Just to be clear, I sympathize with my classmates’ reactions towards the new 10-person limit on student gatherings. I’m also upset and frustrated by the actions of the University and their apparent lack of trust. It’s unfair to change the rules as quickly as they did. The new 10-person limit amounts to a petty collective punishment for the actions of 11 unnamed Greek organizations on Shake Day. Not everyone at Sewanee is involved in Greek life, and it’s unfair for other organizations and individuals to be held accountable for mistakes they didn’t make and rules they didn’t break. However, we need to discuss the language we’re using to voice our discontent.
I’m glad people here want to attend protests. It’s important for us to exercise our rights and voice our perspectives. However, some of the chants used during the protest on Thursday night were shameful. Students on the Quad riffed on the Black Lives Matter chant “No Justice, No Peace!” by screaming, “No Parties, No Peace!” (What exactly “no peace” means in this context remains unclear.) The appropriation of the chant leads to a profoundly bad comparison. Police brutality against Black people and COVID regulations at Sewanee are totally incomparable. I want to support my peers, but this was too much. You can have a chant, and make an argument, but the implied comparison is embarrassing, minimizing, and disrespectful.
Many of our classmates have also taken to social media to voice their opinion, and most of the perspectives provide helpful insight. However, some expressions were rather concerning. On Thursday night, one student took to their Snapchat story to compare the situation in Sewanee to Germany under Hitler. I never expected to see a classmate honestly make an ill-informed, antisemitic analogy like this. Have we lost any sense of proportion?
The comments on the petition posted on Thursday evening are also worth discussing. Granted, some of them are hilarious. (“Sewanee sux lol.”) Yet students and parents seem to be confused about the meaning behind a few of the terms they’re using. Some of the commenters claim we are being “held hostage” and that we’re living in a “prison.” Factually, this is just wrong. Sewanee is not a prison; nearly everyone pays to be here. We are not being held hostage, either; most of us can leave at any time, go home, and study via Zoom. I would also like to request that people refresh themselves on terms like communism, dictator, police state, etc. because it seems most of the commenters are ignorant of the definitions.
Finally, let’s talk about the cardboard signs on the quad. Some were great expressions of justified frustration. Many of them make claims about mental health and wellness. Some students have even claimed that the gathering limit is “ruining” their mental health. I wonder, if you need to be up-close and sweaty with 100 people in a frat house for your “mental health,” whether there isn’t a deeper issue at play. I understand wanting to gather with friends or at events, but if partying is what cures your mental travails, I am worried.
One sign even said, “I am more worried about getting in trouble then getting COVID.” You might not be worried about getting COVID, but our community isn’t just made up of young, healthy students. Our life in the bubble impacts the areas around us. We can be upset, but we shouldn’t be selfish.
I’m not trying to make fun of anyone for peacefully protesting. I’m requesting that my classmates be more intentional when we speak our minds. We could use a little perspective; we’re lucky to be together here during a pandemic. Yes, what the University decided is unfair and their decision deserves criticism, but this isn’t Nazi Germany, we aren’t hostages, and Sewanee is not a prison. What we talk about when we talk about protesting matters. By changing our rhetoric, students have better groundwork to be respected and heard not only by our peers, but everyone who lives here and cares about Sewanee as much as we do.