Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Thirty-seven

After working so hard to secure employment at Bob Jones University, I felt like I'd achieved the highest level of spirituality.  Now, despite never getting to be a "spiritual leader" during my undergrad days, I was a respected staff member, someone who could influence students for Jesus, and also learn from the other BJU employees who had suddenly become my peers.

Senior portraits.
Why is it that yearbook staff always pick the worst pose?

I loved my job.  I was a staff dispatcher for the campus security, and often worked the 12 hour overnight shift.  Anything could--and did--happen in the middle of the night on and around campus.  One night, in mid-July, the campus watermain sprung a leak and flooded a part of campus.  I was on the phone with the fire department, coordinating the directing of outsiders to the cleanup crews to get everything under control, while also accomplishing all my other nighttime dispatch duties: recording everything on the blotter, paying attention to the alarms checking, and keeping track of entrances and egresses from the main gate of the campus.  It was fun, but also exhausting.  With all that, I barely had time to wonder about a summons I'd received that late afternoon from the head of human resources.  I was to report to his office in the morning, two hours after my shift was over (rather inconvenient and inconsiderate, since I'd have to attend the meeting on no sleep, plus find some way to keep myself awake for two wasted hours in waiting around on campus).  My coworkers had assured me it was probably just routine, to finish paperwork, or maybe even to get commended for working so hard all summer.


I napped in my sister's room for a couple hours, or at least attempted it.  Now that there were no distractions, my mind went to work imagining what the summons could be possibly be concerning.  Turns out, it was NOT for a commendation.

The HR head was there with the head of my department.  They weren't smiling.  HR glared at me and said, "I'm afraid I have bad news.  You are being terminated."

I was flabbergasted.  I stammered out a, "Why?" while I struggled to recall if I'd broken any rules in the two months I'd been employed. Nope, I'd been perfect, but BJU standards.

He said it was because I'd proven myself to be a bad influence and a poor example of Christ.  When I pressed him for example of what in the world he was talking about, he pulled out, quite dramatically, a sheaf of heavily highlighted papers.  He'd printed one of my emails to several of my friends who were still undergrads.  This email was one of those silly quizzes that kids forward around, what's your favourite food, what's your best childhood memory, what's the most daring thing you ever did, etc.  I'd filled it out a month prior, and sent it on to a few of my friends and coworkers.

Apparently, some of my answers on the quiz were less than pleasing and were downright evil.  I'd put The Patriot as my favourite movie.  HR head explained that, since that movie is rated R, I was being a bad example to the students by saying I liked it.  I shouldn't be even watching rated R movies, and definitely not leading others by example to appreciate or desire to watch them.

I'd said I'd gone skinny dipping. As a kid in the Caribbean Sea.  That was wicked to admit, because it brought to mind nakedness and encouraged young people reading my email to pursue wantonness.

I'd joked that I enjoyed kissing my husband (since all physical contact between genders is banned at BJU, I'd never kissed anyone or been kissed till I started dating and then married my husband, so it still felt a bit illicit, even to admit that I'd done it).  That was bad because it displayed my proud spirit, bragging about physical sexual contact to students who were not allowed to follow my example but who would be expelled if they tried to be like me.

And on the list went, HR man got really heated in his ranting and raving, while my department head just sat there, not saying a word in my defense.  I'd burst into tears after about five minutes, but HR man kept going, alternating between waving the sheaf of papers in the air and shaking his finger under my nose.  He spat, "You have no integrity. Can't you see that you're unqualified to be an example to students, to represent the University?"  He told me I should be becoming more reserved with my friends who were still students, because now I was staff and I had to be over them.  Never mind the fact that I'd been an undergrad too just a few weeks ago, or that school wasn't even in session yet.

What I was afraid of most of all was being barred from seeing my sisters. Friends I could leave behind, but the usual procedure for people who get fired from BJU is for them also to be blacklisted and banned from campus.  I'd been well-schooled in the Black Book during my time with campus security.  I knew how it went.  I finally broke in through HR man's incoherent sidetrack story of how he could not witness to people at his first job because he needed to glorify God by applying himself to working hard.

