The Cat With a Campus Wrapped Around His Paw

For the past two years, Moxie has been invading classrooms and riding around Kenyon College atop students’ backpacks.

An alumni event at Kenyon College in late summer 2019 (Courtesy of Jodi Miller / Kenyon College)

Kenyon College’s mascot is, technically, a lord (or a lady), its logo a purple shield featuring the family coat of arms of one English noble who helped establish the Ohio school in 1824. But two years ago, a new, unofficial mascot emerged for the liberal-arts college.

Since 2017, a black cat named Moxie has been roaming Kenyon’s 1,000-acre campus, sharpening his claws on its maple-tree trunks and riding on students’ backpacks as they walk to class.

Kenyon College and the surrounding towns are famously brimming with feral cats, and a select few have in the past gotten special treatment from the student community. But Moxie is unique. He likely arrived on campus some evening in October 2017, according to reporting from earlier this year by the student paper The Kenyon Collegian. Then a six-month-old stray kitten, Moxie (along with another, more timid cat called Mosie) happened upon Pastor Susan Stevens, who was in her car enjoying some french fries. Moxie made a beeline for the food as soon as he got a whiff, jumping in Stevens’s car, she told the Collegian. The pastor, whose house is very close to Kenyon, drove home with the strays at her side. She adopted them, and gave them their names.

Teddy Hannah-Drullard chauffeuring Moxie (courtesy of Teddy Hannah-Drullard)

Moxie, it turns out, isn’t much of a homebody. He started spending pretty much all his time outdoors on campus as soon as he was adopted, initially frustrating Stevens, who was desperate for the then-kitten to attach to her. What she didn’t know at first was that he’d become a Kenyon darling almost overnight—these days, the two-year-old cat treats the students like his personal chauffeur service. Moxie regularly jumps up onto the backpacks of passing humans, traversing campus on his two-legged chariots. He delights the school, but also disturbs it. Recently, for example, the fire department had to rescue the cat from a coffee shop’s roof. He likes to infiltrate classroom buildings, too; signs warning students not to let Moxie into the lecture halls abound. Every once in a while he enters Kenyon’s on-campus Episcopal church unannounced, in the middle of Reverend Rachel Kessler’s sermons.

Kessler, of course, just shoos him out and shrugs it off. “I love Moxie,” she says. “I have allergies, and I still love Moxie.” Pretty much everyone at Kenyon loves Moxie. “He’s the friendliest freakin’ cat I’ve ever met in my life,” says John Lyons, who graduated in 2017 and now works at the college, in the Collegian’s video report about Moxie.

Moxie is a social-media celebrity, and is even the subject of a Facebook group with nearly 400 members. Sarah Stewart, a senior and the co-founder of the Where Is Moxie @ Kenyon? group, says it’s updated daily. Such fandom makes sense at Kenyon, which—like a growing number of colleges across the country—prides itself on being a fur-friendly institution, Kenyon President Sean Decatur (or “D-Cat” as the students call him) recently told me. Thirty-three of Kenyon’s roughly 1,700 students this school year have emotional-support animals (most of them small mammals), part of the school’s effort to better accommodate its population’s mental-health and learning-disability needs. (Decatur was the one who first told me about Moxie, at a dinner with higher-education leaders a few weeks ago. I mentioned my fascination with animals on campus, and his face lit up immediately. The cat, he suggested, is the perfect complement to Kenyon’s ESA program.)

“I think Moxie injects a levity into the campus,” Kessler notes—with all their commitments and the pressure to succeed, she says, students could use that extra dose of “whimsy.” Other unofficial mascots and communal campus pets—such as American University’s Wonk Cat and Wheaton College’s Cowduck—serve the same purpose: a bit of fun in a stressful environment. Stewart calls Moxie the campus’s communal emotional-support animal. She often observes students look up from their phone, stop to greet the cat, and “stay present.” Teddy Hannah-Drullard, another senior, told me she cherishes Moxie so much in part because her own application to have an ESA was declined.

“The biggest reason Moxie is such a popular entity is because he showed up at a time … when the Kenyon student body really needed something to hold on to,” Hannah-Drullard says. Moxie materialized at Kenyon after the polarizing 2016 election and stayed through tense debates over new campus rules governing student protests, for example, as well as its elimination of peer-counseling services.

Amid all that negative publicity, the cat also serves as good PR. The admissions office doesn’t display photos of the cat or train employees to talk about Moxie, but “Moxie has definitely become a selling point,” says Hannah-Drullard, who’s worked in different capacities in the admissions office. “If you’re on a tour and Moxie shows up, you are definitely not discouraged from stopping, picking him up, and bringing him with you.”