“Today is the end of [liberal education at Kenyon College],” Fred Baumann, a professor of political science at Kenyon, proclaimed last week to a panel and its audience. The panel had been convened to discuss the retraction of professor and playwright Wendy MacLeod’s latest play, The Good Samaritan.
MacLeod’s work had been circulated to the students and community, with the intention of production in early April. The show centers on the experiences of Guatemalan illegal immigrants working only a few dozen miles away from Kenyon on an egg farm. As MacLeod explained in an email to the campus about the play, these characters “had been working without pay and living in dire conditions.” The Good Samaritan is based on a true story and MacLeod attempted to unearth it in her work, to, with humor, in her words, “[bring] the repressed to light.” Her play posits, satirically, what might happen if one of these illegal immigrants escaped from the egg farm and found their way to a school like Kenyon.
Following the circulation of the play’s transcript, brigades of students, joined by some professors and campus administrators, pressured for the play to be censored. They justified such censorship on the grounds that it was “harmful on many levels.”
One student emailed the administration and faculty complaining about the race of MacLeod, the author: “I personally take issue with The Good Samaritanbecause it’s yet another narrative written about a person of color from the uninformed perspective of a white academic.” He claimed that the play was “an exercise in cultural hegemony with heavy notes of white savior complex.”
In the Kenyon student newspaper one professor claimed that after reading The Good Samaritan“she has identified 40 instances of ethnic insensitivity.” Among the charges of insensitivity might be a character’s name “Juan Deere” and improperly-rendered Spanish, which at times, resembles Italian. A teaching associate went a good deal further, calling the play “unapologetically racist and mocking. . . . It is an act of violence, dehumanizing and degrading the suffering that immigrants endure in coming to this country, and the many acts of racism and violence that members of the Latinx community endure every day, including on this campus.” She declared that “this play has no place on our campus. I call on the college leadership to responsibly answer the concerns of students and faculty, and withdraw it from production.”
But the college leadership didn’t have to do anything, because MacLeod decided to censor herself. MacLeod canceled the production, she says, “out of respect for the concerns of students and members of the faculty.” She insisted this move was “solely my decision as the administration has supported the principles of freedom of expression.”
Which then led Kenyon’s president, Sean Decatur, to invite students to the panel discussion in order “to participate in the conversation, and to play an active role in shaping the discourse” surrounding the play and its retraction. Evidently discussions are acceptable only after the mob has gotten its witch.
* * *
The Good Samaritan’s retraction comes serendipitously at the same moment as the creation of a new student group at Kenyon: “the whiteness group.”
The group was founded by a student, Juniper Cruz, and is notable not just for its name, but for its rules, which state that “no white person can ask a person of color questions; white people must try to answer their questions for themselves. And no spreading rumors about what people say during the meetings.”
If you were going to set out to create a more illiberal student group possible at a college, you would be hard-pressed to do so.
And as for Baumann’s suggestion that liberal education was finished at Kenyon, he’s certainly on to something. Following the panel where Baumann made his stand, one student took to Facebook, saying that if liberal education “necessitates the silencing of marginalized communities, the protection of racism, and our complicity with both, then let the damned thing die.”