Project Open Voices: What I Learned In School Today

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The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of Project Open Voices, a coalition of students providing a platform for open dialogue on campus. Today’s essay is titled “What I Learned In School Today” and was authored anonymously. POV is accepting submissions for their newest publication until December 1st, so if you want to share your story, email openvoicessubmissions@gmail.com. If you would like to remain anonymous, you can submit by signing into a second email account: projectopenvoices@gmail.com (password: kenyoncollege). 

I am a demographically typical Kenyon student. I’m white, female, middle-class, and able-bodied. I went to a wealthy suburban high school. My parents are college graduates and it was always expected that I would attend college. And I’m an English major, which is just the icing on the homogeneity cake–Gambier is crawling with 5’4″ English major chicks from the Northeast with shoulder length brown hair and glasses who were on the literary magazine in high school. When I was a tour guide, at least half the prospies on my tours matched this description. So I feel like I have to say from the start that I am wary of writing about diversity at Kenyon because I am clearly not it.
I’m aware of the problems inherent in entering a discussion about diversity (even though I was asked) because I know that, being the person described above, I can only talk so much about my experiences at Kenyon, a place where I fit in (at least on paper). I do feel that I fit in at Kenyon; I feel at home in Gambier. But something that annoys me to no end are people (and I’ve worked in Admissions, so I’ve heard this a lot) who say that they love absolutely everything about Kenyon and cannot find any flaws with it. I think that people like that aren’t paying attention. I love Kenyon a lot, and can’t wait to get back to it, but part of loving is recognizing what is wrong and wanting to fix it. You only need to take one look around Peirce at lunch to see that Kenyon has few students of color. A more detailed look and some chats reveal that half the student body can afford full tuition without the help of need-based aid (of course, lack of racial & ethnic diversity and lack of socioeconomic diversity do often go hand-in-hand). Kenyon students are all different people and we have a community with a lot of diversity of thought and experience, but we could have SO much more.
I am lucky to receive aid and scholarships and lucky that my generous and supportive parents can afford to pay the rest, and sometimes other students–even people I’m friends with–don’t get how important that is. I became very angry once after hearing another student complain that her parents were making her earn her own spending money because she didn’t have financial aid and they were paying full price for Kenyon. I’ve been earning my own spending money for a long time, and if I lost my financial aid, I would have to leave Kenyon altogether. I also know people who are paying their own way without any help from parents or other adults.
One of the things that surprised me the most about Kenyon was that so many intelligent people could be so ignorant. I feel so strongly that Kenyon has made me into a better person, a more intelligent person aware of and wanting to fight oppression; I am surprised to hear many of my classmates–even though they are mostly politically liberal–be so totally unaware of their privilege, uttering uninformed and even hurtful things. I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. College professors, people who are leading scholars in their fields, people who should be able to see through prejudice, still say a lot of terrible things. Kenyon students, too–people who are smart, passionate, and encouraged to question the way they think about the world–still call each other “fag.” Throw parties for “Golf Pros and Tennis Hos” while also talking shit about girls who wear short skirts. Make comments about “rednecks” and look down on people in Mt Vernon. Hang posters that say “Wanted For Jungle Fever” and then deny that there are racist people at Kenyon, or that people of color and especially women of color can feel unsafe on campus–and don’t even get me started on professors.
And I, too, used to say things that now make me cringe. I was really unaware of my privilege and I held a lot of opinions that I know recognize as racist and sexist. I’m glad that now I’m doing a better job of spotting the fundamental flaws in my thinking, though, checking one’s privilege is a process that will never end (it’s not like one day you graduate and get an “I’m not racist” sticker) but becoming aware of that process and engaging with it is one of the first steps to challenging oppression, and I don’t know that I would have gotten started without Kenyon. So that’s just one aspect of my complicated relationship with Kenyon; it clearly has major problems with diversity and some of its students are painfully ignorant if not downright hateful, but without the people I met and the experiences I’ve had at Kenyon, I would not be as aware and politically engaged as I am now. And–because I realize I can get cynical about Kenyon’s student body–for every student or professor who is a jerk, I know several other students, faculty, and staff members who are compassionate people who really want to make Kenyon a better, more inquisitive, more open place.
Kenyon is a bubble and everyone here is privileged in some way. We all received a good enough education to get into a selective liberal arts college and had the encouragement and support to apply to college in the first place. Most of us are citizens or legal residents of the United States. We all somehow found a way–through parents’ wealth, work, financial aid, scholarships, loans, or some combination of all five–to attend a school that costs over $50,000 a year so that we could be around other people who wanted to sit on a beautiful campus and enrich their minds for four years. That isn’t to diminish the importance of other issues of privilege at Kenyon, but to say that just about everyone has to own up to at least that. From there, we can get on to most students being white. Abled. Educated at private high schools or nice suburban schools. Wealthy, many wealthy enough to afford Kenyon without financial aid. I could go on and on. It’s hard to really come up with a conclusion for how I feel about diversity at Kenyon other than the complicated feeling that Kenyon is a place that is obviously not diverse and often downright frustrating for anyone who is sensitive to prejudice based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, nationality, and religion, but which has a student body with a great deal of potential to be educated citizens of the world who actively work to question and dismantle oppression.