I asked him point blank if I'd be banned from campus and kicked out of the Alumni Association.  He said no.  He further said he'd make sure that didn't happen, since I hadn't actually done anything wrong, I certainly didn't deserve to be punished beyond losing my job.

With that, the meeting was over.  My department head finally spoke up and offered me a ride home. I could barely see through my swollen eyes, but I refused.  The man hadn't defended me or said much of anything at all during the entire meeting.  I didn't want any help from him if that was his definition of "stand up for and protect the ones in my department."

I walked home.  When I got there, I immediately checked my email to see if my campus account had been locked yet.  I found an email from my new brother-in-law, accusing me of being a horrible, inconsiderate, cruel, deceitful person, a slut, someone who he wished his brother had never met, much less married.  He'd sent a copy of his email to everyone in his family, even aunts and uncles I hadn't met yet.

One person on the recipient list contacted me and assured me his opinions were not shared by the family, but no one stood up to him directly and said what he'd said was wrong or that he shouldn't have emailed everybody like that. Even his brother, my husband, kept quiet. It made me feel so worthless. I was unworthy to be staff at BJU, and also not worth defending. All on the same day. 

I spent the rest of the day with my head in the toilet, throwing up.  A few days later, I received a letter from HR man and from the Alumni Association. I'd been banned from campus, blacklisted.

I blogged about that meeting, describing my feeling of shock, asking why it was morally and ethically okay for my personal emails to be read, printed, and held against me.  Why had it been acceptable for me to be closed in a small room with two older men I barely knew, one of whom then verbally abused me while the other watched?

I wasn't allowed to go see my sisters on campus (I had three sisters who were students that new school year).  It meant I was banned from attending their concerts, recitals, speeches, and even just picking them up to go shopping, or dropping off clean laundry in their rooms.  I was totally blacklisted.  (And no one I left behind knew why--that sort of thing is never explained, so everybody always assumes the worst.  People later told me they all thought I'd broken the law somehow, or had an affair.)

I wrote a letter to Stephen Jones, the president of the school, begging to at least let me be un-banished.  I didn't want my job back, I told him, but I shouldn't be excommunicated for forwarding a silly quiz to some students.

He wrote me back and approved my request to have my blacklisted period cut short (it's policy for all those who part ways with the University on not-good terms to have to prove their repaired testimony after one year of banishment has elapsed).

But before I could be allowed back on campus and special passes for my sister be approved, the dean of students demanded to see me.  He said that, while the University president had said one thing, he was saying another and would not let the un-banishment go forward till I met with him.

I went to see him, and he accused me of doing things I'd never done (he later called me up and apologised.  Apparently, he'd gotten me confused with my brother-in-law's fiance, who had also worked in campus security, and who had done some bad stuff, I guess. Yes, the fiancĂ© of the same brother-in-law who had written me that horrible email).  He also waved some papers around (print outs of my blog) and demanded that I delete everything I'd written about my firing from BJU before my punishment could be lifted.  In order to have the privilege of my sister's company, I had to comply.

So, in exchange for reuniting with my sisters on campus, I did everything he told me.  I never promised never to blog about it again, though, and this is the first time since then that I have.

Bob Jones University is a terrible place, filled with abusers and enablers of abusers.  The focus is all Law (in made up rules which are hardly biblical), and little Gospel. Sure, sometimes the light of God breaks through and good things are accomplished, but it's clear that it is in spite of the people in charge over there, not because of them.  There is joy there, in small pockets, but not because Christ is modeled by the Administration.  There are good people there on staff and in the faculty especially.  I loved my teachers and respect them immensely, for the most part.  But even they are mistreated and abused by the school leadership. I sometimes feel like cursing them all for they did to me, for almost destroying my faith, for totally crushing my spirit, but I remember what the Scriptures foretell about those people's fate, and all I can only say may God have mercy on their souls.

Do I want BJU to be destroyed?  No.  I do, however want change.  I'm not the only one who was hurt while a student or staff member.  There are scores and even hundreds of others who have more horrific tales of abuse, sexual, physical, verbal, emotional, and spiritual.  Ignoring them won't erase the pain and won't bring about healing for anybody. Until BJU can admit past fault, without qualifications or excuses, and seek to actively repent, no change will be appropriate or effective.