By Jeremy O’Neill
It must be that time of year again: sounds of joyous reunions echo through the archways. Beloved professors, staff members, roommates, siblings, and parents are introduced. Parking on central campus is even more scarce. McClurg is suspiciously gourmet in its meal selections. The line at Shenanigans is out the door. All Saints’ is full of students pretending this isn’t the only Sunday they’ll be in church. The joyous reunions of Friday have faded into the somber goodbyes of Sunday. Yes, family weekend has once again found its way up the Mountain. A joyful occasion for many, but for others, one of less fond memories.
Family weekend provides a wonderful opportunity for students to share their college experience with friends and loved ones who they haven’t seen in weeks, months, or even years. This is a wonderful concept on paper, but in reality, not all of the emotions brought up by family weekend are positive.
First of all, while it feels like everyone has someone visiting, this is far from the case. Not all students have families that are willing or able to take time off work or other obligations to travel, and the financial burden of getting up the mountain, particularly for those who are not from the South, can simply be too much for some families. This financial commitment is made even more daunting when one factors in the competitive and expensive local lodging options that can see prices more than double over family weekend.
As a side effect, this leads to a weekend which highlights a section of the student body that is prevalent, but not representative of Sewanee as a whole. Those with families visiting are more often than not those who come from the wealthy suburbs of southern cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, and Nashville.
International students, a growing population on the Mountain, and those with less financial flexibility are frequently overlooked when it comes to this weekend. This continues to reinforce Sewanee’s image as a school of wealthy southern students, which is far from the entire picture.
It also mustn’t be overlooked that, for better or for worse, Sewanee is presented over family weekend as an idealized version of itself. Not necessarily a false one, but a selective, romanticized view and interpretation. The lawns are neatly trimmed. There are no tests, and very little homework. The dining hall has fresh salmon. Parties are inclusive, mellow, and lawful. The weather even seems to always be perfect. This is all to be expected, but from the perspective of some of the students and staff who are always here, it can feel like false advertising.
Family weekend provides a great opportunity to share what makes Sewanee great. Unfortunately, however, not all of Sewanee gets featured during this event. This University has a much more diverse and unique student body than most students think, and it only seems fitting to share that full picture with all who are somehow connected to the students on this Mountain.
Is this letting perfect be the enemy of good, or just a deadly sin on a pedestal? (That would be envy.)
Oh good grief. can we not enjoy a simple weekend with the parents without looking around for something to be guilty or angry about?
Check your privilege!
So, what’s the solution? (If, in fact, there is a problem.) Should Sewanee put its WORST foot forward for Family Weekend? (Let the lawn go, assign tons of homework, serve crappy meals…?) Should the weekend be canceled altogether, since some families are too far away – or don’t have the resources – to make it? Or perhaps Sewanee should stop accepting students whose families are too far away – or don’t have the resources – to make it? What, exactly, would you change?
I have an idea. Instead of viewing the perfectly natural human behavior exhibited during Family Weekend as some sort of evil plot, why not encourage your fellow students who DO have parents in town to include those who DON’T in their weekend plans? If you’ve got parents in town and your suite mate doesn’t, invite him out to dinner! Or maybe a group of international students could get together that weekend and throw their own dinner party, each cooking one of their national specialities. What fun! Diversity is hard and stressful, but it’s worth it. Instead of always focusing on grievances and perceived injustice, why not find ways to be grateful and even joyful? Your Sewanee experience will be what you make of it. It has the potential to be outstanding! Don’t miss out.
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