By Alexa Fults
I’m asking you to consider buying a shirt or donating to Stand Up Sewanee to support our everyday heroes in McClurg, because this is personal.
I wasn’t going to write this. I wasn’t going to write this because I understand that the University is at an $8.1 million structural budget deficit, that their #1 obligation is to the students, that VCB does not need to be convinced that human life matters, nor do the students of the University of the South.
I wasn’t going to write this until I realized that few people here know what it’s like to grow up in Grundy County with the people who serve our food. I wasn’t going to write this because I didn’t want to make my people sound like a charity case — they’re not. I wasn’t going to write this because I didn’t want to make anyone mad… because I didn’t want to make anyone think less of me… because I’ve been blocking out where I came from for so long to “fit in”… because I didn’t want to “out” myself as an imposter.
I was so foolish and naive when I walked into Fulford Hall and told Dean Backlund that I wanted to ‘make something out of nothing.’ For some reason, she believed in me. Sewanee believed in me. Sewanee didn’t think twice about accepting a student who couldn’t pay a dime to come here.
I’d never heard of MLA. I’d never written a formal essay before. I did not have the academic wherewithal to make it here. Sewanee didn’t crunch the numbers and decide whether or not I was worth the $232,000 deficit for 4 years. Odds were, I wasn’t going to be at the top of my class. I wasn’t going to be the Chair of the Honor Council. I wasn’t going to interview to be a Rhodes Scholar. I wasn’t going to yield a good return on their investment… But I became all those things, only because Sewanee took a chance on me. Sewanee stood up for me.
That’s the only difference between me and those who serve our food in McClurg. I grew up where she did. I went to school where she did. But I got lucky. Sewanee stood up for me.
Picture that woman, serving you mac-n-cheese. We’ll call her Alexa. She’s a single mom raising 2 kids on $9.75 an hour with no health insurance, medical debt, car payments, and rent she can’t afford in a town with no homeless shelters, no soup kitchens, and no government subsidized housing. How is she supposed to do that?
I used my own name to illustrate this little word problem, because that should’ve been me.
That should’ve been me, serving your food, cleaning your toilet, taking out your trash. That should’ve been me, the single mom trying to keep a roof over her kid’s heads on $9.75 an hour.
That should’ve been me.
I have no right to be here, with a roof over my head and food on my plate, if she doesn’t have the “right” to that kind of security here.
I would not be here today if Sewanee had not taken a chance on me. I would not be here today if Sewanee had not stood up for me. When I was hungry, Sewanee fed me. When I was cold, Sewanee clothed me. When I didn’t know what MLA was, Sewanee taught me. When I was almost homeless, a Sewanee Angel paid my tuition. When my own mother — the only reason a kid like me had the nerve to apply to Sewanee — died, you all took care of me. When you didn’t have to, you believed in me. You loved me. You stood up for me. Sewanee stood up for me.
I don’t know if I was worth it. But what I do know is that, if I was worth it, that woman who serves our food in McClurg is sure as hell worth it, too.
I understand that it is not our job to figure out how to “fix it.” I understand that one fundraiser will not “fix it.” I understand that it is the University’s responsibility to find a way to pay the everyday hero in McClurg what she deserves.
But, forgive me friends, when I struggle to understand how we are any less morally obligated than the administration to do what we can — while we continue to call for higher wages — to help our neighbors who are homeless, who can’t feed their children, who don’t have the security of Sewanee that we are so damn privileged to have.
Forgive me, when I struggle to understand how we can just sit back and say “we can’t do anything to help because it’s the school’s job,” when just two weeks ago, Chef Rick had to put one of our neighbors up in a hotel because they were homeless. I understand that it is the University’s job to fix the systemic injustice. But there is nothing stopping each and every one of us from donating just $2 to Chef Rick’s contingency fund to stand up for our neighbors today.
If every one of us donates just $2 to this fundraiser, we will raise $3,500 today. That is the difference between life and death for someone who is homeless in a place with no shelters, no government housing, no Walmart to go work at…and it only costs us $2. Not the $3 million it will cost the University. Two. Dollars. The least we can do, in the meantime, is donate $2 to Chef Rick’s contingency fund and do our part to make an impact on someone’s life.
I wasn’t going to write this because I know we are tired. I wasn’t going to write this because I know COVID has taken so much from us. I wasn’t going to write this because I know you already have too many white t-shirts. I wasn’t going to write this until I realized I had to write this, because for me, this is personal. You never thought twice about standing up for me. So many of you would give an arm and a leg to take care of me… but can’t you see? The only difference between me and our hypothetical woman in Clurg… is that Sewanee stood up for me.
It’s time to stand up, Sewanee. We can do this.