Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of an address that Wendy Singer, the Roy T. Wortman Distinguished Professor of History, gave at the 2018 Founders’ Day ceremony on Oct. 25, 2018. Video of the address is available at livestream.com.
As I see it, Kenyon is a confluence. People flow in and out from all parts of the world and to all parts of the world. Each four years, a substantial part of our population has changed. President Decatur has already indicated how many of those turnovers I have personally witnessed, since I came to Kenyon in 1988.
And listening to that introduction, I thought: how remarkably old I must be!
Faculty, too, come from far-away places and bring new pedagogies, courses and ideas. And it makes sense, because the culture and history of this place — born of a transnational journey by Philander Chase to England in 1823 — has always been connected to the world. The people he met in England believed in his vision, and so we walk on Timothy Wiggin Street, and live in Lord Gambier Village, and now sit in Lady Rosse Hall. Without the faith and finance of people across an ocean, we would not be here.
I have heard the term — and you may have, too — that there is a “Kenyon bubble,” as if things that happen here are disconnected from the world. But I have never experienced it. The Kenyon I know is a worldly place, in all senses of that term. My classes have students from Chicago and Shanghai, from California and Kathmandu, and what we study — Asian Migrations, Indian History, the Making of the Contemporary World — are just as geographically diverse and contemporaneously relevant. My colleagues, too, plant corn, build wetlands, teach in different languages and see the universe just moments after it was born. These are all worldly and out-of-this-world pursuits.
And that breadth has never been clearer than today.
It is especially an honor for me to give the Founders’ Day Address in this year, 2018, when we have an incoming class of particularly worldly composition. More than 60 members of the Class of 2022 are international students, and so many more have international connections, experiences and understandings.
So, given this exceptional reach from the world to Kenyon and Kenyon to world, I want to retell today some of the stories of international students and faculty who came before us and in whose path we walk.
There are so many stories to tell and such short time. The first Chinese student at Kenyon was Yen Kyung Yung, who, along with his nephew, Ah Voong Su, attended Kenyon in the 1860s. Then there were two tennis players from Japan in the 1920s, visitors from abroad in the 1950s, and alumni from the era of coeducation, plus many in between.
In the stories of Kenyon’s history I think we see three lessons. One, that Kenyon always was connected to the larger world through people who migrated here — even if only for a short time. Two, that often migrants seek the company of other migrants. In that sense — when nearly all of us have come from somewhere else — it is something that builds our sense of community. And three, even more than all of the above, what makes this a particularly Kenyon story is that all of the people I’ll mention today wrote about Kenyon and the world. And in their writings, they confronted profound questions about race and the culture of their times.
These lessons led me to some questions. Why is it that hearing about the lives of earlier migrants connects us to a place? How can we see ourselves in travelers of the past?
To answer that, I turned to the supreme chronicler of migration: renowned writer Amitav Ghosh, who has visited Kenyon and whose books are taught here across disciplines. The book I point to today is “In an Antique Land,” which tells the story of Amitav’s personal experience as a student abroad. Coming from India, he studied at Cambridge University in England, he went to Morocco to learn Arabic (as many Kenyon students also do) and finally settled into a village in Egypt to do field work. Most of the book is about how he answered the question: “What am I doing here?”
What finally gives Amitav a sense of belonging, or as he says, the “right to be here, a sense of entitlement,” was finding a connection to history. In the Cambridge University library, he came across a document from 12th century Egypt — a letter between two merchants, which contained a reference to an Indian slave named Bama. The author of the letter addressed Bama with signs of respect: “Give my plentiful greetings to Bama,” he said. Later, Amitav learns, from a footnote, that Bama was not only “a slave, but also a business agent, [and] a respected member of the household” of his employer. For Amitav, this was a tantalizing nugget. Here was a reference to an ordinary person from India, who like himself had made his way to Egypt. And Amitav tries to follow Bama’s path in reverse.
One can read this text and story of Bama (as we do in some history courses) to describe the nature of slavery in the world of the 12th-century Egypt or India. How did slaves have rights and resources?
But that is not Ghosh’s point at all. What he wants us to glean from the story of Bama is that from a time when most of what we knew of history was the history of people who were powerful — wazirs and sultans, priests and kings — here, in a letter written nine centuries ago, he caught a glimpse of the life of an ordinary person, who nevertheless left “discernible traces [not only] upon the earth,” but upon written record.
