Posted on January 23, 2023

Tennessee’s University of the South Launches New Racial Reconciliation Program

Andrew Schwartz, Chattanooga Times Free Press, January 19, 2023

The University of the South launched a new initiative this week, aimed at promoting frank discussions on racial issues and opening up new political possibilities.

Dozens of faculty members, administrators and students filed into a hall on campus Tuesday evening to mark the launch of the private school’s new Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center.

The program, a version of which has been launched at dozens of universities around the nation, will not, for now at least, have a specific physical location at the school, known as Sewanee. It will be mainly programmatic in nature, said Sibby Anderson-Thompkins, the school’s vice provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Among these programs, launching next week, are what the university calls racial healing circles — intentional, facilitated group conversations on the dynamics of race that many people would rather leave undiscussed.


In February 2020, Sewanee hired Reuben E. Brigety II to be its first Black vice chancellor. In the early days of the pandemic, Brigety received angry messages, some frustrated, others outright hostile. He’d understood this as part of his role as vice chancellor, he said in an address released February 2021, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report from the time.

“As unpleasant as all these gestures may be to receive, they are nothing compared to the phantoms who keep coming to my home under cover of darkness,” Brigety said.

His home was repeatedly vandalized with broken bottles and threatening messages, he said. He did not speculate publicly about whether the acts were racially motivated, the Times Free Press reported.

About a month later, Sewanee students yelled racial epithets, including the N-word, at an opposing lacrosse team, a high profile incident attracting national media attention.

“So pronounced were the shouted slurs in the third quarter that the game officials on the field ordered that Sewanee fans be cleared before play could continue,” Brigety wrote in a statement condemning the incident, according to a Times Free Press report.

Brigety resigned in December of 2021 to take a job in the Biden administration as U.S. Ambassador to South Africa.

As of 2021, the student body of Sewanee was 82% white, 5% Hispanic and 4% Black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.