Just a few weeks before Kenyon’s Class of 2021 arrives in Gambier for Orientation, Kenyon’s new dean of students, Robin Hart Ruthenbeck, settled into her Gund Commons office. Hart Ruthenbeck comes to Kenyon from Macalester College and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a doctorate of education from the University of Minnesota.
We sat down with Hart Ruthenbeck to talk about her introduction to the Kenyon community.
You come to Kenyon with prior experience at similar liberal arts colleges. How is Kenyon different, and what are you most looking forward to?
Before Macalester I was at Carleton College, another small private institution in a less urban environment, but still not quite situated in as unique a setting as Kenyon. And, actually, that’s something that I am looking forward to. One of the things that I really loved about my own undergraduate experience was that it was at an institution where there was clearly a sense of place and a sense of purpose. I knew when I was setting foot on campus, and that I was there for a reason. That gave me permission to fully engage.
As Kenyon works to increase diversity and inclusion among the Kenyon community, how do you feel about being the first woman of color to serve as dean of students at Kenyon?
I can remember very clearly my first experience — as an undergraduate, actually — having someone in an administrative position who looked like me. It was a reminder that, oh wait, there is space for me here. And it was helpful for me to find spaces where I felt like I could take a deep breath, and it didn’t necessarily feel like I had to be as guarded as I felt like I had to be in other times. That was a long time ago for me now, and I think I’m much more comfortable in my own skin and in navigating spaces that are often full of people who don’t look like me. But I do think just seeing yourself represented is so important.
You’ll be getting to know Kenyon at the same time that members of the Class of 2021 are learning their way around Kenyon. How do you plan to connect with your fellow first-years, as well as upperclass students?
I really look forward to finding ways to connect with people informally, whether it’s sitting down with them in Peirce, or walking my dog, Titus, on Middle Path, or learning songs before the First-Year Sing. I don’t hesitate to just say, “Hey, this is who I am, tell me about your Kenyon, tell me about what has made this place special for you.” As people start to see my face and it becomes a little bit more familiar, I’m hoping that they will be equally willing to start a conversation.
What kind of dog is Titus?
Titus is a boxer. He’s an 80-pound lapdog, so if you sit down on the ground near him, he will sit on you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.