Results of the First SGA Sit and Spill 

Eva Monahan

Features Editor

At the end of January, an email was sent out advertising the first weekly Student Government Association (SGA) Sit and Spill meeting. In attendance with several students coming and going as their schedule would allow was Associate Dean of Students, Emily Britt, Assistant Dean of Students, Kyle Gallagher, and Acting Provost, Scott Wilson. 

At the moment, these Sit and Spills plan to meet every Thursday on the flag side of McClurg and are open to everyone. There is no guarantee that staff or administration will be present at every meeting, though it seems that is the overall goal of the SGA. Their presence will allow students to attain more immediate responses from administrators and make sure student concerns are heard through more than just email or social media. 

The main purpose of these meetings is not just to share information between other students and staff, but overall to grow an easier and more transparent communication line between the student body and the big decision makers of the school. It has become clear after recent decisions making their way down the pipeline and into student inboxes, that those making  impactful decisions, are administrators that have little to no interaction with the student body. In turn, many students and staff have theorized that these administrators seem to not understand the impact of their decisions–that is not to say that the student body should be brought in on every decision to give their two cents, since such a plea is unlikely and may complicate an already arduous process. However, it should be obvious that decisions that impact students should involve at some level, people who interact with the students, if not the students themselves. As such, one of the main concerns voiced at the Sit and Spill was one of communication. 

The concern was also raised that complaints to Facilities Management, and by extension Student Residential Life, about problems with buildings like flooding and mold, don’t seem to be attributed much importance–or if they are, it is not always obvious to those living in the building. This is an issue of communication.

Students at the Thursday meeting also discussed the fact that not only had the most recent decision concerning the theme houses not been proposed to students for feedback, but it also felt as if the student body as a whole had not been considered. It’s possible that the decision was an unavoidable one and is said to be a short-term solution to the limited housing on campus for students and faculty, Britt said, and maybe that was why more student input was not achieved. However, there were also no alternatives proposed either. 

The Purple asked Joseph Brown (C’23), co-director of the Crafting Guild House, what his opinions were on theme halls, and he explained that they were not at all the same as theme houses, but arguably better than nothing at all. The ability to live close with people who share interests is not all that theme houses provide. Shared common spaces, kitchens, a place to host events, and even simply doors that stay open are very important to forming community and close relationships even on a campus as small as Sewanee. 

From this, students seemed concerned that this change may not really be temporary. Brown said, “[The school] just has to wait for us to [leave] and we only live [here] for four years. And the new people that [come in] don’t remember that there used to be houses on the hill.” 

Another Student attending the meeting, Claire Strysick (C’23) made a very interesting comparison. She said, this situation is similar to the punishments given to Greek organizations when they are asked to leave for two or more years, which is meant to give time for people to graduate and bring in a different group or community. Strysick explained that since this is meant to be a temporary solution, if the theme houses being removed next year are brought back after two or more years, they will not exist in the same capacity as they had before. By the time it comes back and is re-established, it’s not going to be the same group of people, it won’t be the same community, nor will it have the same drive or goals. 

Molly Almon (C ’24), the co-director of the Writing House, mentioned that without the presence of their house, they would not just lose the community harbored by the living space, but also the ability and ease to host events. 

Brown also explained that, as a coordinator for the Crafting Guild House, he “has been…trying to make sure that [The Crafting Guild] lasts after [him].” Without the presence of a theme house, the community behind it is likely to die out. He explained further that a lot of the work students have been doing this past week “is to show how important theme housing is to students, and how important it is that we are a part of the communication…and not just getting the email.” Brown also added that, “the people [who] are a part of the bureaucracy–it’s not their fault…they don’t want to be a part of it…but also the people that we are not allowed to talk to, become entities that we vilify and [we] don’t want to do that… [and] we understand why you’re making these decisions…But when we don’t know the [whole reason decisions are being made] and we just get the final email…we feel like we’re being treated like children.” Again, another issue of communication from the school.

In response, Britt would hope to give a window into the process of how administrators try to deal with large problems on campus, while also balancing greater investments and community desires, as well as when to implement these decisions. Although Britt, like most administrators, is probably limited by her position in what she can share with the student body, she and Gallagher did seem to genuinely care about creating more transparency between the administration and the students.

In addition to the numerous complaints and comments that students have, another very important factor to consider is that Sewanee, unlike most universities, is more or less in the middle of nowhere on a mountain. What makes Sewanee so special, its beautiful, isolated landscape, is also a large fault felt by the community if it does not allocate its resources responsibly. What Sewanee offers the student community is all that the students will have available to them. Much of the community at Sewanee relies on theme houses, especially if they are a resource to the students like the Peer-Health House and its coordination with the Wellness Center. Everything on campus is so interconnected because it has to be, there are little to no connections to the surrounding area for students when it comes to finding community, housing or other resources.  

The entirety of this conversation can not be contained by a single article, writer, or even issue of The Sewanee Purple, so undoubtedly there is more to discuss here and a lot that is left unsaid. An important thing to gather from these last couple weeks is that suggestions and critiques go further than simple criticism. While that is not to say that the criticism isn’t warranted, it is always more helpful, and easier to listen to, suggestions or questions to a problem rather than a complete rip and tear of the system that birthed it. We love Sewanee. If we didn’t, we would not bother to complain.