Women’s empowerment on Sewanee’s campus and beyond

By Hadley Montgomery

Executive Staff

Catherine Casselman (C’17) and Anna Sumner Noonan (C’17) currently lead SWEEC: Sewanee Women Engaging and Empowering Community. The Canale Endowment funds SWEEC through the Canale Internship for Community Service and Leadership; the internship supports students and allows them to pursue and create community service projects around Sewanee.

Canale interns attend workshops and reflections that help the women think of ways to better the program. The Canale program gives the leaders the tools and resources to organize and plan well. Sumner believes “they are really helpful because you learn a lot that you can apply to your own program.”

Lillie Belle Viebranz (C’15) and Mary Ottley (C’15) reinvented SWEEC two years ago to connect Sewanee students with one another and the greater community through mentoring and service outreach sites. The program’s leadership changes each year depending on the applicants who wish to advance the mission of the program.

Casselman’s involvement in outreach and Women and Gender Studies led her to SWEEC, a way to encompass her academic and civic engagement interests. Much like Casselman, Sumner “believes in empowerment for young women and trying to broaden the horizons of the Sewanee student to learn more about the community rather than what is inside the gates.” She saw it as an opportunity to take the program in a new direction focused on streamlining education within SWEEC to global and local issues.

SWEEC’s membership includes 60 women, 50 of which are students of the University. Along with Sewanee students, mentors from the Sewanee community participate in the program. SWEEC contains two components: student mentor groups and service Saturdays.

In the mentor groups, the students “have conversations facilitated by a Sewanee community member,” according to Casselman and Noonan. The women implemented a curriculum for every mentor meeting to guide the facilitation process and ensure that the program extends beyond the Sewanee community circle, connecting with broader issues of the world.

The conversations in mentor meetings focus on issues leading up to service Saturdays, the second component. On Saturdays throughout the semester, the women in SWEEC visit Blue Monarch, the Appalachian Women’s Guild, and the University Farm. The curriculum focuses on learning about the landscape and issues surrounding each site.

For example, in the weeks leading up to the visit to Blue Monarch, the women created a curriculum surrounding domestic violence. The leaders hope “the relationships and mentoring within the groups will help foster healthy connections outside of this program into the community and inspire the women to take control of those resources.”

After this year, Casselman and Noonan would like to see SEEC become more diverse in terms of women that apply. They hope the program “continues establishing relationships it already has with our community partners…while simultaneously exploring other avenues for service and empowerment in the programs.”