VC Home Vandalized: Resolution “in the light of day”

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Growing in Grace evening worship service on Feb. 7, Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety revealed last semester he, his wife and children had endured repeated acts of malicious vandalism at their home in Chen Hall.

Brigety’s remarks began with praise for the welcome he and his family has received since coming to Sewanee in the past year and acknowledging, “the deadly pandemic and bitter contentious political environment has set people on edge…Part of my burden is to manage discontent.” Brigety spoke of “violent posts directed at me on social media” and fielding complaints in letters, emails, and phone calls. “I accept all expressions of dissatisfaction without complaint…They are nothing compared to those of the phantoms who keep coming to my home undercover in darkness.”

Brigety went on to detail the vandalism: the lawn trashed with beer cans and liquor bottles, and threatening messages on pilfered signs posted by the back door.

The refrain “in the dark of night” drove home the chilling message. “I bore it silently for months,” Brigety said. He reached the point where “I had to bear witness” on the evening of the last night of classes. Brigety confessed the past three days had been trying as Sewanee collectively mourned a student who died in a tragic accident. A tequila bottle smashed near the front door “dripping with conceit and contempt” drove him to realize, “I could no longer be silent. As a father who desperately loves his children and a husband who walks in partnership with his wife, I had to take a stand.”

“I don’t believe these cowardly acts represent who we [in Sewanee] are…but they do represent someone, and they do represent something,” Brigety insisted. He cited a mentor’s lesson: “You get what you tolerate.”

To the phantoms, he said, “I forgive you. I also draw a line…The sanctity, security and dignity of my family are inviolate, and we are not leaving.”

“Reconciliation requires reform leading to a future that is different from the past…I will not stand for any member of our community to be denigrated or intimidated.” Brigety stressed the need “to assert the values that guide us and live by them.”

He posed three questions: “Will we allow any family or person to be threatened, intimidated or denigrated? Who will stand up publicly to summon the best of what we know Sewanee to be and denounce what we find intolerable? How can we reaffirm our shared humanity and respect our differences?”

Community members attended the worship service both in person and viewed it via livestream. Afterwards, a crowd of perhaps as many as 150 people gathered at Chen Hall, lining the sidewalk and walkways in a triangle around the snowy front yard. “It felt to me like we were forming a kind of human shield,” said Sewanee resident Jim Crawford. “The mood was both solemn and loving.” Crawford and his family listened to the Vice-Chancellor’s account at home on their laptops. They left their dinner on the stove and drove to Chen Hall to take part in the community expression of solidarity.

Rev. Peter Gray initiated a call and response, “Hate! Not in my House! Not in your House!...Fear! Not in my House! Not in your House!” A few speakers addressed the assembly. Others led songs.

Community and student groups have started petitions condemning the vandalism and calling for solidarity with Brigety and his family. In response to Brigety’s call to action, University faculty and staff held virtual gatherings Feb. 11 and Feb. 12. Students will have in-person gatherings next week.

Brigety pointed to the path forward, in closing. “I steadfastly believe there is no problem that can’t be solved with rational debate and compassionate discussion in the full light of day.”