Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about my struggle with organized religion. To be honest with you, it was a coward’s way of telling friends and family that I wasn’t sure how to be a part of my church anymore. I had no idea that it would be anything more than that, but it ended up on a forum, and from that forum I received a lot of feedback. Some of it was private, some public. There was a lot of negative things said, but there were also several people who were kind, and compassionate toward me.
Since that post, another scandal has rocked the Nazarene university I attended. The former president who had been at the center of a lot of controversy was accused of, and admitted to, having an inappropriate relationship with a student while he was a professor. That has lead to a landslide of people talking about their experiences with abuse in the church, as well as in the Nazarene university system. It’s been sickening. Hard to take in. However, it has also reminded me of why I’ve had a hard time reconciling myself to my university, and why I’m not really that surprised by any of this coming to light.
People in the forum I mentioned earlier made a lot of assumptions about me. It was kind of surreal, actually, but it’s true that I didn’t talk much about me, or my story in the post. So, here is a chunk of it. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while, and it’s not nearly as hard to tell (or I’m assuming to hear) as many of the stories out there, and I’m sure it’s not as profound or earth-shaking, but it’s mine, and I’m going to talk about it.
Every exhalation happens after a breath has already been taken. Endings require beginnings. The end of this story is a happy one, but the beginning is full of frustration and angst.
The second semester of our fourth year of college started just like the other semesters had. Except it started without us, because we were in the hospital having a baby.
Having a baby while in college full time is, well, not easy. There are all kinds of logistics to think through, and work out. While sitting on IV fluids, after having narrowly avoided a blood transfusion, enduring 2 hours of post delivery surgery, and, quite frankly, nearly dying, I asked my parents to bring me my computer so that I could email my professors and ask them for syllabi, reading assignments, and grace if I missed the first few days of class. I was so blessed by my professors. They were the most understanding, most helpful, most gracious group. They worked with me to bring my newborn to class, and to duck out if she needed me to. Thankfully, she was the weirdest baby on the planet, and was quiet and content most of the time.
My professors allowed me to be late if I needed to feed her, helped me catch up when I missed class, and held her (THANK YOU TAMMY!) during exams. My French professor created an independent study for me, and another professor moved an entire class from an upstairs room in Wiley downstairs since I wasn’t allowed to climb stairs for months post delivery.
My daughter’s dad’s experience could not have been more different.
From day one, he was harassed for not being in class because I was in the hospital. Apparently my near death experience was not a valid excuse to not be present. One of his professors used his daughter against him, asking him if he was being the kind of man and teacher his daughter could be proud of. Once when our daughter and I both had the flu, he called his professor to say he needed to stay home as I could not care for her alone, her response was, “In the real world, you won’t be able to just stay home. You’ll have to go into work. This is not an excuse to not be in class.” There was zero grace granted, there was only rigid adherence to self-made rules, and condemnation for inability to fit into their box. His degree was held over his head. He was told that he might not get it even though his grades where good, and he had completed all of the requirements for graduation. This particular professor told him that they wouldn’t want him working in their school, and that if asked, they would say as much to future employers. He could do nothing right in her eyes. By the time he left the department, he was broken. The administration was aware of this being a problem in the past, they were aware of the way he was being treated, and yet the professor at fault stayed on with the school, with no reprimand or consequence, until retirement. Even when he achieved rapid and immediate success in the education field after graduation, NNU’s response was to take credit, not to say they had been wrong. (I will note, that this was not everyone in the department, that there were really good professors there too, but the ones who weren’t, really, really weren’t.) He wasn’t the only one with this story. As I talked to friends, I found that year after year this same sort of thing happened. Nothing was ever done. No changes were ever made. So many people were hurt.
My personal run in with NNU, was disconnected completely from my time spent in the classroom. As I said above, I had truly amazing professors who were advocates for me, and for my education. It was, instead, with someone telling me that if I wanted to be a mom, I should stay home, and finish my degree when my daughter was grown. This happened after I had asked for a chapel reduction due to having a class right before, and right after the service. I needed that time to nurse my daughter, and there was no way to change my schedule in order to graduate somewhat on time. I was informed that I was not eligible for an extra reduction, and that there was no work around. I was told to nurse my daughter in chapel, or in the bathroom. Anyone who has been in our chapel building knows that the only place to nurse in the bathroom, would be on a toilet, and I was not comfortable nursing in a crowded room. So, often, I would go to chapel, sign a card, and book it to the other side of campus where there was a bathroom with a chair, I’d nurse my daughter there, and then book it back. It wasn’t the best situation. When I appealed, I was informed that there was nothing that could be done, that I should drop a class, or take a break from school. I did neither. I did my best, made it to as many chapels as I could, and paid a fine for the rest. That shaped my view of myself as a mother. It changed the way I saw myself, and undermined the confidence I had in my ability to be a mom, as well as successful outside of parenting. It told me I couldn’t have it both ways, and that if I tried, I would fail. That was a narrative that I really struggled to escape. It’s one that I still fight to this day.
I’m telling this all publicly now, because I think it needs to be seen that there has been a pervasive problem at NNU for a while. This isn’t just about our former president, but also about a system that has been put into place that allows some people to do well, and others to fail, simply because of who they are, not because of merit. There is an issue on campus that keeps people in jobs when they are mistreating students, but allows others to be fired, or forced into retirement unfairly.
NNU is a sacred place to me. It will always hold an incredibly special place in my heart. However, it is sick. It needs help. I don’t know what to do other than add my voice to growing cacophony, and hope it is heard.
I’m done waiting for something magic to happen. I’m ready to get angry and start pointing fingers. It’s time to change the culture of this campus. It’s time to make drastic changes, to demand action, and to stand up for ourselves as a long unheard collective of students who have had their stories silenced or stolen.
I don’t want to make anyone mad, or hurt feelings unnecessarily, and that’s a lot of the reason I haven’t spoken much about this except to friends and family. However, I think that’s how this kind of cycle is perpetuated. We are too worried about hurting those in a position of power to help others who may be victims of an unfair system. I’m sorry if this is upsetting to people out there, and, as I’ve said other places, I’m more than willing to talk about myself, my experiences, and my current positions and feelings.
I said this story had a happy ending, and I meant it. We are in a good place now. Although some in the church may argue that point given that we are now in two separate places, living our lives simultaneously entwined because of our children, and separately because our inability to deal with post college stress and trauma lead to the dissolution of our marriage. If you ask, we will both tell you that we are happy. We love the life we have forged, and the non-typical family that we have. We have two wonderful children. We both have jobs we find fulfilling, and lives we truly enjoy living. It’s not the ending we set out to write, but it’s the one we have, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t change it.