Women’s Center works to build Sewanee stronger

by Shari Balouchi

The Women’s Center has become a strong force across campus, evidenced by this semester’s first Pinnacle Luncheon held at the Women’s Center in the Mary Sue Cushman Room. Male and female students alike turned out in numbers so large that students maxed out the room’s seating capacity and chose to sit on the floor or stand against the walls. Beyond students, faculty and staff also lined up around the building for this much-anticipated event. The luncheon featured speeches from six lively seniors of the Class of 2014 about their experience and how to “Build Sewanee Stronger”.

Senior swimmer, Emily Blau recalled her list of Sewanee “firsts” from being the first child to attend college to her first time traveling abroad. Those first- time experiences are transforming themselves into “lasts.” The last summer vacation, the last first day of school, and the last swimming competition. When things begin to change so quickly, how then can one “make it count?” Blau made an unusual recommendation – to keep on doing what one loves rather than changing her Sewanee lifestyle to fit a senior persona. With humor she explains, “If you didn’t used to go out onTuesday nights, you don’t all of a sudden need to go out on Tuesday nights.” The senior student isn’t called to live out the final year burning bridges and risking responsibilities; instead, the senior year is a last chance to develop the experience he or she wants. “No need to change ourselves just because we are now called seniors.”

The next speaker, Vikash Naran reminded his audience that, while aging means relinquishing “childish” behavior, it does not mean ceasing to be child-like. Playfulness and curiosity should be part of a senior experience. Echoing the words of his housemate, Charlie Hughes, he challenged the stereotype that aging means turning one year older. “Something I’ve been toying around with is [that] I’m not just 21. I’m a combination of ages. I’m 21, but I’m also 15, 5, and I’m also 9. Time doesn’t work like how we think. I’m all these ages all at once.”

In a streak of bravery, Kelsey Koontz stepped up to the podium and divulged extremely intimate details from her childhood to listeners. “I just did what few of us get to do in day-to-day interactions at Sewanee,” she explained. “I just got real with you. And I told you something incredibly personal.” She pointed out what is so often overlooked – that everyone has personal stories that are both complicated and painful, yet they not so uncommon. Caroline Roberts similarly echoed Koontz’s call for more authentic interactions on campus. She encouraged finding small ways to fight injustices, such as speaking up when we hear prejudiced remarks or taking an extra minute to really listen to the response after flippantly asking one another “how are you?”. She reflected on her personal experience as a lesbian on campus and the uneasy feeling of “constantly bracing herself for a blow.” More than the “epic failures” that humans experience, Roberts talks about the little, everyday failures and how addressing these behaviors can make Sewanee better in small ways.

The instant Will Minter walked up to the podium, the crowd was in uproar. He proposed a three-tier popularity theorem and how students tend to view themselves in the middle – neither extremely popular nor socially deficient. But he challenged the audience to consider the “inadequacies” cause us to categorize each other and ourselves. They are usually a combination of past experiences and personal identity – in other words, things we cannot change. By failing to engage one’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions, an individual becomes a caricature that does not fit his or her true identity. This is where Sewanee comes in; it is a place where quirks have been and should be celebrated.

Finally, Pierce Myers takes the floor. “There are thirty-nine light fixtures on the ceiling,” he begins. “I am Pierce Myers, and we are humans inside of a building. We are inside of this building to discuss the nature of strength. I am extremely nervous. You are either able to tell that I am nervous or you are unable to tell.” His transparency left his audience laughing – whether out of discomfort, confusion, or enjoyment. Without failing to engage his audience by dodging behind the podium like a ninja, he addressed the pressure Sewanee faces as it changes over time. He describes the difficulty each individual faces in accepting its dynamic history; the Sewanee experience of alumni from 1990 is different from that of a current senior, from that of a current freshman. “The charge is to participate in the evolution of this place,” he explains. “You have to look it right in its eyes. You have to avoid perpetuating Sewanee’s “deep-freeze”. We make Sewanee stronger here by provoking its dynamic potential.”

Each senior’s experience illuminated a unique aspect of campus culture, but ultimately each person’s words reflected a common theme: Ecce Quam Bonum. Be good to each other. Acknowledge each other as equals. Reach out instead of looking away.

In this spirit of lifting one another up, the Women’s Center is kick- starting an event series called Tuesday Toasts, designed to celebrate the successes of students. It is an informal way for students to share their involvements on campus and serves as an avenue for others to learn about new opportunities. The first celebration will take place on October 1 from 5:00 to 6:00 P.M. in the Women’s Center Living Room.