New students, old (Confederate) monuments


The Wall Street Journal has an article on the new activism on campus towards Confederate monuments. The University of the South (Sewanee) is among the schools covered. Sewanee is owned by 28 southern dioceses of The Episcopal Church and includes a liberal arts college and a seminary.

Shadé Shepard recently attended an orientation session addressing the slave-owner connections of her new college, Sewanee. Also known as the University of the South, the liberal-arts school in the Tennessee mountains was conceived by slave owners who didn’t want their sons going North for an education, and many ex-Confederates taught there after the Civil War. “I appreciated them being blunt about it,” said Ms. Shepard, an 18-year-old African-American first-year student from Washington, D.C. Life on the predominantly white campus “will definitely take some adjusting,” she said, though so far, people have been welcoming.

While Sewanee removed Confederate banners from the All Saints’ Chapel and moved a general’s monument to a cemetery, the campus still has stones commemorating Confederate officers and a stained-glass window bearing the Confederate Seal in the chapel. “We are all wrestling with this in one way or another,” said John M. McCardell Jr., vice chancellor at Sewanee. He said he has to walk a fine line between acknowledging the school’s history while no longer paying homage to “the Confederate shadow that looms over our institution.”

For many Southern schools, a core issue is economics. They need to appeal to a more diverse student population, and Confederate symbols can scare off black and Hispanic families or prospects from outside the region.

Later in the article:

Some older alumni see the changes as an effort to abandon history and tradition. Sewanee alumnus James K. Polk Van Zandt, a 65-year-old retired Episcopal reverend, said he was on the university’s board for decades but became frustrated by repeated efforts to erase the institution’s past. “Whether we like it or not, it is part of our history,” said Mr. Van Zandt, who is white. “If they got kids from New Jersey who don’t want to go there, let them go somewhere else.”

Earlier this week protestors pulled down a confederate statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina. Forbes has article Scholars Explain the Racist History of UNC’s Silent Sam Statue.

Image source.

One window depicts a scene of (Bishop) Leonidas Polk writing a letter; this depiction invokes imagery from the infamous “Sword over Gown” portrait of Polk, which formerly hung in Convocation and has since moved to the University Archives,. The sword resting beside the desk shows Polk’s participation in the Civil War. The narthex windows also contain the seal of the Confederacy and its placement above the national flag carries its own implications of current ties. For further evidence, MacLaren located a few news articles concerning Sewanee’s Centennial celebration, which proudly boast headlines such as “Sewanee’s Purpose not changed in 100 years” and “University of the South’s History to Repeat.”

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Prof Christopher Seitz
Prof Christopher Seitz

I am surprised we don't yet have a word for what it means to stay away from the central point of a story in order to point out errors, infelicities, etc.

I went to an episcopal boarding school with Polk van Zandt. He is far from a TEC conservative type, as his career in time took him into ordained ministry. In that sense it is intriguing to see him taking this "preserving" position vis-a-vis Sewanee and the history which is its context.

I have the sense that it is hard to be a private school in the south, wanting to climb whatever ladders are deemed important, without deciding the way forward is to change course. Risky business, but we are in a time of economic pressure and universities are particularly vulnerable.

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Kathleen Stanley
Kathleen Stanley

Okay. I can understand the WSJ calling this man a “reverend,” but why would the Episcopal Cafe repeat this mistake? Sloppy.

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