By Maggie Lorenzen
At the end of Vice-Chancellor Reueben Brigety’s Growing in Grace talk on February 7, 2021, the Sewanee community was called to action to defend the values of Ecce Quam Bonum, the University motto. He revealed that he and his family at his residence Chen Hall had been the victims of “violence and intimidation” since arriving in Sewanee in June, then invited the community to join him in re-evaluating the values of EQB.
Minutes later, students, faculty, staff, and immediate community members walked from All Saints’ Chapel across the street to Chen Hall, the vice-chancellor’s residence. There, they stood in a circle, “drew the line” against violence, and took the first actions in the proposed EQB Initiative.
In his talk, Brigety urged all in the Sewanee community, on campus and away, current and past, “to reassert and reinforce what it means for Sewanee to truly dwell together in unity.”
In the following weeks, an overwhelming amount of support flooded emails, alum pages, and social media. By the following Monday morning, the Student Government Association had already created a statement “condemning the actions taken against Chen Hall and the VC’s family,” shared it with the entire campus community, and gathered the signatures of thousands. The final document is seven pages long, completely filled with the electronic signatures of students.
The Board of Regents also sent a statement to the community condemning the acts of violence and ensuring their support of the vice-chancellor, his family, and his statement, asking the community to “please be assured that our Vice-Chancellor has the full support of the Trustees and Regents of this University.”
They continued: “As members of the Board of Regents and as individuals—alumni, parents, and friends of Sewanee—we commit to fully participate in this process, and we encourage you to join us.”
Additionally, the Chancellor of the University, The Rt. Rev. Robert Skirving, shared his recognition and support in a letter to the community.
He stated: “Such acts of violence have no place at the University of the South. No one who is a member of this community should ever feel threatened, physically, via social media, or in any other way. Today, in my role as Chancellor, I write to condemn any and all expressions of violence and hatred at Sewanee and demand that any who have participated in acts of vandalism and intimidation against Chen Hall and the Brigety family cease and desist immediately.”
On February 23, over three hundred University faculty and staff voiced their support for the Vice-Chancellor and denounced acts of intimidation against him and others in the Sewanee community.
Within a week, Cassie Meyer, Director of the Dialogue Across Difference Program, with the support of the University, mobilized her platform to create a series of conversations titled “EQB Reflection and Response.” All faculty and staff participated in a guided reflection. The next week, students were offered three opportunities to participate in a dialogue on EQB whether virtually or in person. Over 300 students, faculty, and staff have already participated.
Most recently, the Order of the Gown Executive Committee shared a proposal for an amendment to the Order of the Gown to introduce an Order of the Gown Conduct Committee, with the purpose of “standing for community, integrity, and honor.”
Professors even shared the video of his talk in class and through personal communications and prompted discussions directly within the academic sphere.
Since hearing about the violence against the leader of this University almost every aspect of the community has voiced support of the vice-chancellor and committed to reflect on the meaning of EQB. Student organizations, faculty, staff, and even lunch tables have gathered in discussion of how to create an environment that cultivates unity.
The University plans to continue discussions of the values of EQB, as well as tangible ways to improve how they are being upheld within the gates. The direct next steps Meyer plans to pursue are shifting the focus of the discussion from what happened to how the community will change the course of behavior in the present and future.
While students have voiced weariness of dialogue without action, University administrators and dialogue facilitators have emphasized that the EQB initiative will be part of a more sustained effort that could include specific policy changes.