By Lam Ho
Last week, the Women’s Center was hospitable enough to open their doors to freshman and sophomore girls for an event about some misconceptions underclassmen might have about Sewanee. During a panel discussion, six girls gave their two cents on what they thought Sewanee was when they first came here — and how their ideas changed with their experiences.
The crowd was thick with the curiosity of young women who had been told by these upperclassman leaders that this would be a fiercely important event. Without a doubt, the idea was attractive: what could freshmen and sophomores do to avoid the common assumptions made about Sewanee culture?
The first to stand and answer this question was Sydney Philpott (C’15). In her speech, the broader picture she painted opened door to the idea that students should challenge their perceptions of the University. Despite the fact she came to Sewanee, a purely academic institution, she has learned that it is so much more.
With this introduction, she set the theme of the entire talk: making a fulfilling experience out of these four years, according to these six leaders, is about more than academics. Sewanee life involves social freedom, sexual openness, and self-love, among a countless number of other elements.
“We assume that life will follow a set schedule,” said Philpott, soon debunking this hasty assumption she had made before learning that, in fact, life can be erratic — and more enjoyable for this reason.
The perspectives presented by Hannah Beath (C’14), Maria Stratienko (C’14), Alexandra George (C’15), Brittany Macon (C’14), and Angelica de Freitas (C’15) each complemented Philpott’s and provoked thoughts of their younger counterparts.
In a bold and anecdotal monologue, Beath discussed sexual freedom in college and how students should explore what they desire from their romantic lives — with the assurance that such a journey fits into one’s big picture at Sewanee. Beath emphasized that this is a time for self-exploration and soul-searching that should be a source of affirmation, not confusion.
Next, Brittany Macon stood and shared her own preconceived image of Sewanee that she viewed before realizing her role at the University. “I thought everyone was competition,” she said. With regret, she explained that she had pushed friendships out of her way in order to achieve high grades. Now, Macon is involved in Residential Life and the Honor Council, among other organizations that have made her a prominent student leader. “Our time here is not unlimited,” she reminded the group. “Make the most of it.”
Yet another spirited influence on campus is Maria Stratienko, who stood next. Her topic was provocative and explicit, which the audience recognized with strong encouragement.
“I have found this topic incredibly prevalent to many women. We should be focusing on healthy eating versus disorderly eating,” she says. During the “What I Wish I Hadn’t Assumed” Panel, she emphasized this point: “Get help in whatever way you can. Don’t be afraid to talk about the ways you need help.”
Angelica de Freitas’ speech revolved around race and the reverse stereotype prevalent on campus. Although Sewanee takes on a predominantly white aura, she recognized that she had made an inaccurate assumption regarding prejudice. “I dreaded the strings attached to being a minority,” de Freitas added. Her realization occurred when she opened a discussion about her race. During this conversation, her friends reassured her that her skin color had nothing to do with how they viewed her. When she made herself a part of the Sewanee community and discussed her dissatisfaction, she opened her heart to meaningful relationships in and outside of the classroom.
The sixth and final speech was made by Alexandra George, who involved the sense of identity students cultivate at Sewanee. All around Sewanee, leaders come from each walk of life and, consequently, bring their diverse insight to each organization. She argued against the assumption that each student is defined by one set passion when, in reality, most students are formed by their multiple interests.
After the talk, discussions were quick to form between strangers of all age groups. The Women’s Center made a positive impression on freshmen and sophomore who have now been introduced to a resource for mentorship and advice in regards to what they assume makes Sewanee what it is — and how they could be mistaken.