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March 15, 2021 — An unprecedented response to a shameful incident

The University of the South, commonly known as Sewanee, is an evolving series of contradictions. It is a university with gothic stone buildings smack in the middle of the American countryside. It is a place of great academic and artistic endeavor in an area of the state which is rated in the bottom 50 percent of the state when it comes to reading and math scores.

It is a religious school, but its chapel had a window with the seal of the Confederate States of America. Too, a mace commissioned in the 1960s to be used in academic ceremonies features the Confederate battle flag.

Saturday, a men’s lacrosse game was played between the host Sewanee Tigers and Emmanuel College. According to reports on social media, a group of some 130 undergraduates attended the game and started heckling the opposing team because of the color of the skin of some of them.

The game officials did something that I’ve never heard of before: they ejected the group of students.

Today, a campuswide walkout was organized at Sewanee, just hours after the athletics department released an official statement condemning the incident:

The Sewanee Athletics Department condemns the behavior of those who attended Saturday’s men’s lacrosse game against Emmanuel College and hurled racist epithets at opposing players. We have joined Vice-Chancellor Brigety and our lacrosse coaches and student-athletes in personally conveying our apologies to Emmanuel College and its student-athletes, staff, and coaches. We encourage anyone who knows who was responsible for Saturday’s incident to inform the University […] We have reported this incident to the Southern Athletic Association; moreover, we will be conducting a comprehensive review of our game management protocols and will be implementing changes wherever necessary to prevent such incidents in the future. This behavior does not reflect the values of our University and our athletics department, and it will not be tolerated at Sewanee. 

It’s not surprising that racism has been bubbling under the surface of our society, sometimes coming out in the open through incidents recorded on cell phone cameras. Indeed, it’s America’s original sin, over which the entire nation went to war in the early 1860s over the privilege of agrarian interests to be able to own other people.

But I’m amazed that, after all that has happened in the last year, with nationwide protests during the summer of 2020, that a group of undergraduates at Sewanee thought it important enough to show up at a lacrosse game to heckle members of an opposing team to make political points.

Frankly, it’s the dumbest thing that this group of people can do. I hope the university throws the book at them.

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