Dear Kenyon Community,

We were pleased to read President Julie Kornfeld’s conversation with the editors of the Collegian that was published last week. We share Kornfeld’s esteem for diversity on our campus, and we applaud her commitment to a variety of perspectives in service of a high-quality education. In the interest of increasing this diversity, we wish to counter some of her other statements.

In her inauguration speech, Kornfeld referred to the disruptive “politicization of campuses.” As students who share her commitment to the liberal arts, we find the assertion that political activity disrupts education to be misleading. If we believe that a liberal arts education is a toolkit for critically engaging with the world, then campus protests are not a disruption of education, but rather its practical application. We are living through a period of acute political activism on college campuses across the United States and abroad. Students at Columbia University, New York University, Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, The Ohio State University, the University of Texas Austin and a host of other institutions have camped out on quads and rallied on campuses to demand that their universities divest from the military-industrial complex funding the ongoing 209-day genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This anti-colonial movement is comparable to the student movement against the Vietnam War in its scale and urgency. Through direct action, students learn how to interact with the structures of power that shape the world we live in. At Brown University, for example, student encampments have resulted in a resolution to allow students to make the case for divestment at a meeting with the Brown Corporation. We admire our peers who are taking their education out of classrooms and putting it to practice.

Kornfeld also told the Collegian that she feels it is her responsibility to remain neutral on political topics in order to foster dialogue on campus. Although we applaud her intentions, we regard the Office of the President of this College as an innately political position. As the figurehead of this institution, Kornfeld cannot detach herself from the College’s ties to the world beyond the Hill. The Board of Trustees disclosed that the College’s investments are handled by Cornerstone Partners, LLC. Cornerstone holds a total of almost 6,000,000 shares in funds that invest in Elbit Systems, an Israeli weapons manufacturer that produces most of the drones and ground-force arsenal that the IDF uses to murder Gazan civilians. Kornfeld and her administration have yet to confirm or deny the status of the College’s investment, but it is disingenuous to state that Kenyon fosters an environment of open and neutral dialogue, when it may be financially invested in violent operations that contradict these principles. As students, we have the right to know what is being done with the College’s endowment. Until the administration discloses its investments with full transparency, it is impossible for the institution to be truly politically neutral. 

Any discussion of academic freedom would be incomplete if we do not remember that the Israeli bombardment has destroyed every single university in Gaza. Students and faculty — those who have survived — have suffered dislocation, intentional starvation and illness. While we deliberate about the meaning of free speech and the value of direct action in a liberal arts setting, Palestinians endure the 209th day of bombardment. The national dialogue we are engaging in now is not about the idyllic American campuses on which it takes place. It is about the 34,000 lives cut short by the bombs that our colleges profit from. It is about the universities and hospitals that have been reduced to rubble. It is about mass graves and mass starvation. And as long as we have dialogue without divestment, Kenyon and other colleges will continue to profit while Palestinians die. If we truly value academic freedom, we must ensure that it is available to everyone, from the Gaza Strip to Gambier, Ohio.

We encourage our community to turn language into action, to denounce the brutal assault on students by police across the country and to get involved outside of the classroom. This is perhaps the most important way in which we can transform Kenyon and its place in the world. We urge the administration to provide full transparency about the status of its investments, and to immediately divest from death, destruction and apartheid.

Sincerely,

David Bonnen ’27

Kayla Downer ’27

Ilan Magnani ’24

Molly Orr ’24

Rebecca Renner ’24

Benji Rothman ’26

Maya Vaccaro ’24

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