March 17, 2004

Ranting about Sewanee

Posted by shonk at 10:56 PM in Ramblings | TrackBack

I hate to keep flogging the Sewanee horse, but this was too good to pass up: Virtuosity Online is shocked and appalled that the Sewanee Purple had some sexual content. For those that don’t know, the Sewanee Purple is the official student newspaper at Sewanee, which is the Episcopal Church’s only university.

Now, I haven’t seen the offending issue (since it’s not available online; more on that in a minute), but, although it sounds rather tasteless, the “evil” sexual content sounds pretty tame by the standards of college newspapers (a picture of someone putting a condom on a banana and so forth). However, the level of lewdness really isn’t my concern: rather, the folks at Virtuosity need to realize that, although the paper receives funding from the school, it doesn’t represent official university policy, it is not reflect the policies of the Board of Trustees and its content does not represent the opinions of anybody other than the people that write for it. Given that Sewanee has plenty of non-Episcopalians and even non-Christians both as students and on the faculty, I see no reason why anybody should expect the student newspaper to toe the orthodox party line.

Furthermore, so far as I can tell, contraception does not run contrary to Anglican dogma, so I’m not even sure what party line Virtuosity is toeing here. In fact, “The Voice of Global Orthodox Anglicans”, as Virtuosity apparently styles itself, has got some bigger fish to fry, if you ask me. The old saw that “wherever there are four Episcopalians you’ll always find a fifth” has plenty of truth to it in my experience and the number of country club Episcopalians I’ve met in my life is pretty staggering.

In fact, if they’re looking to stick their noses somewhere it might actually do some good, here’s a suggestion for those orthodox Anglicans: why don’t you express some outrage that enthusiastic, highly-educated and -motivated young people with experience in church-oriented social work are being actively discouraged from attending seminary while borderline alcoholic thirty-somethings who have yet to mature past the undergraduate worldview receive scholarships to attend seminary? Why don’t you express some outrage that many of the seminary students at Sewanee have a reputation as lushes? Why don’t you express some outrage that deans of your seminaries are (or at least have been in the recent past) sexually harassing female seminary students (one of which happened to be married to a member of the College of Arts and Sciences faculty)? You ever stopped to consider that maybe the reason the students at Sewanee are publishing sexually provocative articles in the student newspaper is because their religious role models have been either massive hypocrites or totally incompetent?

Okay, that’s not really the reason the student newspaper has sexual content. The real reason is that college students are obsessed by sex—always have been, always will be (which is to say that they’re just like everybody else). But if the church is looking to reign in the libidos of the young and the restless, it seems to me the place to start would be with the drunk and disorderly elements of the current and future clergy, who are, after all, the ones in charge of transmitting the church’s message to the laiety.

That all having been said, the Sewanee Purple usually deserves any and all criticism levelled at it. Quite simply, the paper is a joke and every student who wasn’t on the editorial staff knew it while I was at Sewanee (and I suspect things haven’t changed very much in the last year). As such, it’s both fitting and relieving that the Purple is not available online (well, it was available briefly in the Spring of ‘01, but hasn’t been updated since).

Of course, that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given the rather curious approach Sewanee takes to technology. Despite trumpeting the incoming students the availability of high-speed internet in every dorm room and the wonders of the Academic Technology Center, the university’s bandwidth is notoriously inconsistent and insufficient, the ATC’s “lounge” is, in my opinion, unacceptably deficient in the “available computers” department, software upgrades are virtually unheard of (as of July neither OS X nor Windows XP was running on any public computers) and, as of last year, a student could neither check his grades, order a transcript, nor register for classes online. Even IRC doesn’t work properly on the University’s network.

I mean, I love the Sewanee and all, but get with the times, people!

And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming…


Even the good orthodox Anglicans better hope somebody among them is promoting sex, as the Anglican church doesn't seem to be exactly refilling the increasingly depleted ranks, in either Britain or America. But it seems that ideologues on both left and right find it necessary to fix upon the most arbitrary, meaningless things, like race and sex, to obsess about and attach intransigent values and strictures to.

