Disengaging the Sewanee Community

Cartoon by Maddie Wilson (C’19).

By Vanessa Moss and Joseph Marasciullo
Staff Writers

My first shock when settling back on campus after being abroad for a semester? Not culture, not courses, not the cold. But realizing that I have a QR code.

Where did OrgSync go? What was wrong with it? I liked that system. There was a vague, campus-wide negligence so group leaders could mostly ignore the system, spreading word on events the normal way, through posters and Facebook and sneakily finding someone with “cstudent” access.

But I suppose Student Life disagrees. They have some weird vested interest in compiling all events on one platform, and all students registered in one system. Pitched as an improvement for students (you can find all of the events on campus in one spot! How convenient!) a lot of people are ambivalent about Engage. It’s easy. Whatever. I’m going to Chi Psi. Stop asking me about an app, you weird-o.

Austin Polun (C’19), vice president of community service for the Interfraternity Council (IFC), was asked about the benefits of Engage. He talked about how it streamlines the process of keeping Greek and social events on the books, as well having a record of unsuccessful events on file. Best yet, the “QR codes make for efficient statistics.”

Which raises a question, how are these statistics being used? Are club funds going to be allocated based on how many students scan in to club meetings? Or how many events a club hosts each semester? Will the “open door policy” that Sewanee Greek life brags so much about start having QR bouncers at the door, in order to know which students are where each night? How do you quantify event success?

Maddy Wilson (C’19) was deeply disturbed by Engage and her new, flashy QR code when she arrived on campus in August, calling it “Orwellian” in nature. After discussing it with other student leaders and Suvi Piipponen, researching the details of who actually owns Engage and all of our information with it, she wasn’t comforted. And responded the best way we women who want to live in the woods to escape society know how: Angry poetry.

“Engage isolates subsets of the community to an online space,
and commodifies social interaction through automations
simply unnecessary for a community of this size.

They manage our data, to manage us better, to make
not greater minds, or a stronger community,
but a better product. Screw that.”

Aside from inspiring sweet lyricism, Wilson’s frustration-fueled curiosity led her to find details about Engage that will give any mild conspiracy theorist a field day.

In 2016, OrgSync was bought by Campus Labs, a college-based information company who are the creators of Engage. Campus Labs had been owned by a larger organization called Higher One Holdings, but that year Higher One Holdings was bought out by our beloved Blackboard.

Blackboard, notorious for being hard to navigate for students and professors alike, is owned by a man named William Ballhaus, the Chief Executive Officer and President of a different company, CSRA Inc. CSRA “provides information technology services to U.S. government clients… Its largest market, national security, included the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and intelligence agencies.”

I’ve been made fun of already for caring about this, “God forbid the government knows I went to an event at the Q&A last Friday!” But that’s not the point. I know the government is already tracking my Facebook and Instagram, and who knows what else. It’s disturbing and weird to think that I’m just a data point in the grand scheme of some information mogul’s bell-curve, but it’s too late to change that now. (Unless I pull a Ron Swanson and start burying gold and live in the woods. Which, you know, I don’t think would surprise anyone).

What’s most disconcerting to me, as expressed by Wilson, is the effect that Engage could have on Sewanee as a community. The “convenience” that Engage supplies changes the way students interact with one another and even with faculty. Who has emailed Barbara Banks this year, asking to send out an email? Or messaged personal invitations to an event? Or relied on looking at the walls of posters hung across campus, or talked to acquaintances in the hubbub of McClurg to find what events are going on that weekend?

Engage’s purpose isn’t to bring the Sewanee community closer together, or even really to give students a convenient platform for events. It’s a way for the administration and Student Life to watch campus. I signed an honor code with the understanding that it’d be reciprocated through trust from the people in charge.

I think a lot of students give Sewanee a hard time for not being a leader within the liberal arts community; we resist change, are pretty slow to catch on to new national trends (like curbing drinking culture, having a women’s and gender studies department, etc.) and then the school scrambles to catch up. So let’s take initiative, just this one time. We could be the pioneers of college-based data mining!

As each student steps around the seal and bends down to sign the honor code, a vague suited figure quickly inserts microchips behind our ears, set to protect us and empower us for four glorious years. Behold how good it is, when all faceless QR codes dwell in unity.


  1. Sure, I'm a senior, but I want the freshmen, now and forever, to have as wonderful an experience here as they can. says:

    Just remember, Suvi Pipponen and Student Life at large is full of hacks who are either pushing little-used sewanee social network bullshit, or being forced to by their superiors.


    Orgsync (hey, thanks Suvi) was used as a metric to determine the funding that the rugby team should get. Now, let’s think a little bit about the rugby team. They have a good membership, have a relaxed but regular game attendance when they’re in season, and by no means are either a waste of or are misusing their money.

    However, because they didn’t put their events and attendance up on Orgsync, they got zero dollars in funding for this year.


    For the fucking rugby team. They had to literally fund their own trips to their games. If that isn’t stupid and frankly cruel to already low budget college students, I don’t know what is. Good thing John McCardell keeps getting pay raises, huh?

    Suvi, if you’re reading this, and I hope you are, I think you’re a fuckwit for pushing this shit. And, if it isn’t your idea, because frankly, you could just be the messenger, I think that they’re a fuckwit.

    Engage follows in the same vein. It forces extra stress on group leaders to put everything onto a stupid, obtuse, and frankly little-used social network site. Because this site isn’t used, and because posters and word of mouth have always, always been more effective, people use word of mouth and posters. Surprise surprise.

    So, what this does is force unnecessary stress and wasted energy onto a bunch of people who are already stressed and trying to manage their chaotic college life. This obviously is a net negative and completely stupid. Thanks, Suvi.

    Finally, I don’t know why Sewanee keeps paying for this shit, while they’re still paying for the Student Life people’s jobs. I say this because I have been told that the Engage and Orgsync or whatever the hell is next helps ease the burden on the actual Student Life employees. Funny, but I thought that they were supposed to do work, considering that it’s their job. The economist in me is suggesting that firing these Student Life people would actually benefit Student Life, considering that their productivity is now lower, because there’s a program that’s doing their job for them.

    So, knowing this, why are the Student Life people pushing this, when it could very well mean that their department is going to be reduced because of it? Why is Engage and Orgsync being used to rate events for success, when often times, nobody except for those forced into using it to host events are actually accessing the site? And for God’s sake, why do we, human people attending a school that relies off of face to face connection, have a QR code?

    Is Sewanee’s liberal arts degree morphing into just another business degree from a state school? And if this is the case, what will my expensive degree be worth, when it’s from another run-of-the-mill college? Should I have just stayed in state, and gone to a much less expensive state school?

    Beats me.

    PS. Frankly, the fact that I have to ask these questions disheartens me about Sewanee. Which is a shame, because just four years ago, this place was unlike any other in the country. But if people are determined to try to restrain an abundant student life and ruin this out-of-this-world college, then by all means, let them do it, I guess. I can’t stop them, and people like Suvi and John just don’t seem to get the message.

    I just have to keep smiling, huh?

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