Newcomers reflect on last spring

Michaela James-Thrower
Junior Editor

It is a new year at Sewanee, meaning a new group is attempting to find their place. 

As first-year students get oriented on campus, they are also engaging in discussions, sometimes for the first time, on the impact displays of racism last year have had on the Sewanee community.

On March 14, Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety announced to the student body that several Sewanee students “hurled the most vile racial epithets (to include the “N-word” and other appalling epithets directed at people of color)” to members of the Emmanuel College lacrosse team during a match

The announcement resulted in a protest on the quad, where the Order of the Gown called for students to abandon their gowns in Convocation Hall. Students left signs around campus denouncing the actions of the unknown students and calling for their expulsion.

Brigety called on students to report those involved in the incident, and administrators reported that bias reports were submitted at an unprecedented rate. However, the University announced on June 9 that its investigation did not hold any individuals responsible for using racial epithets due to a lack of first-hand accounts from the game. 

Many first year students reported that they were unaware of the incident until they moved on campus. Stefen Rincon (C’25) says, “It seemed like Sewanee was trying to sweep the situation under the rug.”

A first year student who wishes to remain anonymous expressed feeling “uninformed.” They say, “if I hadn’t been following an alumna on Instagram who posted about the lacrosse incident as it was happening, then I probably wouldn’t have known about it at all.”

Clara Rominger (C’25) says, “I heard about the incident last year when I came to visit after my acceptance and basically nobody would tell me exactly what happened.” 

Students heard of the incident from many different sources. Emma Dillinger (C’25), a student informed by the Purple after being contacted, says, “I expected more from a school that prides itself on being an open place for everyone.” 

Some students felt uncertain of their place at Sewanee after hearing of the incident. Carly Abbott (C’25) says, “ It made me hesitant to continue to pursue Sewanee as a college option because I can’t imagine being in that situation, sitting in those stands and having people that are supposed to support me, say that about people who look like me. It honestly disgusts me.” 

Others had similar racist experiences back in their hometown communities. These previous experiences left students with varied opinions on the actions that followed the event.

Rincon says “it doesn’t surprise me that this incident happened. PWI’s [predominantly white institutions] tend to have these actions happen […] it doesn’t surprise me to see no repercussions to the students that said those slurs at the game. In my opinion, Sewanee had the chance to take the right action but clearly that did not happen.” 

In contrast, Rominger felt hopeful towards the actions Sewanee did take. Rominger says “it was the reaction that really shaped my thoughts on the school because these kinds of incidents are way too normal where I’m from. Just about every school in my area has multiple scandals like these, so it was kind of upsetting to really see that this was something that would continue in college as opposed to just hearing about it […].”

She continued, “I think that seeing the signs and hearing about people putting down their gowns had just the biggest impact on my thoughts because those were the people who spoke up in a more public manner. So I felt like they represented Sewanee more than [the] people who could hide in a crowd, yelling slurs.”

Rominger is not alone in her hopefulness. Kate Grayson (C’25) says “I am honestly ashamed that the school acted so poorly, especially with all of the newer efforts towards racial reconciliation and reparations. I think my opinion of Sewanee would definitely have changed if I had heard the full story before I applied here, but I hope that the school will recognize its mistakes and do more to get rid of this behavior on campus.”