Sewanee’s racial and class disparities through the eyes of Bacchus

By Nisrine Hilizah and Christopher Hornsby
Contributing Writers

There has been lots of talk this year about making improvements to Bacchus, and, as a result of these conversations we, the members of Bacchus management, would like to shed some light on the issues.

To begin, Bacchus is not the same as Uber or a taxi service. Contrary to popular belief, Bacchus is a student-led shuttle service that, first and foremost, seeks to prevent drunk driving and sexual assault. Typically, two vans, each equipped with a sober driver and bystander, make rounds around campus shuttling students (drunk or not) to whichever location they desire. Employees keep their eyes and ears out for inebriated and immobilized students, as well as risky pairs of drunk students with not-so-drunk others.

Bacchus drivers and bystanders are a front line of defense against sexual assault, and the space within the vans becomes a lens for watching the interpersonal politics of gender and sexuality transpire.

Recently, there has been talk about ways to increase the efficiency and accessibility of Bacchus. However, we, the members of Bacchus management, can not help but ask ourselves “efficiency for who?” and “accessibility for who?” To answer these questions, we must momentarily depart from the politics of gender and sexuality and enter into the interpersonal politics of race and class in relation to the history of this institution, and, subsequently, the history of this nation.

Once again we are asking the Sewanee community to reflect on it’s entanglement in race and class politics, both past and present. Not only is Sewanee a predominantly white and a remarkably upper-class institution, we also have our roots in the slave trade and the Southern aristocracy. As a result, generational wealth and privilege are still very present in this institution’s student body and white America as a whole, and Bacchus is merely just one of the many ways of looking at Sewanee’s long tradition of racial and class (and gender!) disparities.

According to the University’s Enrollment Reports for the 2017-2018 academic year, roughly 80 percent of the student body is white. However nearly 70 percent of the Bacchus employees are students of color. In addition, quite a few of us work Bacchus as a second or third job. Looking closely at the demographics of Bacchus, we see an inversion of representation of the demographics of the University.

In addition to the general stress of working a Bacchus shift and being in a van for five hours, we can add the exhausting and problematic need to navigate racially charged macroaggressions, entitled students, parents, and alumni, as well as the occasional verbally abusive drunk male.

Back to the issue at hand: students (usually Greek and white) ask how we can make Bacchus more accessible. Their solutions, which range from Bacchus “stops” and routes to increasing funding, usually require more work on the part of Bacchus employees and less work on the part of the requesting organizations and individuals.

Yet another tension underlies the request for increased access. When a privileged student body asks for increasingly tailored service from a less privileged group of hard working students, it is difficult not to acknowledge the “nanny” dynamic at play, i.e. students of color shuttling their classmates who have the privilege of getting plastered any given weekend as one way to make ends meet.

While it is true that having Bacchus stops and set routes would make Bacchus more accessible, two consequences follow. Stops would create points of concentrated traffic that would overload our van capacities (15 seaters that 20 students often stuff themselves into). Routes would drastically increase the waiting time to be dropped off, and take away the drivers flexibility to respond to different passengers needs.

Furthermore, while funding is an issue that we are working with the administration to address, this isn’t a problem money will fix. Compensating students who have to navigate racially charged macroaggressions, or female employees who have to encounter belligerent, and oftentimes, aggressive, drunk males, is not a problem money will fix.

In addition, addressing the issue of sexual assault takes intentional action and cultural change, a process that is slow, messy, and inefficient. Efficiency was never our goal; if our primary concern is to get people from point A to point B as fast as possible, we are more likely to miss the risky situations.

The heart of this issue reflects the same problems our campus, and country, faces at a larger scale. We stay insulated in our cliques and tribes, reluctant to converse with the “other.” However, Bacchus is all about connections: those who are friends with many of the employees have less of an issue getting rides. Those who do not share social circles with any of the workers struggle to get rides. Is it surprising that these circles frequently align with divisions of race and class?

To those who wish they had increased access to Bacchus, the solutions are actually fairly simple. First of all, get to know those who work for Bacchus. Unfortunately, professing your gratitude for Bacchus in the van and asking, “what’s the craziest thing that has happened on your shift?!?” then ignoring us in class and on campus doesn’t address our humanity, nor the fact that we are your classmates at the end of the day.

Second, apply in the fall to work for Bacchus. Take a few shifts and see the other side of the organization. The more social groups on campus with members on the Bacchus team, the better the access and the swifter the social change.

The purpose of this article is to wake this campus up to how self-segregating tendencies occur on lines based on race and class. It is high time this campus acknowledges that its past isn’t dead—it isn’t even past (shout out to William Faulkner). If this article upsets you in any way—GOOD. Our job here is done. Now, let’s talk.

One comment

  1. Oh, my sweet summer children. You are not going to like life after college one. little. bit.

    And while I enjoy a good scolding as much as the next fellow, maybe berating those you now admit to subtly surveilling isn’t the best recruitment strategy. Call me crazy.

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