Sewanee Pledge unclear regarding study abroad opportunities

Luke Gair
Executive Staff

In a recent email about the European Studies program, a semester-long study abroad opportunity, the Office of Global Citizenship wrote that “students in the 2022 class are subject to the Sewanee Pledge policy and are not eligible to participate.” Many first-year students are confused about when and how they will be allowed to study abroad, and clarifications have not yet been issued officially on this matter.

After the pledge was made public to the incoming class, Lucy Rudman (C’22) felt “like it was more about the ceremony, the act of signing and the symbolism. I honestly had no idea what was in the actual pledge. If they did send out any information, I never realized it.”  

The “Sewanee Pledge,” which began with the class of 2022, promises each entering student funding for summer internships and study abroad programs, in addition to paying the expense for a fifth year under certain conditions. The guarantee for study abroad appeared promising, particularly because securing financial aid portability for study abroad has been extremely competitive in previous years.

First-year students quickly raised concerns about their exclusion from the next European Studies program, worrying the stated restriction would bar them from ever participating in the once-a-term program.

Shawnee Scissom, Program Specialist for the Office of Global Education, told The Purple that the information initially given to her before current guidelines noted that only “juniors who meet minimum GPA requirements and who are in good academic and social standing” are able to participate in study abroad programs. This applied to all study abroad programs, not just European Studies.

This year, Scissom said it “has been communicated to me that students eligible to study abroad under the Sewanee Pledge will be those who have declared their majors.” Because most rising sophomores have yet to declare and “European Studies only runs in the fall,” she said that the upcoming run of the program will be comprised mostly of members in the class of 2021.

Because of these directives, students in the class of 2022 will “likely not participate until their junior year, 2020-2021, with a possibility of going in Spring 2020,” according to Scissom.

However, according to Dean of Global Education Scott Wilson, “the guidelines written by the administrators state that the Pledge will apply during the junior year.” A clear definition has not yet been issued, but it appears that students under the Pledge cannot use the study abroad guarantee in their sophomore year.

Wilson did say that a sophomore could possibly go abroad under new guidelines, but the administration has “not formalized a process for considering such requests…I suspect such a student would have to request such approval to be authorized, regardless of whether they are self-paying.”

In previous coverage by The Sewanee Purple, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell noted the finances for the study abroad aspect of the pledge will not be ready until the class of 2022’s junior year. The lack of available funds until that time coincides with the stipulation that the pledge only applies to the Class of 2022’s junior year, potentially limiting their opportunities for study abroad.

He adds that administrators have agreed that “Sewanee students with 2.80 cumulative GPA or higher will be automatically approved to go on study abroad,” and those with an average between 2.50 and 2.80 will require further approval.

Aside from the inceptive concerns, some also questioned the set rule against those who haven’t chosen a major, noting instances in which students have gone abroad while undeclared.

Students who have gone abroad their sophomore year or before declaring a major emphasized how integral the experience was for them. Wilder McCoy (C’20) believes “everyone should have the right to study abroad, and I don’t see the point of barring sophomores from doing so.” He went on to say that his semester abroad helped “clarify his interests and streamlined the rest of my time here at the University.”

In the last several years, expectations and requirements for students who intend on studying abroad have become more relaxed, but that will likely change for the class of 2022 and following classes.

Nothing in particular led to the shift as it was gradual, but with the Sewanee Pledge offering a guarantee, firmer guidelines needed to be put in place to ensure our students were getting the most out of their study abroad experience,” explained Scissom.