You can’t have true diversity when values and behaviors are funneled through one belief system.
I graduated from George Fox University in 2016 with my MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The education, support, and community I found in the program provided healing from a previous educational experience. Yet the common thread in both experiences was that I had to hide or minimize some part of who I was. Each time there was compromise with deeply rooted values that we are all unique, all human, and all valuable. Having diverse opinions (even with disagreement) is critical to our growth and survival. A stained glass window just isn’t the same when all the glass is the same color and shape. And, narrow windows make it hard for light to get into the building which makes every ray that does get in more precious. As individuals together in this world, we need to keep shining that light in hopes that we can illuminate without blinding so we can grow and flourish together.
Education is about taking risks and expanding the mind, the heart, the soul, even in Christian schools. I started at George Fox University in 2013 with excitement tempered with some uneasiness. While I identify as heterosexual, I don’t identify as a Christian and I worried about what that would mean. As it turned out, I was blessed to have been in what I suspect is the most open-minded program (counseling at the Portland Campus) but there were also significant adjustments for me. I became more silent about my spirituality (religion) but kept an open mind to listening to those around me. Over time I discovered where it was “safe” to share and where I just remained silent. I’ve had practice blending in with the wallpaper but it isn’t comfortable anymore. Like so many other areas in my life, it seemed that much of this safety was based on the relationship developed with individuals and their interpretation of being a staff or faculty in a Christian university. It was also very clear that I would never be able to come back and teach or be considered for any other job. The lifestyle agreement is very clear on the expectation and by the time I graduated I had shared enough about my beliefs that going underground wasn’t an option. Even more important though was the recognition that this was both a welcoming community and a closed community with a peculiar disconnect.
But what I experienced was a grain of sand on a single beach. Every day I could walk out that door back in to my life where I was accepted simply as who I was. No one challenged or questioned choices I made about my sexuality, my personhood, my color, my spirituality, or dress in ways that were designed to be hurtful. I could share freely about friends and family identifying as gay, straight, bisexual, polyamorous, or transgender, and still feel safe. I could choose to remain silent or not, a luxury that many people don’t have. I have no doubt that some of my classmates were having a very different experience than I did. I’m sad looking back when I realize there must have been so much missed opportunity for honest genuine connection. I consider myself to be very accepting of people as they are. Yet even now, I wonder if I could have been more transparent or done things differently to be more outspoken in public arenas?
Thank you for taking time to read my story. Please know that I support and welcome all people regardless of the label chosen or imposed by our culture. I believe that each of us has a light inside and that by sharing that light openly we can be vulnerable in ways that are empowering.
(Disclaimer, for part of my childhood I attended Friends Meeting with silent worship. I didn’t know Evangelical Quakers existed until I first looked into George Fox University about 10 years ago.)