It is those discernible traces of ordinary people — from Kenyon’s past — that I want to recover for you today. In their paths we continue to walk.
The first is Yen Kiung Yung. Kiung Yung arrived at Kenyon in 1859, and our first trace of him is his signature in the matriculation book. The same book — well, a new volume of it — that you will sign today.
Significantly, Kiung Yung jumped fully into Kenyon life. He was an editor of the Collegian and secretary of the senior class in 1860-61. And even as he was dedicating himself to his studies at Kenyon, Kiung-Yung brought with him a keen attention to the outside world. In April 1860, he wrote a long essay in the Collegian about education in China, saying in a footnote, “We think this article … gives an American a very good idea of Chinese primary education, which perhaps can be obtained nowhere else.”
Yen used this platform to advocate for the power of literature. He wrote:
“The great stimulus to literary pursuits among the Chinese is the hope of obtaining office and honor. It is the only means which can bring the rich and the poor, the aristocrat and the peasant, on the same level of civil society.”
That lesson too, we can say, is part of the mission of this college — the power of a liberal arts education to give equal opportunities.
And literary writing, as well as a life of letters, became a tool for Yen after Kenyon as well. Yen obtained his degree both from Kenyon and from the Bexley Hall Seminary. But his first job was as a translator for a British company, hoping to raise the funds necessary to return to China, which he did in 1867. There, he took up a post training evangelists at St John’s University in Shanghai. He was one of the founding faculty of St John’s, which included other Kenyon alumni: his nephew Ah Voong Su, Class of 1867, and later Robert C. Woo, Class of 1888. St John’s was a famous institution, described in Wikipedia as the “Harvard of the East.”
Now, some of my colleagues may have attended Harvard University, and I am sure it is a fine institution. But given St John’s pedigree, I think it might better be called the “Kenyon of the East.”
And there also may be a lesson in it about why we don’t rely on Wikipedia in college classes: because none of the Kenyon alumni — actually, no Chinese at all — are mentioned in the founding of St John’s.
After a 30-year absence, Yen Kiung Yung returned to the United States in 1892. In the meantime, the U.S. Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that “prohibited the entry of skilled and unskilled laborers” from China. In the land that Yen had adopted as his college home, this was a serious blow, and he responded as any Kenyon alumnus would — by writing a book. In his book, “A Chinaman on our Treatment of China,” Yen Kiung-Yung spoke out forcefully against racism by using humor — jokes about other ethnicities — and satire — imagining what it would be like to exclude “American labor” in China — and an appeal to honor, quoting an American missionary he knew, who was ashamed by these “legal travesties.”
All in all, his book reflected the liberal arts education he experienced and advocated.
Now, I haven’t much time to tell the stories of other international students who followed in Yen’s footsteps. I wanted to talk about the Kawasaki brothers, who played tennis in the 1920s. They were, perhaps, an early 20th-century version of the Bryan brothers — for they also were famous doubles champions. In any event, Morinosuke and Daijiro Kawasaki led Kenyon to a 41 to 7 season in 1929.
And Japan sent more visitors. In 1957, the award-winning Japanese writer Junzo Shono appeared in Gambier on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship. He wanted to spend a year living in a typical American town. The resulting book “Sojourn in Gambier” was such a hit in Japan that for years after, we were a stop on Japanese tourist maps. Visitors came looking for Hayes Market (the earlier incarnation of the Village Market, then on the other side of Middle Path) and for Middle Path itself. But more than place, in his book, Shono wrote about the people he met, the friends he made and the neighbors he observed. One was another visitor to Gambier — Visiting Professor of Political Science Minoo Adenwalla.
Dr. Adenwalla was from Pune, India. He spent only a year here, teaching political philosophy. To Shono, Adenwalla, like John Crowe Ransom and all the other characters in his book, was one of the features of Gambier. He quotes Adenwalla’s story about the close encounter with a raccoon, who, seeking to overturn the garbage, was foiled by Professor English’s cocker spaniel, Benjamin. Both Adenwalla and Shono shared a fascination for raccoons, a species they had not seen before, and whose annoyances of overturning garbage were a small price to pay for watching the spectacle.
The story extolls the value of observing — watching the animals and plants around you. It also shows that visitors from far away seek out one another. Some of the best friends we make as migrants are fellow migrants.
