Southern Hospitality: 1.25.18

Full disclosure: not a single second was filmed today, but not a single second of film was needed to validate our time spent. 

After wrapping up in DC Eduardo and I took the existential L of driving back in the direction from whence we came, headed for good old South Carolina to visit Clemson University. Upon arrival we'd have been interviewing the undergraduate vice president of Clemson student government Jaren Stewart, a bona fide future success story in the making. Unfortunately, highway traffic felt disrespectful that day, and thus we missed our initial meeting time. The rescheduling would prove to be quite ideal, but that's tomorrow's entry.

Once we did finally touch down at Clemson, South Carolina, we didn't stay put for long. We didn't expect to see Jaren until the following day since Clemson's school semester was fully in session, so we decided to check out the campus on our own first. Eduardo did capture some beautiful shots and all; Clemson was a vast campus abound with University endowment projects and surrounded by a welcoming college town. Regardless, though, I went into our exploring very much cognizant of being in the deep South. Yeah the hospitality was dope as expected, but we were clear minorities in the city both racially and politically, which didn't give me high hopes considering the story we came expecting to cover. The few flying Blue Lives Matter flag didn't do much to alleviate that either. In any case, the people of Clemson were great to us that day even though the first two sentences I said to Eduardo (admittedly out of nervousness) in regards to us respectively were:

"I'm not sure how much fun it is being black down here."

"I'm not sure how much fun it is being queer down here."

In both cases I generalized rather quickly, so I really do owe Clemson this apology outright (public sorry, y'all). I did have a good amount of fun. Let the record show that this was indeed my initial prediction, though; that's gonna be even more important next entry.

A quick text exchange later that night found us meeting up with Jaren and his good friend Lauren at a local eatery for some introductions and trivia. A night out on a new town sounded like just what we needed after several half-day driving expeditions, especially since we'd be missing the season premiere of Drag Race All-Stars anyway (we see you, Days Inn cable). I'm sure it was mutually beneficial for the other side as well; until then, Jaren had only known of my person through phone calls and a Facebook account with a name other than what I'd introduced myself as. Understandably there was a 50/50 chance that I would turn out to be mad sketchy, but I have a solid defense: I have two middle names, so I may authentically go by Matthew Wainwright instead of Miles Iton as a snitch proofing device. 

[Side note: shout out to my parents for that sliver of white privilege they've been able to afford me. I'm sure whichever name I choose to go by professionally will work wonders for my loan applications/credit score].

We met both Jaren and Lauren at a burger joint affectionately titled The Burger Joint for Thursday trivia night. At first glance, it was the kind of place that made me really wonder what a college town experience would have been like all four years: the spot was full of students and townies alike straight chillin'. We were greeted and quickly absorbed into the soon to be second place winners of trivia that night after a second round come-up. 

Straight up, Jaren had mad sauce, and it really took less than five minutes of knowing him and experiencing his people skills firsthand to understand how he became a student government heavyweight. I could tell as soon as Jaren and Lauren took us on an impromptu campus tour after our aforementioned trivia triumph. It seemed he had a good rapport with most everyone in our periphery that night, as I had to literally begin counting how many people stopped to greet him walking down a single street. The walk was casual as all get out, but they also took the time to point out key areas on campus surrounding both his election and impeachment trial.

As we walked around with Jaren as our tour guides, it was easy to validate what I thought would be my initial discomfort with the area at first. We walked on old plantation grounds that didn't care to acknowledge the history of the ground to visitors if we didn't ask. We also passed several buildings proudly named after icons of the Confederacy, if the former wasn't enough. Finally, we took a quick visit to the front of their Student Government building. By the way, if any New College staff end up reading this: they got an entire building and we have a single office. Not that I'm saying tighten up, but it does make our flex that much less flex-able, ya know? (I'm just playing, don't trip. Clemson's 18,599 undergraduate population easily outnumbers our cozy <1000 head count to justify that).

Without giving away too much of the interview itself, I encourage anyone not familiar to do some research on the failed attempt to impeach Jaren, as it made several news headlines. Hearing the story from Jaren and Lauren themselves is an experience that really deserves to be saved for the film. In truth, I felt a ton of solidarity with Jaren in regards to our experiences even just from reading the previously published articles: we both went through a premonition of our future struggles after being accused of questionable (at best) cases of wrongdoings as RA's, we both found ourselves embroiled in a struggle initiated by a minority of self-serving student government officials, and we both took our victories in impeachment trials as cues to let someone else run the following year. Big schools make a hell of a difference, though: I never had to deal with the amount of malicious secrecy, public scrutiny, targeting and sheer number of onlookers as he did, and I honestly found myself thanking all kinds of Gods for that the longer we stayed in SC.

Regardless, though, Jaren was able to reflect on these experiences without letting it kill his vibe. He knew his innocence and why he really went through what he did, a knowledge that represented itself with an air of well-deserved self assurance. The POC population on campus also seemed to firmly have his back, which I must say was a remarkable thing to witness about Clemson. Students there seemed to know the fight they were in for and had no business letting it turn them sour. Clemson's black student body has a rich history of activism, fellowship and overall stuntin'-while-black. Still, though, I'd venture to say that few could truly understand what it must have been like for Jaren as the man at the very head of the frontlines.

We eventually split for the day and made plans to catch the entirety of our Clemson filming the next day to make up for our late arrival. I was excited to see where the rest of this shoot would go, and could tell we were coming up on quite an experience that would be well worth the cold weather. Let that be my parting remark: it was cold. Like, YO: It was cold. Lit though...

But cold.