Campus Report

Community Planning Committee Report

In his message published on February 7, 2018, "Living Up to Our Aspirations," President Decatur called for "concrete plans and actions on how to move us closer to our aspirations of being a community where free expression is not in opposition to inclusion, but where these two principles work in harmony." To that end he charged a group of students, faculty and staff to meet and bring forth specific proposals for initiatives to move us closer to that envisioned harmony. The committee consisted of Vice President Meredith Harper Bonham '92 (co-chair), Rita Carmona '19, Sriya Chadalavada '19, Benjamin Douglas '18, Prof. Christopher Gillen, Associate Dean of Students Chris Kennerly, College Chaplin Rachel Kessler '04, Provost Joseph Klesner (co-chair), Prof. Zoe Kontes, Prof. Irene Lopez, Associate Provost Ted Mason (co-chair), Prof. Leo Riegert, Dean of Students Robin Hart Ruthenbeck, and Prof. Jené Schoenfeld. This committee met several times during February and March, developing plans to help the college community move forward in greater concert.

The community conversation held during Common Hour on Tuesday, April 3, was the initial step in this process. In all, 236 students, staff and faculty registered to participate in these conversation groups that were guided by a central concern — imagining a Kenyon College where the values of inclusive community and freedom of expression worked together, rather than in tension or opposition. Participants were divided into twenty conversation groups of no more than fifteen members each. These groups were constructed so that participants would know a number of the members in their groups, but not all of them. Prior to April 3 the committee circulated "Community Discussion Norms" and "Moderator Guidelines" to help groups achieve more effective communication. Each of the groups designated a recorder who would report the main points of the discussion to the Community Planning Committee.

Fifteen of the twenty groups submitted summaries of their discussions. The committee reviewed these reports and met to discuss them. In our judgment, the following are the main threads emerging from the group conversations:

  • We should cultivate the ability to listen better and more fully.

  • We should cultivate the ability to engage in healthy discourse.

  • There were calls for the community to clarify our values in writing.

  • Many participants voiced a desire for the community to engage in concrete and continuous actions.

  • There were also calls for more of these conversations such as the one held on April 3.

  • Many groups noted the difficulty of the burden the marginalized feel when they are called upon to educate others.

  • Participants encouraged more interactions among students, staff, and faculty, suggesting that the College provide an array of means to support open discourse among those groups.

  • Some groups suggested having a regular mechanism for orienting new students and faculty to the college community, that is, to intervene in the campus culture at the onset of a student’s and an employee’s experience as a way of establishing community norms. In doing so we would be developing a more consistent communal experience for students, staff and faculty.

  • We should find ways of cultivating a greater capacity for empathy.

  • Address the question of internal institutional power dynamics (among students, faculty and staff), as a way of empowering students. How do people who have authority exercise it? And how do they receive criticism and address it? How might we better recognize that there are different types of authority based on wisdom, longevity and lived experience.

  • Find a way of valuing the different experiences represented by all members of the community. (Open and candid conversations about diversity and inclusion.)

  • In many instances community members confessed to some level of confusion or ignorance about the major elements of recent campus controversies and the administrative response to them.

  • There are many ongoing initiatives to address inclusion and free expression, but the community is not fully aware of them.

In light of the topics discussed and the concerns raised by the conversation groups, the committee recommends that the College begin quite soon to respond appropriately. On the theory that our recommendations should be limited and focused, we offer the four tasks to be undertaken by the appropriate bodies, as determined by the President.

The College should:

  • Investigate some of the options for external help in building our capacity to have constructive, if potentially difficult, discussions, by developing our capacity for better listening and for greater empathy.

  • Build an ongoing series of conversations with clear, expected outcomes, perhaps even having those conversations facilitated by experts from outside the college community.

  • Develop mechanisms to clarify our institutional values in writing, perhaps beginning with the College mission statement and the matriculation oath. We should develop an ongoing mechanism for revising, reinforcing and actualizing those values.

  • Consider developing an institutional theme for a particular year — a theme revolving around inclusion. The theme would provide a context for many events happening on campus. (In this process, it would be necessary to work closely with the events planning committee in order to maximize attendance and make the best use of College resources.)

On behalf of the Community Planning Committee, respectfully submitted,

Meredith Harper Bonham, vice president for student affairs
Joseph Klesner, provost
Theodore O. Mason Jr., associate provost for diversity, equity & inclusion