Shono ends his book explaining the title: “I [chose] the title “Sojourn in Gambier” because I have my own idea that we, all human beings, are sojourning in this world.”
Here too, then, we walk the path of Junzo Shono, Minoo Adenwalla and even Benjamin the spaniel on our Gambier Sojourn.
The connection to Japan, of course, continues. We teach Japanese, send students to Japan, and we continue to have Japanese students. The first woman international student to attend Kenyon came from Japan. Her name was Mieko Muto, and she was an exchange student from Waseda University in 1969-70.
Mieko, too, connected Kenyon to the world through writing. As circulation editor of the Collegian, she was already well acquainted with the newspaper and its staff when in February she wrote an article about the student protests and riots that she witnessed in Waseda in 1968. Her article addressed the violence of the time, but she ended with two hopes for the future: one, that the Japanese police would not use the rioting as an excuse to infringe upon free speech, and two, that the calm and peace of Gambier would not veil Kenyon students from the struggles around them.
Let me end with the story of an international student — and alumnus of the Class of 1977 — who is returning home to Gambier this spring: Beshara Doumani.
Beshara Doumani may have been the first Arab student to study at Kenyon. He was raised in Lebanon, but his parents settled in Toledo just three years before he started college. His father was a launderer, and they lived in what Doumani describes as “the projects.” Kenyon recruited him in an effort to “diversify the campus” and on recommendation of one of his high school teachers.
Arriving in Gambier, he found a universe racially, culturally and economically different from any of the worlds he’d known. Not unlike Yen Kiung Yung, who argued that literary excellence was what overcame class divisions in China, Doumani, too, used literature, history, and writing to overcome disadvantage. An English professor named Bob Cantwell saw immediately that Doumani’s English (of course his second language) was not good enough to write college-level essays about literature. He made a deal, in Doumani’s words: “He said he would mark up all my papers, but not grade any of them, until the very last one. This was a gift,” because in the course of the year, Doumani learned to write well. He ultimately majored in history, earned a Ph.D. and now holds the Joukowsky Family Professorship in Middle East Studies at Brown University.
However, when he was a student at Kenyon, like Kiung Yung and Meiko Muto, he too wrote an article in the Collegian. Actually, it was a letter to the editor in 1976, in which he called for Kenyon to redouble its efforts to diversify the campus — to bring in more students like himself. He argued that “students … learn just as much outside the classroom as they do inside. … [Therefore,] I very much support active recruitment of blacks, other minorities and foreign students. This is because I feel that a private liberal arts school like Kenyon cannot afford not to maintain a diverse student body as well as a diversified course selection.”
But it isn’t Kenyon’s history that brings Professor Doumani back in the spring. Rather, we seek his insights into Ottoman history, related to his latest book “Family Life in the Ottoman Mediterranean.” And for this we invite him again to walk on Kenyon’s paths.
Yen Kiung Yung and Junzo Shono and Beshara Doumani all, in their way, provide answers to Amitav Ghosh’s question “What am I doing here?” They found different paths, running through Gambier, to understand the world. We see ourselves in their journeys and also in their writings — in Haika, the Collegian, Reveille and beyond. Kenyon, of course, is a place of writing, but it is also a worldly place. So understanding Kenyon-in-the world is surely part of — as the current phrase goes — our path forward.
Ghosh, Amitav, In an Antique Land, Vintage, 1994.
The Kenyon Matriculation Book,Vol I, The Kenyon Archives.
The Kenyon Collegian, online: digital.kenyon.edu/1856-1900
Yen Yung Kiung “A Chinaman on our Treatment of China,” The Forum, 14: 55-90
Shono Junzo, “A Sojourn in Gambier,” excerpted and translated by Taijiro Iwayama, Haika, 1960 (In the Kenyon Archives)
Bodine, William, ed. The Kenyon Book: Statement of facts bearing upon the proposed changes in the constitution of the Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Ohio : and of other facts bearing upon the welfare of the institution, Nitschke Bros, 1890
Catalogue of the Theological Seminary of the Diocese of Ohio and Kenyon College, 1860-1861. digital.kenyon.edu/coursecatalogs/index.2.html
Interview: Beshara Doumani, Oct. 15, 2018
Interview: Minoo Adenwalla, Oct. 18, 2018
Thank you to Tom Stamp, Kenyon Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana, for his good counsel and expertise.