What We Talk About When We Talk About Protesting

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. 

Some students chanted “no parties, no peace” as Sewanee police arrived at the protest on the Quad on Thursday night. (Video shot by Christian Shushok.)

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 of the more helpful signs on the Quad. (Photo courtesy of Peter Gray.)

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.

10 replies on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Protesting”

This is incredibly well written, which is impressive with how quickly it was turned around. Great contextualization. I appreciate this.

This article is spot on. I urgently hope its message reaches those in need of hearing it and resonates with them. As a parent, I find the sentence “Yet students and parents seem to be confused about the meaning behind a few of the terms they’re using.” to be the most upsetting part of this. However unfortunately those so severely afflicted with mental illness that the only manner of treating it is partying with a large group of people arrived at that place is concerning. However unfortunately the particular parents and students that conflated the conditions of Nazi Germany, the prison system, race-based police violence and hostage situations arrived at that conclusion is also concerning. The notion that parents are supporting this dribble is more than concerning. If I had my way, it would be considered criminal. If these kids became this irresponsible as adults, either they are reflecting views they learned at home or are being supported in those views whether it is financially, verbally or a multitude of other ways, by their parents.

Putting aside that this is a punishment for eleven unnamed Greek organizations, the awful situation the current pandemic crisis reminds me of is WWII and the idea that everyone has to do their part for us to get to the other side. What is being asked of society is not even nearly as difficult as it was during WWII, yet no one was protesting rations and limited resources then. These protests look quite unfavorably on the University. If this blows up to national media the way other schools have, all of the students potentially face present and future backlash over the actions regarding the outdated, alcohol fueled, unnecessary and date rape associated (see peer reviewed paper, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape” and/or nearly unlimited sources available with an internet search) Greek Life. Not only was the decision to limit the number of people in social gatherings based on the actions of fraternities, the reaction to the punishment is largely based on the ability to attend Greek parties. This is not really about anyone’s mental health. I would imagine that if anyone’s mental health is suffering it is the people that have to deal with all of this nonsensical behavior, whether that be admin, faculty, or students. I’m not usually a fan of “The Man” in any form, but I truly feel for them on having to answer to donors that are tripping over the opportunity, or lack thereof, for their children to gather in large numbers with the purpose and intention simply to get drunk. All of this speaks to the larger issue of America’s obsession with alcohol culture. I sincerely thought Sewanee students were above that. How naive am I.

Such a childish protest. They can’t be mentally healthy if they don’t party with 100 people? This whole party mentality and the entire Greek system wreaks of spoiled white privileged babies seeking to achieve some sort of social status or just find comfort in numbers. The real revolutionaries and independent thinkers are the kids who DON’T follow the crowd, don’t ‘fight for their right to party’… and are independently disciplined researchers … studying, creating, and looking ahead to careers and advanced degrees beyond Sewanee.

Amazing article! It was incredibly disheartening to me when I heard that the party culture crowd at Sewanee didn’t fail to disappoint me again with their entitlement and privilege. While I do acknowledge that being punished for the action of others may not necessarily be justifiable, I do at least attempt to understand it. What I fail to understand though is the audacity to compare the inability to party with 10+ people with living under a police-state. There is no comparison and this just proves ignorance really is bliss.

Extremely well articulated – thank you for your honesty and motivation to encourage all of us in the Sewanee community to speak our minds and our opinions with civility, kindness, and respect. I fear that this type of dialogue is becoming rarer and rarer.

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