Section: Opinion

Column: Kenyon must pave the way for greater accessibility

A constant theme I’ve picked up on from Kenyon’s administrative blundering is how routinely students have to settle for less than should be expected from the most expensive college in the country. From the chaos of course selection to poor prioritization of administrative resources, students at Kenyon are commonly left without the tools they need to thrive. However, as someone who struggles with mobility issues, what frustrates me the most is having to settle for a campus fraught with infrastructural inaccessibility. The lack of accessible housing alongside potentially difficult terrain can make four years of residence on campus hellish for people with disabilities and mobility-affecting conditions. If the administration will not make an effort to make the campus that they’re in charge of more accessible for students, we — those very students — must step up and make a concerted effort to support ourselves and others.

The recent blitz of winter weather has highlighted how pervasive accessibility concerns are on campus. When freezing temperatures blow in, walking on Middle Path becomes needlessly difficult because of the inevitable layer of snow-concealed ice that forms. Middle Path is designed to be a route to get from one end of campus to the other (or anywhere in between) as efficiently as possible, but often ends up inaccessible even for students without mobility concerns. On some days when Middle Path has been hazardous, I have had to take significant detours. When it is unavoidable, though, I have to work even more consciously to maintain my balance, which is already a significant struggle. Students who may have more severe mobility impairments might not be able to go to class at all, depending on the course’s location. A walk to the science quad might already be difficult, but God forbid the class be at the Lowry Center.

Even before getting out the door, accessibility can be an issue. Last spring, I had to move from McBride Residence Hall to Gund Residence Hall because of my mobility concerns. Given the lack of an elevator, severe flare-ups of those issues and the accompanying pain made it impossible to get to class on more than one occasion. Similarly, Leonard and Hanna Halls also have a flight of stairs each to even get to their first floors. Old Kenyon Residence Hall faces the same problem, though to a lesser degree at the front of the building thanks to fewer stairs. As a result, students with mobility impairments or other disabilities looking to live on the South Quad have slim pickings to find a dorm that can support their needs.

Despite the College stating in its missions that it “embraces differences,” it has hung its students out to dry when it comes to accessibility. Though I agree with the sentiments that arguments to pave Middle Path arise from, it has become increasingly evident that the College has little to no interest in investing in its students’ needs on such a financially large scale. As such, the chances of Middle Path being paved any time soon look grim. Petitions and rhetoric can only do so much, so we must do what we can to support ourselves and our peers both directly and indirectly in spite of the College’s inaction.

A start could be for student organizations to arrange for one of their members to assist a concerned student with getting to where they need to go, especially on days where Middle Path becomes more difficult or openly hostile to traverse. Additionally, on these days, an organization could send an all-student email to notify the student body about potential areas of concern for students with limited mobility. If the administration felt a compulsion to step in, they could do so at no cost by having Campus Safety personnel at locations where people are more likely to trip, slip or fall during the day. They could warn students of upcoming problem points, keep an eye out for students struggling to stay steady or offer to walk students to their destination like the aforementioned hypothetical student-led services.

Student-led collective action, even on a small scale like this, can have large ripples outside of the immediate issue at hand. Greek organizations, for example, could build stronger ties in between them in service of a common goal. Likewise, affinity groups could gain more intersectional perspectives from collaborations with other clubs and organizations. Thus, popular mobilization of the student body will ensure a safer, closer and more accessible campus for everyone.

Austin Vaughan ’26 is a Psychology and English major with a concentration in Creative Writing from Cincinnati. They can be reached at vaughan1@kenyon.edu.

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