March 24, 2020
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“This is a tremendous honor because of the mentorship that Peter gave to me when I first came to Kenyon,” Sheffield said. “Watching and observing Peter taught me a lot about teaching.”
As Kenyon’s first Distinguished Professor of Diversity and Inclusion, Sheffield will develop academic work that builds on the College’s efforts at greater diversity, equity and inclusion. The professorship includes an annual budget of $10,000 for programming, such as an expansion of the oral history research Sheffield conducts with students and outreach activities in Knox County.
“If Kenyon can take a special pride in any aspect of diversity, it should take great pride in the reflection of diversity in its curriculum today,” Sheffield said. “When I came to Kenyon in 1989, my class on ‘Race in American Law’ was one of only two or three regularly offered classes that focused on conceptualizations of diversity.”
Rutkoff has been a force for that change since he came to Gambier in 1971. Many of his students contributed to the endowed professorship in his honor, including Kenyon trustee Matt Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13.
“Peter committed himself very early on to the issues of diversity and inclusion. We can now say, looking back, that his commitment was hugely beneficial for Kenyon,” Winkler said. “That Peter could be my advisor in 1973 and my daughter’s advisor in 2013 is incredibly unique. This professorship honors Peter Rutkoff’s commitment to the students of Kenyon and to turning them into leaders in the world.”
Gifts toward the endowed position were among the first made in Kenyon’s current comprehensive campaign. It is one of four faculty positions endowed in the campaign so far. Endowed funding provides long-term stability because the principal of the gift is invested, and as it grows year after year, only 4.5 percent of the market value is spent each year to fund the position.
Nina P. Freedman ’77 H’92, another Kenyon trustee, also contributed to the chair created in Rutkoff’s honor.
“Social justice has been a defining mantra for Peter. He turns thought into action,” she said. “And he’s always convening the great thinkers and activists. It’s like a beloved quilt. Peter weaves the threads to keep people together.”
Rutkoff has published 10 books, co-directed several Teaching American History projects, was awarded Fulbright Fellowships to France and Cyprus and was the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor 1997-2000. Rutkoff received the College’s Trustee Teaching Excellence Award in 2004.
In 1984, he joined the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP), in which College professors help high school teachers develop their own versions of Kenyon courses. The project now reaches more than 30 Ohio schools, including several underserved schools in Columbus and Cleveland. Rutkoff serves as KAP’s executive director.
“To improve diversity and inclusion, you have to work at it. It takes a lot of intent and a lot of coordination so that the different pieces of the puzzle fit together,” Rutkoff said.
At Kenyon, Rutkoff co-founded the Crossroads seminar in African American studies and founded the American studies major, an interdisciplinary department that Sheffield has directed.
Provost Joe Klesner said, “That Ric teaches at Kenyon in the first place owes much to Peter Rutkoff’s encouragement many years ago. Ric has as much as anyone at Kenyon made this a more diverse place and contributed significantly to realizing Peter’s aspirations for a more diverse and inclusive Kenyon.”
Before coming to Kenyon, Sheffield spent 10 years as an assistant attorney general for the State of Ohio. He has served as an associate provost and is director of the John W. Adams Summer Scholars Program in Socio-Legal Studies.
Rutkoff said, “Ric’s work will be a nice component to American Studies. I like the idea of looking at the issue of diversity in a different setting.”
Sheffield plans to expand on his oral history project “The Community Within” with a yearlong course examining racial and ethnic diversity in Knox County. He also plans to teach a senior course in the spring of 2019 called “Hyphenated-Identities: Revealing Diversity in Rural America.”
“In academia, a person is often rewarded for becoming the preeminent scholar on this bit of minutiae or that bit. But minutiae is not going to change anyone’s life. Peter, from day one, wanted to think of a different way of teaching, one that is more impactful,” Sheffield said. “I’m excited to have a teaching professorship that reflects that philosophy.”
Klesner said, “Ric has done yeoman’s work in gathering historical evidence about the development of the African American community in Knox County. This professorship will now give him the opportunity to share it with Kenyon students in a way that he hasn’t before — the perfect culmination of a project that has deep meaning for Ric, for Kenyon and for the Knox County community.”