The truth behind #SpeakUpSewanee


Students from the leadership coalition & Faculty member speaking. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Eliana Perozo
Contributing Writer 

When interviewed by Inside Higher Ed reporter Scott Jaschik, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell had this to say: “I think anonymous postings of a personal nature — leave aside entirely who is being named — are inappropriate and are fundamental violations of the rules of civil behavior.”

He continued, “How does one respond to anonymous charges?” There is a clear distinction between being anonymous out of cowardice and being anonymous out of the protection for your own future. The more comments that are released on behalf of our Vice-Chancellor, the more I am concerned for our University. It is evident that our Vice-Chancellor does not have a clear understanding of what it means to understand and furthermore protect all members of the Sewanee community.

When our Vice-Chancellor makes claims about the “anonymous charges” he is connecting to the poster campaign, he fails to acknowledge both the weight of his privilege and the hollow lack of such a possibility for the students responsible for participating in said campaign.

Eliana Perozo (C’18) speaking at protest. Photo by Luke Williamson (C’21).

My name is Eliana Perozo (C’18) and I have not once asked to be anonymous for the role I played in organizing 30-plus students in front of duPont library to carry out this act of courage and defiance. I am not the only student who shares in this proud responsibility, as Sydney Peterson (C’18) has transformed our campaign into a radical online platform for all.

Altogether, this serves as an official statement from myself and #SpeakUpSewanee, a movement that is hoping to give power back to the people by creating a forum where all individuals are allowed to share their stories pertaining to how their administration at the university, local, state, and national level has failed them.

Presently, the revocation of Rose’s degree is about so much more than Vice-Chancellor John McCardell; it is about our University taking a stance to create a new campus culture. A culture that seeks to protect our victims/survivors, not defend the cowardly men who avoid responsibility when called out for their behavior, whether that be sexual assault or defending sexual assaulters. We want an administration that can recognize the strength it takes to demand more from our institution than the silent complacency of e-mailed letters between higher-ups.

On Friday, February 16 at 6 a.m., a cohort of students dressed in all black, covered their faces, and distributed more than 200 flyers quoting the email signed by Joe Delozier, Chairman of the Board of Regents, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell, and others stating why Charlie Rose’s honorary degree would in fact not be rescinded. Students came to this poster campaign with new flyers, new ideas, and they wanted answers, feeling frustrated after their previous efforts had fallen on deaf ears.

The following weekend, a public forum between myself, Brandon Iracks-Edelin (C’18), and Lauren Newman (C’18), Vice-Chancellor McCardell alluded to the same statement, commenting on the poster campaign as simply words with no action. He claimed that if students wanted to in fact take action he would be here to listen to us. He asked during our public forum, “How does the revocation of Rose’s degree do anything for our campus?”

Individuals gathered at protest. Picture by Lucy Wimmer (C’20).

Have the actions of both student representatives Claire Brickson (C’18) and Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19) then not been enough to illustrate the weight of this decision? Are the 687 signatures that have now increased to 1,156 since the release of not enough? Are the women who willingly chose to live in a house dedicated to the education and protection of victims/survivors not enough?

As leaders and members of #SpeakUpSewanee, let us be clear that while we are bringing John McCardell and his actions, or rather lack of action, into question, this is not a concern with his character. It is an acknowledgment of his power as the representative of this campus and institution at large.

What unspoken rule of law does he feel so entitled to quote from? Have we not taken up our civil duty of questioning the ruling hand when it has failed to protect our victims/survivors of sexual assault within our community? We are done following rules we did not write by men who do not wish to protect us.

During his interview with Jaschik, McCardell also expressed a concern for a lack of diversity among voices stating, “Where is the diversity that we claim to possess and to celebrate when such things as this are posted? Where are the voices saying, ‘This goes too far?'”

Let me tell you something about diversity on this campus: diversity is our strength in numbers, despite our University’s lack of commitment to actually diversifying this institution. It is students, faculty, and seminarians showing up to our Leadership Coalition meeting on February 18, where five seniors led a discussion on how we move forward. It is the representation of black women, brown queer femmes, and our black president of the Student Government Association on our leadership board demonstrating that our liberation is bound to one another. That we are not free from the chains of complacency and dishonesty until our survivors of sexual assault on this campus are allotted the justice they deserve.

We will be silenced no longer and when I say we, I mean to acknowledge all marginalized people while recognizing the significant differences and discrimination that occur across race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, gender, and ability. Intersectionality is a respect for and understanding of diversity—diversity in thought, in experience, and in humanity. Today our fight is against our administration’s lack of commitment to protect our survivors/victims of sexual assault but let us acknowledge that Sewanee’s sins go much deeper than sexual assault. We hope through #SpeakupSewanee other concerns around systemic racism can begin a road towards restorative justice.

Our liberation is bound in truth. Until our Vice-Chancellor acknowledges both his lack of transparency and Charlie Rose’s dishonorable deeds, we will not stop fighting. It’s time we #SpeakUpSewanee, and that is exactly what we plan to do.