Kenyon College: Our Path Forward

Kenyon College: Our Path Forward

November 6, 2019 5 By Stanley Isaacs


[background music] [Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt:] The world that I hoped I would help bring into being was one where would not just force themselves to take
the time to see other people around them but would be doing that as a reflex, as a
habit; that we would take the time to see each
other and make eye contact and have a conversation; that we would actually feel
like there was time we could take. [background music] [background conversation] [President Sean Decatur:] We have a broader crisis in America right now in that people aren’t talking to
each other. The process of building common ground and making individual connections that allows difficult topics and discussions to be tackled actually
begins on topics totally unrelated to what might be the controversial issues
or the controversial subject matter. [Josh McClain ’19:] We take these specific issues, and then we tie them to a whole network of identity, right, that intersects with all these other issues. Then we can’t have a conversation about one of those things. It’s going to take people who are brave enough to start those conversations. [background chatting] [Hope Harrod ’98:] It comes out of the believing in the power of discussion, and discussion comes from
many voices. We have to trust each other. Diversity not only means people of
different colors, it also means diversity of thought. In order to have those
conversations in classrooms, in order to really be able to shape your learning in
a way that reflects the world, we need to have people that reflect the world in
that classroom. [Sean Decatur:] The powers of a residential institution
like Kenyon in that people actually have to live together, they have to eat in the
same dining hall, they have to break bread together, they have to share
interest on an athletic team together, they have a quirky interest outside of
the classroom that brings them together in different combinations — those are the
places where people start to get to know each other and start to realize that,
okay, you and I have some things in common: the engagement of on-campus goods,
these points of contact that then gives a framework or a platform for being able
to take on difficult topics. So it takes time, and it takes work, but I think it’s time and work that we can’t shy away from. [background chatting] [Katie Connell ’18:] You’re gonna meet people from Zimbabwe but also from Columbus; from a boarding school in California but also a
public school in Milwaukee — people that have made a choice to come to this tiny place and make it home. [Professor of Biology Drew Kerkhoff:] You know, we’re not here for the nightlife, we’re not here for the restaurant scene. We’re here because we want to be doing the things that we’re doing. Our students want to learn; our professors want to teach. That
gives a certain tacit commitment to the community. [Maymuna Abdi ’18:] We want people to be able to
place themselves in uncomfortable positions, because I think the only way
you can learn is to be uncomfortable. [Judy Hoff Gilbert ’91:] I came into Kenyan wanting there to be right answers to things, and I wanted to understand history in terms of what was
the timeline and who was the king then. I wanted things to be very clear and
black and white. What it took me a while to get here, but this place absolutely
helped me understand it, is even the things that are black and white aren’t really black and white, and that’s not where most of the interesting stuff goes on. [Eric Sutton ’18:] We’re often, we’re told to sort of read theory or read texts and keep
ourselves out of it and keep ourselves distant, and that’s sort of the way that you become a good academic, but you have that one perspective and you have to have an
opinion, and a lot of that comes from your experience. [Professor of Political Science Fred Baumann:] But that’s the point, which is to get people to realize that there’s a whole deep ocean of
possibility that they’ve never thought of and, wow! Fantastic! Let’s explore them. There’s all kinds of just delight, almost childlike delight, that you have in learning as a student and as a teacher. It’s play. [Sarah Heidt:] What I want from the classroom is for people to learn how to listen to each other. What it should do is teach people how to ask genuine questions in the face
of the world around us. What is a good life? What is a good death? How do we
figure these things out? How do you keep from getting so wrapped up in the press
of your daily life that you stop asking why the world is the way it is or how it
might be better or what your place in it really should be. [background music] [William P. Rice Associate Professor of English & Literature Ivonne M. García:] The blueprint of where we need to go, it’s like a yellow brick road. You can’t miss it. I know that under President Decatur and President Decatur’s team, Kenyon is poised to exert leadership. [Judy Hoff Gilbert ’91:] There’s something about this place where the essential feel and the smell and the light, so much of it feels very permanent. We do need to
make it more modern; we need to make it accessible to enable the students in
this century to grow and to carry things forward. [Sean Decatur:] We’ve come a long way and we know the path forward in order to continue our commitment to talented
students from a range of different economic backgrounds, to continue to make Kenyon a place that’s the model for rigorous inquiry and discourse, not only
in the country but in the world. So we know the path, what we need is the
resources. This is the moment for all of us to come together and to make those
resources possible to drive us forward to what Kenyon can be and the greatness that lies ahead. [Judy Hoff Gilbert ’91:] It has been gratifying to see the progress that Kenyon has made, and at the same time, it raises the stakes and raises the urgency to do even more. [Matt Winkler ’77 P’13:] None of us succeed totally on our own. We succeed because of those who came before us. We succeed because of those around us. The place is eternal, and may it be so. There’s no place actually on the planet that’s quite like Kenyon. [background music] [Katie Connell ’18:] Thinking about that as I leave, like, the scholarship that I have continues, like, someone else is coming to Kenyon, but
they’re coming to Kenyon and they’re gonna have this beautiful four years, and they’re gonna be hard, they’re gonna be great at the same time, but that’s something I
couldn’t have asked for. The money I’ve received and the beautiful academic buildings and the amazing faculty and professors — they’re such a gift that I’ve
been blessed to have in my life, so I just want to continue that when I leave,
and I hope other people will consider doing that as well because it’s been
such a gift to be here. [background music: “Kokosing Farewell”