What Happened to No Cell Phones on Middle Path?

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It’s one of Kenyon’s most well-known, but endangered traditions, and I’m definitely not the first to lodge this complaint, but I’ll go for it anyway: What’s up with all of these cell phones on Middle Path?

Most of us knew the ins and outs, as well as the rules, of Middle Path by the time orientation was over. There are certain things that aren’t a good idea, and certain things you just don’t do. It’s probably in your best interest to avoid wearing good shoes on the gravel; you’ll destroy them. But we never needed a rational explanation to know that you don’t walk through the Gates of Hell when the midnight bells are chiming and you really don’t use your cell phone on the path. Ever.

The principle sounded petty at the time, but as I look out on Middle Path and see a girl staring into her phone as she walks, unable to tear herself away from cyberspace and look up at what is an absolutely stunning early evening, I can’t help but feel that she’s missing out, and that what she’s doing is less-than-right. Sure, she isn’t hurting anybody by being absorbed in her phone (unless she walks into someone), but something feels viscerally wrong with what she’s doing in a way that it wouldn’t if she were staring into her phone while walking elsewhere on campus.

Ignore the phone call, step onto the grass if you must (it’s really not that hard), but Kenyon was founded long before the cell phone and will exist long after students are communicating telepathically. So put the technology of the current aside for a second and take the opportunity to share in as something as simple as walking from point A to point B with students past, experiencing this one sliver of our time here as they did: phone-free.

We don’t get that many opportunities to experience Kenyon in the same way it was experienced a century ago. We have more cars to dodge, more places to go to and more allstus to send. We can no longer park our horses under Old Kenyon, but we can call up the Cove at 1:30 am and have various kinds of deep-fried cheese delivered to our door within the half hour. It would seem that one of the few things we do have left in common with our predecessors is the ability to be present on Middle Path, unimpeded by buzzing or jingling from people who are anywhere other than walking next to or past us. In the interest of preserving the few connections we have to those who came before us, surely we can resist the urge to venture into cyberspace in the five minutes it takes us to get from South Quad to the Market, let alone the 90 seconds we spend on Middle Path between classes.

We’re told that part of going to college is the questioning of tradition: when we see things that are done simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done” we’re supposed to raise a skeptical eyebrow and ask why. This can make simple, unwritten social regulations, such as not stepping on the seal in Peirce, seem like unnecessary inconveniences unworthy of our recognition.

But when asked about our ethos as a community, what defines going to Kenyon, these little traditions tend to pop up in conversation. Bring a friend from another school to Peirce and the first thing you tell them is “Don’t step on the seal!” They aren’t going to fail any classes; they don’t even go here. But part of being on Kenyon’s campus means that you don’t do certain things. These traditions are part of what define us, and recognizing that definition lowers the skeptical eyebrows of the incoming would-be seal-steppers and Middle Path-texters.

Go to any established college campus and you will find quirky traditions that define what it means to go there as opposed to another college. At UVa, you streak the Lawn at least once before you graduate. At Colby, you stay up drinking all night on St. Patrick’s Day, then meet with the entire student body on the steps of the library to watch the sun rise (it’s called Doghead). At Christopher Newport University, you are given a penny during freshman orientation that you must keep your entire college career; you then throw that penny into the Canadian geese fountain after you graduate, wishing luck to remaining and future students.

Absent our traditions, would our Kenyon education change? Of course not, but our Kenyon experience would. Not only would we be further removed from previous, technologically lacking alumni, we’d be more like all of the other college students across the country who don’t have that one spot on campus where it isn’t OK to be plugged in.

So, as petty as it may seem and as silly as it may sound, to keep Kenyon Kenyon and literally for old-times’ sake: no cell phones on Middle Path.

2 comments on “What Happened to No Cell Phones on Middle Path?”

  1. Thanks for this, Jon. Middle Path means being present. Putting away your phone on MP is a tradition (even if it is a new one–only as old as cell service in Gambier), but it’s also a meaningful habit.

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