishing my rambling thoughts, and it’s one of my favorite things ever. I highly recommend you mortify yourself as well and say something dumb. See where it leads.
Dalia Fishman ’27 is a columnist for the Collegian. She has not yet declared a major and is from McLean, Virginia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.