The appeal of attending Sewanee is intrinsically paired with its traditions. We grab our Sewanee angels, keep the secrets of the societies we participate in, and find our little holes in the duPont library to study in. In recent years, we’ve attempted to amend some of these traditions to make our campus safer, so that these traditions can evolve with our community. We’ve shut down buildings that have dilapidated, attempted to end coercive practices in social organizations like Greek life, and limited how and where alcohol can be consumed. Our strongest strides in regulation of the student body might be in anti-hazing policies in the last few years. Elephant walks have been shut down, humiliating costume wear has been flagged, and student advocacy and oversight groups report effectively. However, the largest bi-annual hazing event of the year still goes unchecked.
The worst that Sewanee tradition has to offer isn’t in the confines of a Spring or Fall party. It isn’t during the upper-class or Easter-semester rush. It begins and ends with class Registration week. One of the most anti-intuitive processes that requires multiple websites, major institutional knowledge, broad relationships with professors and students within your major process, registering for classes on our campus is a horrific experience.
It begins with an email containing the student’s registration PIN from the student’s advisor. Using the registrar’s website, the Sewanee Online Degree Audit program, and council from the student’s adviser and other in-major students, they must plan out each class they want. Students are offered specific time slots during the week and split into two categories by class year. If you have met the requirements to be in the academic honor society, the Order of the Gown, you get to register for classes earlier than ungowned members of your class year. Each night students register for classes, gowned seniors go first in the schedule, then ungowned seniors, then gowned juniors, then ungowned juniors, gowned sophomores, then ungowned sophomores, then the freshmen class. Students can only register for one class a night, over the span of four nights distributed over a week. To sign up each night, one must look at a seperate page in the Registrar’s website, obtain a separate specific code for each class, enter their own registration PIN and press enter before the class fills up each night of registration. You must be prepared with backup classes, codes, hoping that your wifi connection will last, or the traffic to the registration website won’t freeze it.
It’s a horrific process. It confuses many and befuddles those with years of experience. By allowing those that have higher GPA’s, thus, those that are members of the Order of the Gown, to register before classmates that might have struggled in previous semesters, the University doesn’t incentivize students to perform academically better, they disincentivize students who are struggling to continue to care about their grades at all. Students excel in classes they want to be a part of. By this policy, the University would have you believe that students who don’t achieve specific GPA’s are lazy, milquetoast defeatists. They are not. Students who achieve lower grades struggle with mental health issues, work multiple jobs, and fight their way through a University that doesn’t always benefit them. They deserve to have the same access to education, the same choice in what they learn as anyone else. Students who might have had to drop one class the previous semester due to any valid concern, will have to register for Spring classes in a lower class’s time slot, as if the previous year’s academic load didn’t exist.
My main criticism of the registration process is that it fits into a larger University ailment; Sewanee treats imperfection as if it is a vice. We must learn, as an institution, a community, that imperfective performances shouldn’t be treated harshly, with the distinct displeasure of not wearing a gown, not registering with your classmates–a very social yet paradoxically intimate judgment.
We need reform. The classes we take shouldn’t be determined by GPA. What we want to learn shouldn’t be determined by class year. The credits you have earned should be turned into virtual tokens in which you can wager on classes you need to get into. The only consideration that the registrar and professors should have for placing you into their class is by how much of your tokens you should place on that specific class and if the class is needed for a specific degree progression (anthropology majors should fill up anthropology classes first).
We must get better. Our students deserve better. Our professors deserve better. Our registrar deserves better.