Posted by: Curt at March 18, 2004 12:52 AM

i agree with you about seminarians [although i think you're a bit too harsh] but i am not quite sure that's what the purple is rebelling against in this particular case. and even though i am sure that whatever they've done, they have not done it well [i'd be very happy to know i'm wrong on this one], i am absolutely thrilled to know that someone has actually taken the initiative to spice it up a little bit. hey, it couldn't be any worse than it was when we were there.

Posted by: petya at March 18, 2004 02:07 PM

Well, of course I'm being hard on the seminarians. Not all of them are as I describe. But some most definitely are...not that I'm going to name names or anything.

but i am not quite sure that’s what the purple is rebelling against in this particular case.

No, of course not. Which is why I said this:

Okay, that’s not really the reason the student newspaper has sexual content. The real reason is that college students are obsessed by sex—always have been, always will be (which is to say that they’re just like everybody else).

Posted by: shonk at March 18, 2004 06:06 PM

It's come to my attention through a reader e-mail that there's a fairly widespread and very morally dubious practice going on among the seminarians at Sewanee (encouraged by the seminary, no less), but, unfortunately, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to pass along any details. Which is too bad, as it ties in nicely with one of the longstanding themes of this site.

Posted by: shonk at March 18, 2004 06:14 PM

I read said article. It was harmless. It was a tutorial on how to put on a condom. I know you said you do not care much about the content of the article, but there it is. There was no mention of anything explicit...just a how-to.

Posted by: shoaf at March 19, 2004 09:30 AM
Trackback from Old Fishinghat
March 19, 2004 11:45 AM
Sewanee and Gomorrah
Excerpt: They are more concerned about the moral ramifications of a condom-covered banana than they are about a widely publicized talk advocating atheism.

As one of the few under thirty-somethings at the Seminary (I was the youngest student last year at 23, and sadly I still am as I begin my middler year.) I can say from experience that the problems you address aren't limmited to the Seminary here at Sewanee but is indicative of the more widespread problem facing the Episcopal Church and other Old/mainline denominations, which can be summed up in the statement that the leadership is simply inept. I was both shocked and impressed by the amount of libation when I first arrived at the Seminary. I joke that the most irksome aspect of Sewanee is that it sometimes seems a sort of padded playpen where the natural, negative consequences of students' actions are defrayed. That being said, the information in the Virtuosity article as simply inaccurate, as it often is--David is zealous, sometimes breaking stories before others, and he is certainly entertaining, but he's not the best fact checker and his enthusiasm can lead him to write hyperbolically.

As for the former Dean, I was not a student here when these events transpired, but I have had a good deal of contact with him and believe him to be a good and Godly man. I cannot speak to what did or did not occur, as even the saints can stumble and there have been other factors in play, but the fact that he was exonerated of wrong-doing and originally re-appointed as dean and then chose to step down (remaining as a faculty member)leads me to believe that the unhealthy faculty politics at the seminary played a large role in the whole situation, regardless of the truth or falsehood of the claims. The problems experienced by the School of Theology are really systemic and, to my way of thinking, stem from the odd distribution of authority and system of oversight between the university and seminary as well as a set of faculty that are quite dysfunctional in thier personal interactions. Things have improved during my time here however, and I believe the incoming dean (Bill Stafford formerly of VTS) will improve things further. I realize this comment is rather late, and you may not even read it, but I appreciate your comments (especially about the discouragement of young folks.) Interesting site BTW,
God bless

Posted by: Jody at August 28, 2004 03:10 AM

Thanks for your comment, Jody. As for my comment on the former dean, I may have overstated the case, as, obviously, anybody not directly involved cannot know for sure what may or may not have happened. However, in such cases, perception is often reality, especially when one is friendly with some of the involved parties (not that any commentary was offered directly by that source, but there was pretty clearly some high-grade resentment involved, though to whom it was directed is less than clear, as other, possibly unrelated but certainly more public circumstances were also at play). That being said, I would tend to agree that the very existence of that perception suggests, at least to me, a pretty disturbing level of disfunctionality, regardless of the actual factual content of the perception.

Posted by: shonk at August 29, 2004 01:54 AM