State of Sewanee: what journalism has taught me about Sewanee’s progress

By Lam Ho


Much has come to pass in behind the doors of the Purple office, and while I originally wished to write a piece on parting with the newspaper as editor-in-chief, after much contemplation, I wish to discuss two parts of Sewanee that I see improving. These are issues in Sewanee that I hope student leaders will continue to take time to criticize and challenge.

The first of these is feminism on campus. In 2015, our current managing editor wrote, “Feminism is so much more complex than just sex positivity. There are several issues that could be addressed, both here at Sewanee and the world at large, but they are unintentionally overlooked in favor of more sex positivity content.” In response, residents of the Wick reposted the article and responded with frustration. I want to clarify the content of this article, which you can find online.

While reminding readers of her support of all Wick initiatives, Forrest offered suggestions as to how we could address larger problems that do not pertain to sex positivity. Not only do we have room to discuss the wage gap, female friendship, and sexual assault on campus, but sex positivity excludes a group on campus that does not participate in sexual activity of any sort. Obviously, this group might not feel comfortable attending events created for sexually active college students—this, in fact, was the motivation for Forrest’s opinion piece. I want to point out this instance as a moment when a writer wrote a piece that had the potential to positively shape events on campus but was discouraged from doing so.

One hope I have for the future of Sewanee is that we, particularly as a feminist community, can look inward and see what we do wrong. As a woman, I have struggled year-to-year to appreciate other women for their intelligence, not just their looks, and not to envy others for their accomplishments. Particularly in the face of the election, in the face of a nation of people who abuse, rape, fat-shame, and give less of a salary to women, it is our responsibility, on any scale, to make everyone feel represented, to make everyone feel that he or she belongs. It is also our responsibility to try to address feminism from each and every angle, while understanding that there is always room for improvement in both our personal actions and how we interact with feminism on a national or international scale.

The second of the criticisms I have about campus life is our approach to race. While I don’t have all the answers, the work I have done as a journalist here at Sewanee has revealed ugly, almost unbelievable details about our treatment of people of color on our campus. When I was a freshman writer, I interviewed a Bacchus driver who was mistreated because she was a black woman; that year, I also heard of an incident at a fraternity house when a Hispanic woman was literally spat on by an alum and harassed because of her heritage. Particularly after the election, hateful acts have cropped up yet again, showing us that issues of race and ethnicity are not behind us. It is written in our history, yet I still hear students talking about how we should reduce curriculum that focuses on slavery because “it is behind us.”

I won’t entertain that argument because I clearly disagree; again, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think creating a gap between different racial groups will help us move forward as a society, but I think we do need to see how we have treated racial divides. In my experience, white privilege dominates Sewanee culture in ways that I think some of my peers are reluctant to address. My best advice in terms of race relations? Listen. Attend events that celebrate other cultures. Don’t discount the struggles of minority students; don’t ignore their cries for help, and don’t reject their ways of seeking reconciliation. Nothing is more counterproductive to everyone than becoming more extreme in our beliefs by remaining glued to our comfort zones. In these past few weeks, I have heard more often how people of color on campus wish to feel supported on campus, and I have had to ask myself why I have yet to become a more active and vocal proponent of their needs, safety, and struggle.

While these two issues are not the only ones that matter on campus, I want to bring them to our attention in light of recent events. They have also mattered a great deal to me in pursuing investigative pieces in The Sewanee Purple.

I encourage future writers to pursue these matters, to check our progress constantly, and to challenge one another in these conversations. I have a long way to go myself, and I have little to no answers, but as a student leader stepping down from editor-in-chiefship, I want to encourage the next line of student leaders to consider these components of life at Sewanee and to love this place enough to ask more of it. A sense of community is anything but effortless; we must continue to move forward and maintain our sense of support for one another, no matter how painful the revisions might feel in the four years we spend on the Mountain.