Photo of the 2018-2019 WICK residents. Photo by Luke Williamson (C’21).
By Kaitlyn Alford
For years, the Wick has struggled to foster diversity within their leadership teams. The phrase “Wick so white” has floated freely through the student body in response. This year, residents of the Bairnwick Women’s Center hope to change that and to more fully represent the entire Sewanee community.
“This may be the most diverse Wick ever,” remarked co-director Chandler Davenport (C’19). “It’s at least the most diverse since I’ve been attending.”
She continued, “When I was a freshman, if someone had said, ‘Let’s go hang in the Wick,’ I would’ve absolutely not been comfortable doing so. I hope that this year we can really start to show that everyone is welcome here. We just got a new TV, and everytime I come downstairs there are people hanging out in the living room watching something with their friends. I want to see more of that!”
With this year’s theme, “Intentional Intersectionality,” residents hope to take this increased inclusion a step further. Co-director Eunice Muchemi (C’19) explained, “It’s important for student organizations to normalize talking about experiences other than your own. Campus change can’t happen unless all students’ voices are heard.”
Students are often the driving force behind change on college campuses. Jinae Washington (C’19), president of the Black Student Union, agrees. “Sewanee is a utopia,” she said, “and while I believe that Sewanee wants to change, it doesn’t know how to, so students have to take responsibility for instituting cultural change.”
Wick residents hope to drive change by providing a place that all students can explore themselves. Spaces for students to safely and comfortably hang out with their friends are in short supply on campus. “This year I’m seeing freshmen going to find that space within the Wick,” said Washington. “I know I, personally, have been to the Wick more times this year than in my previous three years combined.”
In even shorter supply are spaces for students to explore their experiences through conversations about other walks of life. Maintaining conversations about diversity on campus has long been one of the greatest challenges for student leaders.
“After the Posse Plus Retreat, you see people wanting to have these conversations,” said Washington, “but a lot of times I see people just lose steam as life takes over.”
To this end, this year Wick will be hosting a multitude of social-only events. “If you happen to get into a deep conversation with someone at these events, that’s great,” said Davenport. “But we don’t want people to feel like you have to do that every time you come over.”
With these events, Wick residents hope that they can get more diverse turnouts. Often, they find the same students showing up for event after event. While it’s great to have a core of support within the student body, residents would like their efforts to reach more of the campus. They hope that increasing the variety of organizations who co-sponsor their events will increase student attendance.
“We want to be deliberate with our partnerships for events,” added Muchemi. “It’s not enough to just plaster on the names of different organizations if there isn’t a purpose to doing so. We want people to feel actually included, regardless of their backgrounds or opinions, not like we’re just putting on a front to get them in the door.”
This semester, there are no men living in the Wick. Muchemi and Davenport would love to increase representation of men within Wick activities. “So, guys, if you have things you’d like to see from us, please let us know! We want to host more events for men, but aren’t always sure of how to do so,” Muchemi said.
Many fraternities already go through training with Dr. Sylvia Gray, Title IX coordinator, and participate in conversations throughout the year to address topics of toxic masculinity. Wick residents hope that fraternity members will want to continue these conversations and encourage attendance in their groups, making their friends feel more comfortable coming to the table.
The biggest thing the co-directors want to do is “to empower students with that language and with a background of awareness as to how to consider the ways all of our experiences interact with each other,” according to Davenport.
Muchemi emphasized that how to have these conversations isn’t something anyone is born knowing. Taking the first step to initiate a difficult situation can be challenging, and it’s easy to feel too uniformed to do so.
“You don’t have to know everything,” said Muchemi. “You don’t need to have any experience with women and gender studies to get involved, and you don’t have to get involved to come check out our events.”