Cheever House is surprisingly full for a Friday evening. Sitting in the front row in a bell-sleeve, white lace dress with a flower crown and combat boots is who I assume must be Paul Tran. I think to myself, “That is exactly what I want to wear at my wedding.” Tran then stands up and says, “Welcome to my wedding.”
This is the only thing I have in common with what they articulate in the next hour. Their poetry covers experiences of incest and rape, of feeling demonized in your own body and of allowing yourself the freedom it takes to love. The word “monster” is repeated in many of Paul’s poems and some of the answers they give. It is used both to describe their attackers and by these same attackers to describe them.
Often we do not realize that seeing art to which we have no evident connection is why we fight for art to be accessible to all communities. Having a discussion about being transgender in America when the room is approaching capacity, the chairs filled with people of all gender identities, is beneficial in that it is validating and reassuring for those who can relate, eye-opening for those who cannot and breathtaking for all. So many people forget that the world in which they live rotates on an axis and not around an individual. They get distracted by their personal journey to self discovery and making sense of the world in which they live. We spend so much time searching for relatable, validating content that we forget to educate ourselves on and appreciate learning about the experiences of people with whom we have nothing in common.
It is necessary that the Business and Finance Committee continues to support groups like the Snowden Multicultural Center who want to bring speakers like Paul Tran in, just as it is important for groups on campus to continue to expose us to artists of diverse backgrounds. But bringing in new speakers is only a fraction of the battle. That is only a portion of what it takes to keep Kenyon away from this isolated, prestigious liberal arts plague of thinking. We bask in the mindset that we know everything because we are educated to the same standard as the couple thousand people we have the potential of coming in contact with.
Culturally diversifying Kenyon’s campus to a point that it is representative of the country cannot be done overnight. It cannot be done in the four years most of us spend here.
Listening to and engaging with artists and speakers like Tran is the only way to gain exposure to the vast experiences and perspectives that people hold. As a black person on a predominantly white campus, it is important for me to engage with other people of color. To roughly paraphrase Tran, it’s nice to know you aren’t the only one in the world. At the same time, it should be equally — if not more — important to interact with people I rarely get the chance to meet. A conversation with a trans Asian-American poet is a great place to start.
Elizabeth Iduma ’20 is a film major from Silver Spring, Md. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.