By Helena Kilburn
At the seventh annual Sewanee Monologues presented by the Bairnwick Women’s Center, 29 students presented in front of a full house in Guerry Auditorium. Based on the Vagina Monologues, the Wick’s version included students speaking on a wide range of topics, such as sexual assault, mental health, and racism.
One of the first people to speak was Amanda Watters (C’18), with a monologue entitled “Hurricane.” She told The Purple that she felt that it was important to write and recite a monologue because it gave her the opportunity to “put words to something that I have been dealing with for a long time.” Watters believed that by writing down what she needed to say and speaking it to the crowd, she was able to leave that emotional weight on the page, and ultimately on the stage.
Watters wrote her monologue in such a way that it was not clear what or who she directed the monologue to, which allowed room for more people to relate to her words. The experience that she wrote about made her doubt herself, and because of this, she emphasized in her monologue that the situation will eventually be insignificant and she will go on to do great things and regain her sense of self.
For Chandler Davenport (C’19), presenting at Sewanee Monologues gave her the chance to encourage others to speak up and start a conversation about race. She loves public speaking and chose a topic she was quite familiar with. As Davenport told The Purple, “I have been a black woman for 21 years, I am comfortable with it and with talking about it by now.”
She was partially inspired to write her monologue, “An Inconvenient Truth,” because of the response that she had recently seen on campus regarding Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. She found the student response to be inspiring, but she could not help but recognize that a student response of that proportion had never occurred around issues of race.
According to Davenport, there are both micro and overt instances of racism on this campus, and she wants to see an appropriate response to these incidences. She sees the Sewanee community often cherry-picking the issues to which they want to respond.
“If Sewanee wants to be a true community, we have to do better and show up for each other no matter if you have a personal connection to the issue or not,” said Davenport. She added that if someone does not have a personal connection to an issue, that person should be there to ask others, “What can I do to help?”
The idea of asking questions largely motivated Davenport’s monologue. She wanted to show the student body that she is accessible and open to conversations about race. Davenport recognizes that many students avoid these conversations not for malicious reasons, but rather in fear of sounding uneducated or offensive.
Davenport hopes her monologue will inspire others to ask questions that will “break down the stigma around having open conversations here at Sewanee” as the racial climate on campus should not be ignored.
“Sewanee is a liberal arts university, we need to be able to liberally discuss issues,” said Davenport, explaining that all members can help Sewanee grow into a more positive racial climate.
Both Davenport and Watters mentioned the nerves they felt before standing up in front of the audience, but they both said that the reaction they received from the student body has been incredible.
Davenport wrote her monologue in a hope that comedy could make listeners more receptive to her message, and judging from the enthusiastic response of the audience, that method seemed to work. Laughter filled Guerry Auditorium during her monologue, but it was the feedback that she later received in person that assured her listeners had not missed the importance of the comedy.
For Watters, she said the love and support she has received has made her feel “like a superhero.” The best feedback she received was from an acquaintance telling her that she sounded like she had an army behind her, and she did. As Watters told The Purple, “I had fellow students, my strong friends, my family, and my professors that are all supportive and caring.” She emphasized that they were not only supporting her but also her story and the validity of the issues that it expressed.
“[Sewanee Monologues] is one of the only opportunities here at Sewanee that allows for students to speak and be heard…it’s an opportunity for them to share their pain and let the audience help them carry it,” said Watters. She also spoke about how the monologues are not about explaining experiences or taking sides in them, but about people being able to tell their stories and be believed.
Davenport was struck by how powerful it is to own your story in front of people, even if those stories are shared anonymously. There is, as Davenport put it, “visible agency, the idea that I am standing in my own truth.” The event seeks to bring attention to the most pressing issues on campus each year in an effort to raise awareness of other students’ experiences.
One striking aspect about Sewanee Monologues involves the variety not only in the topics discussed, but in the different takes that people had on the same subjects. With this in mind, a common message for this event appeared as the idea that no one is alone: the audience gave the speakers assurance that others on campus will listen to what they have to say, and the speakers gave the audience members someone to relate to. Each performer gave the audience a sign that if they shared their own experience, they were not alone.