State of Sewanee: Try a Little Tenderness

By Amanda Watters

Contributing Writer

Amanda Watters (C’17) is a Bonner Leader and a site leader for the Diabetes Prevention Program, grant writing, and Connecting One Another Respecting Each Other (C.O.R.E.).

This year has gone by so fast—we are already half way through the semester. As I reflect back on my time here at Sewanee, all the friendships, all the fun nights, all the softball games, I would say one of my favorite parts of Sewanee is actually my job.

I’ve been a Bonner Leader since the first day I stepped onto campus—we had an 8 hour long orientation and I thought to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” I still ask myself that question, but perhaps with less trepidation than I did on that first day. This year I have had the wonderful opportunity to become a site leader for a couple of my Bonner sites, which means I am in charge of the planning, implementation, and execution of new ideas, projects, and curriculum for a team of Bonners and volunteers at multiple sites, including writing grants, teaching a women’s empowerment class at the local high school, and beginning a new diabetes prevention program for the community. The experience of taking the lead on both the logistical side of my job and the implementation of my own ideas and projects coming to fruition with the help of my fellow Bonners, has taught me I’m a good leader in certain ways, but not necessarily in other ways, and that I still have a lot of learning to do with the leading.

One of my favorite sites is C.O.R.E., a women’s empowerment class at Grundy County High School. Our class is all about respect, respect for yourself, respect for others something that is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s world. I work alongside several Sewanee student volunteers and a Bonner freshmen. We meet weekly to plan our curriculum and activities, and then the magic happens. Twice a week, we meet with 18 girls to lead group discussion, written reflections, and activities that focus on how respect is a key element to success and how we can change the world around us beginning with ourselves and changing our own self perceptions. In our group discussion, this question came up: “How do respect people who don’t have respect for you?” I was a little stumped. Isn’t this exactly the question that challenges our nation regarding race, politics, and economics recently?

As I was driving home from the high school that day,“Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding came on my radio. I was struck by how appropriate that song is for the question at hand. We can’t always walk in another person’s shoes and we don’t always have all the answers, but we can try a little a tenderness, a little understanding, and a little bit of forgiveness. That’s one of my favorite things about Sewanee: in a world that can be so harsh and nasty, Sewanee is a refuge.

The Sewanee atmosphere, the magical feeling that brings us back time and time again, exists because the community here is so supportive of each other. Students, professors, and staff of the university “try a little tenderness” in every situation they encounter. It’s a place that encourages growth, development, and success—not just in academics, but holistically—whether that’s socially, emotionally, or athletically. Sewanee is shaping us into the leaders of tomorrow, showing us how we can change and what we do well. And yet, at the same time, Sewanee shows us that sometimes things stay the same. The community here has been through many changes since my freshmen year, good and bad, but overall the heart of Sewanee is in the people who care, support, and love with a gracefulness unlike anywhere else I have ever been.

So when I ask myself, “How do you respect people even when you don’t want to?” or “How can I be a better leader?” I look around campus at each person who makes this community such a beautiful and wonderful place to live in. Y’all empower each other every day, through your words, through your actions, through your love for one another; and that’s what it’s all about.

One thought

  1. Ever since I first set foot on campus as a rising high school senior, I sensed what you are describing as “The Sewanee atmosphere”. That first experience inspired me to only apply to The University of the South (good thing I was accepted!).
    After my 4 years of residency on the Mountain, and the vast panoply of different moments and seasons of various levels of intensity of awareness and experiencing what I now call the Sewanee Presence, I have returned often to recharge that part of me that is forever entwined with this special place and those who share this affection… and have been engaged in over four decades of prayerful research and consideration of the actual source of this Presence.
    Thank you for opening up your heart and acknowledging your sense of “the heart of Sewanee.”
    My current thinking is that the Source of “the heart of Sewanee”/”the Sewanee atmosphere”/”the Sewanee Presence” is the invited Presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Because The University was founded to be dedicated to Kingdom purposes, and at least up until I arrived on campus as a freshman, was unapologetically a Christian university, God is fulfilling His promise to be in the midst of those who gather in His Name, especially in a unique Domain acquired to His glory. (As a Los Peone and an Acolyte/Lay reader, my attribution vacillated at times from grain alcohol to the majesty of meditating alone in All Saints, Green’s View, Morgan’s Steep, or at The Cross).
    In order to facilitate a forum for this line of conversation, I started a Facebook Page entitled Sewanee King Jesus Window. All y’all are invited to LIKE and contribute as you are so inclined.
    Yea, Sewanee’s Blessed!

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