8 responses

  1. This really bothered me. You basically separate the world into black and white, and assume that every person that you look at in Gambier, that has white skin, comes from a similar background. To me, and I’m sure to some other careful readers, your diatribe reeks of sanctimony, while attempting to preach the opposite. There’s more to diversity than race. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. There are plenty of students from diverse backgrounds here, maybe you just need to look for them, converse with them, instead of labeling everyone you see as white or black, and writing Kenyon off as non-diverse. Kenyon IS diverse.

    Since when is it a crime to be white? or wealthy? Have you thought that maybe some of us earned the money to put ourselves through college? Or worked hard to earn scholarships, so we could come here? There’s no oppression in that. No privilege. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but please try to be as informed as possible in making them.

    • I think maybe you were getting at something here (that the author’s claim that Kenyon is just plain not diverse is an oversimplification) but this comment turned out to be a typical denial of the existence of privilege. The author never says it’s a crime to be white or wealthy, for example, only that these things can come with blind spots that Kenyon students should strive to be conscious of.

      I guess I just don’t know if you’re defending yourself/your identity here or if you’re defending some of the actions the author calls out towards the start of the second paragraph (using slurs, classism, sexism, etc.). Cause if you’re defending yourself/your identity/your background, I understand that impulse, but I think you should keep your mind and eyes open and you might change your mind. If you’re defending the actions the author calls out here, you are maybe a jerk.

      • Correction: I’m not saying you’d change your mind about defending yourself/identity/background– I’m just saying you might change your mind about how you go about it. I read your comment as denying the existence of various forms of privilege and I think that, specifically, is that I’d hope you’d change your mind about.

  2. The American dream is to work hard and make things better for the next generation. My parents worked very hard, sent me to public school, then to a modest college, where I worked hard enough to get into medical school. I was 46 before I paid off those school loans. Now we sacrifice luxury to be one of those full pay families, to educate our child in good schools, so that he has a future that will enable him to do the same for his family. This family has gone from immigrant to “privileged” in four generations. Hard work and education made that happen. My child’s grandparents may have been white, but thankfully, I never had to experience their poverty. And, through education, neither will my children.

    • WOW you may be older than the rest of us commenters but you’re sure not smarter congrats on believing in the american dream though

  3. “Work hard” under whose terms? By whose definition of ‘productive’ do we work hard?
    “Make things better” does this mean more financially stable and if so why is that the guarantee to a better life? Why is something so clearly racially limited access to a better life?
    Who granted you access to medical school?
    “Sacrifice” implies choice and choice implies privilege.
    Who validated you every step of the way as your family went “from immigrant to privelege”
    “Education” whose education? Whose curriculum and whose standards of intelligence (and even scarier of a thought– whose version of history, politics, science, etc)
    “May have been white” most half attempted recognition of white privilege. Upward mobility may be true, but can you attest for it outside whiteness? The American dream may exist but can it exist without or outside of whiteness?

  4. As a professor at Kenyon, I am disturbed by the references to jerky professors. The administration and the Title IX staff would like to make sure that the environment is not discriminatory and does not impede learning. Contacting the appropriate responsible people will make sure that systemic violations are reduced. Without input from students, there will be no change, because we aren’t in the class or office with you. We strongly want to challenge your beliefs but we should be modeling respect and thoughtfulness. Just my two cents.

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