Two articles this week, “Sixth Baron Kenyon, descendent of college’s namesake, dies” and “Students invited to participate in mission statement revision,” delve into Kenyon’s past and future, respectively. While we are fortunate to have the opportunity to redefine Kenyon’s mission, it is important to pay heed to how the College’s history plays into its future. If our new mission statement is going to be committed to inclusivity, the redefinition process must be the product of college-wide deliberations.
One cannot overstate the inadequacy of the College’s current mission statement: At 746 words, it says, for the most part, a whole lot of nothing. The first paragraph talks about the Platonic ideal of liberal education, featuring a paltry, weak-kneed and lukewarm commitment to diversity. The second paragraph explains how a historical relationship to the Episcopalian Church “has marked its commitment the values celebrated in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but without dogmatism, without proselytizing.” Yikes.
While we agree with the College’s leadership that the mission statement could stand to be a bit more clear—and, well, concise—we hope that a statement that reflects the College’s purpose accurately is informed by more than just the sentiments of the student leaders currently on campus and the few respondents to a short survey. Today, from 2:45 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., select student leaders have been invited to a discussion with the Mission Statement Committee that focuses on the same questions touched on in the survey. While this is commendable, and indicates the committee’s and College’s commitment to soliciting student voices, a mission statement that truly reflects our core values will come from a process that does not merely consult a small portion of students, but where the whole of the College community — students, faculty, staff and alumni — have an opportunity to truly deliberate the College’s mission. This means that the committee should not simply ask us what we think Kenyon is, they should constantly be telling us what they think Kenyon is, and how they are interpreting what we think.
We at the Collegian want to remind the College that values are not constructed out of thin air. A mission statement that says the right things but does not get at the heart of what Kenyon has been and should be is one that will fall short. In order to create a mission statement that accurately reflects the College’s history and demonstrates the ways in which the College hopes to grow, there needs to be more conversations on campus, conversations not limited to select student leaders and a 14-person committee.
Kenyon is a small place. We should use this to our advantage when asking such soul-searching questions as, “Who are we?” or “What do we stand for?” On Feb. 1, 2018, there was a panel discussion open to the whole school to discuss the “Good Samaritan” controversy. Why only hold such town hall-type events in times of crisis? Why can a goal of campus-wide events like “Kenyon Listens” not pair the broadly-defined goal of “making our community stronger” with more specific goals like understanding what Kenyon’s mission is? If the new mission statement is intended to be more inclusive and accurate, we assert that it will only be so if the conversations around it are inclusive as well.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and Adam Schwager ’20, and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.