“Save Sewanee,” Thirteen Years Later

By Rory Fraser

Contributing Writer

The phrase “Save Sewanee” started as a bumpersticker that I created in 2003, with the help of a group of friends. It has since morphed into a catch-all slogan for any type of critique anyone wants to offer up about Sewanee, mean-spirited or genuine. I still have a box of these stickers, and the first one is still on my car. It was interesting to read a few years ago when either the Purple or Sewanee Magazine reported that it was used primarily to protest cell phone usage on campus. Recently, I was sad to see it used disparagingly (in Instagram comments) against a current student who dresses differently than other students. Seeing that made me wish I had never printed those things at all.

While the bumperstickers did not have a specific purpose or meaning, it might interest current users of the phrase to at least know the spirit out of which it was born. For numerous forgettable reasons in the spring of ‘03 people were complaining about certain changes happening at Sewanee, and everyone was consumed with talking about them. One day at lunch, a group of us hatched the idea to print a bunch of bumperstickers that said “Save Sewanee” and see what would happen once a critical mass of people put them on their cars. There was no real social media in 2003. Facebook and Twitter were just starting, otherwise “Save Sewanee” may have started as a hashtag instead of currently being reduced to one. We had a lot of stickers printed at Sticker Guy in Nevada, and maybe 50-100 or so students put them on their cars. It was talked about to a degree: the University archivist asked me for some stickers, people asked what it was all about, etc. The project served two purposes: 1) to get people talking/asking questions about what a phrase like this could possibly mean, if it had any meaning at all, and 2) to serve as a critique of the varied complaints about Sewanee from people like us, its privileged students. It was snarky in a sense, and sincere in a sense, but the main thing about it was that the phrase was intended to be a vessel within which meaning could be poured.

And so thirteen years later new meanings have been poured into it. It would be disingenuous to say that the disparaging use of #savesewanee toward Miller Dew are not part of the original intention of the experiment, because the whole point of the experiment was for people to project meaning. That being said, as the person who started this, I can say that I naively did not anticipate that it might one day be used to personally attack specific people within the Sewanee community, and I am sorry that I had a part in starting a domino effect that would result in such an event. It was always meant to be self-reflexive – to encourage the complainer to really think about what they are complaining about.

So in a sense, in keeping with the original experiment, those folks who posted #savesewanee under Miller’s picture, may have intended one meaning, but in the larger tradition of of the phrase and its origins, were actually critiquing themselves.

Though I would never wish to control or further direct the meaning of “Save Sewanee” – since that is counter to its purpose, and would undermine the power of the phrase – I personally hope that its future incarnations trend toward engaging with more urgent issues Sewanee faces, or at least sparking serious dialogue about change at Sewanee. To direct it at a student who dresses differently simply serves the purpose of broadcasting ones own close-mindedness. It may be technically allowable within the tradition of “Save Sewanee” but it is not in keeping with the spirit. In my view, the spirit of “Save Sewanee” is one of conversation and dialogue, not disparaging others while you sit alone somewhere staring at your iPhone.



Rory Fraser, C’04

Assistant Professor, Cinema & Photography Department

Ithaca College

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