Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

Seeking Unity at Kenyon

Jodi Ann Wang
January 30, 2018

Who are you?

How do you define yourself?

Are you an athlete who is also part of a comedy troupe on campus? A singer in an a cappella group who also works as a community advisor? A photographer for the Kenyon Collegian as well as a research assistant for your biochemistry professor?

What is unity, and how do we define it within the context of Kenyon?

Set alongside Middle Path, passed every day by students heading to Peirce for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the UNITY project consisted of 32 tall, plastic poles planted in the ground, each representing a different statement that describes an aspect of a Kenyon student — “I am a first-generation college student,” “My sexual preference and gender identity is an important part of who I am” — encircling one central pole. Students were invited to tie one long piece of purple yarn uninterruptedly around each of the poles corresponding to a statement they identified with, their route beginning and ending at the central pole. As more students mapped out their path among the poles, an intersectional netting was formed and raised to become a purple canopy.

In response to negative rhetoric about diversity in politics, it’s important for us to re-evaluate the labels with which we brand ourselves and others and how we construct an interconnected community through differences.

As an Asian-Canadian international student, I belong to a community at Kenyon that contributes to the diversity of our student body; and as an international pre-orientation peer advisor this year, I welcomed the fantastic group of international students for the Class of 2021 with my four Kenyon international pals. During this one week of introduction and integration, I rediscovered the energy and excitement that characterized my own orientation week. But what also accompanies such vibrancy, conversely, is a subtle sense of apprehension and culture shock. The fear that we will have to alter ourselves on a deep level to properly integrate into an environment that may be completely foreign to some of us. Fortunately, Kenyon offers many resources that are accessible by students and catered toward students’ needs. The UNITY project demonstrates how students like me, an international student with multiple cultural backgrounds, can fully immerse ourselves in the Kenyon community.

As I carefully wrapped my purple yarn around pole after pole, I was surprised to see how much I have in common with so many other students. I did not expect anyone to have had the same experience as I had growing up: attending a sports school in the People’s Republic of China and immigrating to Canada with my family when I was 10 years old. However, at the time of the project, I was in the initial planning process of my junior year abroad, and when I tied my yarn around the pole “I plan on studying/I have studied abroad,” a senior student who was crossing paths with me actually sparked a conversation about her abroad experience. Turns out, she is a Chinese major, and I plan on studying abroad in Beijing during my junior year.

I am sure that my spontaneous conversation was not the only one that took place during the UNITY project installation. The beauty of this initiative is its ability to connect ourselves with others, both directly and indirectly, while mapping our paths around the 32 poles. The resulting web of connections highlights the multifaceted identity of Kenyon: a strong and vibrant community that is continuously striving for greater diversity. Our cohesive campus is made up of diverse students, faculty and staff, challenging the negative rhetoric in politics today by demonstrating acceptance and actively embracing the uniqueness of every Kenyon individual.

The full list of 32 UNITY project identifiers:

  1. Author, Crash Course educator, and overall awesome person John Green helped me find Kenyon (and pass my APUSH test)
  2. I am a first-generation college student
  3. I come from a family or community that is conservative
  4. I come from a family or community that is liberal
  5. I come from a family or community where politics is not a big deal
  6. I have had dinner at a professor's home/have hosted students in my home for dinner
  7. I plan on being/I am a Fine Arts major
  8. I plan on being/I am a Humanities major
  9. I plan on being/I am a Natural Sciences major
  10. I plan on being/I am a Social Sciences major
  11. I plan on being/I am an interdisciplinary major
  12. I'm still undecided about my major
  13. I plan on studying/I have studied abroad
  14. I plan on participating/I do participate in community service
  15. I plan on participating/I do participate in Greek life
  16. I plan on participating/I do participate in sports on campus
  17. I plan on living/I prefer to live on north campus
  18. I plan on living/I prefer to live on south campus
  19. I plan on living/I prefer to live in theme housing on campus
  20. I prefer to study by myself
  21. I prefer to study in the company of others
  22. I speak a language other than English fluently
  23. I'm a cat person
  24. I'm a dog person
  25. I'm a morning person
  26. I'm a night person
  27. I play a significant role in my family, including but not limited to working, babysitting, and/or translating for family members
  28. I'm a survivor
  29. My grandparents or parents were born in another country
  30. My religion and/or spirituality is an important part of who I am
  31. My sexual preference and gender identity is an important part of who I am
  32. I am...