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Flashback

My friend happy2beso recently wrote about some of her experiences, thoughts, and wonderings as a Christian working as an educator and leading students in refelection on sexual identity issues. The discussions from those posts stirred deep feelings in me, related in part to some of my own experiences in the field of higher education. I decided to write a portion of my story, both to work some things out in my owh head and heart as well as to share with any who might be interested. But it ended up being really long, so it's

A few years ago, I worked at a small, chuch-affiliated college in Iowa. It was the same place where I'd been an Upward Bound student, and I also did one of my graduate school internships there (again with Upward Bound). I even presented a workshop there toward the end of my time in grad school, bringing them up to speed on how to build developmental residential communities on campus (they were still in the "dorm parent" stage, and bringing me in allowed me to say things that were too politically charged for insiders to talk about). So it was little wonder that I decided to take my first job out of grad school there, even at a measly $13,000 a year (I passed up bigger and better offers). It was a labor of love, and I had the chance to be their first full-time residence hall director.

Since they didn't really know what to do with a full-timer in residence life, I also worked ten hours a week in the Counseling Center. My first year there was colossally boring, largely because students would tend to book with one of the counselors who had been there awhile rather than with "the new guy" (completely understandable). Since I also had a role as a judicial officer, people weren't banging down my door as a counselor. To pass the time in that office (my space was a converted closet, or something akin to it), I was encouraged to pore over articles and journals on file.

While doing so one day, I came across an article on counseling "sexual minority clients." It was largely a rebuff to reparative or "change" therapy, a controversial, often faith-based approach based on the premise that same-sex attraction is not a fixed orientation and used with clients who experience same-sex attraction but desire a heterosexual orientation. Attached to the article was a post-it note which said, "Will our new residence life person back this, or something to the right? -Jon."

Jon was one of the two full-time counselors there, and was also a mentor and friend to me. He had been my Racism and Sexism teacher in Upward Bound (where I excelled) and was one of the people I most enjoyed working with. When I interviewed with him for the position, most of our conversation centered on homosexuality and how I would work with students on sexual identity issues. I was, of course, straightforward in our conversation (never fake in an interview, because then you're stuck being that person if you get the job) that I didn't believe that homosexuality was God's design for us, but also that, in a counseling relationship, I believed it to be essential to meet the student where they are and be willing to refer if you are not the best professional resource for them.

The issue didn't arise again for over a year. My second year I worked my ten hours a week in student activities, and my third year I returned (reluctantly) to the Counseling Center. Within a month of the beginning of that academic year, the center's director developed and circulated a draft of a written policy prohibiting counselors from engaging in reparative/change therapy with students or referring students to other counselors for this kind of approach. This was written in response to the APA's recently adopted stance on the issue, and was notably the only written policy in existence at the center.

Needless to say, I disagreed. I was certainly willing to agree to the first provision for myself as a professional (I certainly had no training in reparative therapy), though I wasn't sure I agreed it should be a matter of policy. The second provision, however, was essentially a gag order. While I was 99% certain the issue wouldn't even arise in therapy at all, I knew that if it did, I could not say with integrity that I would not refer a client to a counselor who would engage in reparative therapy with an interested student (there was such a counselor in the community, who was well-respected and often used as a referral for other issues). I raised my concerns verbally with the director, who listened but ultimately issued the draft, unaltered, as policy a few weeks later. I was stuck.

I kept thinking, "What about the strugglers?" Our Counseling Center was an affirming, safe place for those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered-- we had our requisite "Safe Space" cards complete with pink triangles. But on our church-affiliated campus, where was the safe-space for the student who was experiencing same-sex attraction in conflict with his or her beliefs, who desired help in a direction other than affirmation of a homosexual orientation? Where would they go? Likely not to the Christian fellowships on campus, where they feared shame, condemnation, and rejection. And now, not to the Counseling Center, where the best answers they could find were nodding heads and held tongues, or encouragement to explore and accept their "minority sexual identity." They, too, were stuck, and there was no way they could speak up for themselves.

There are times when a person's path is clear, when what it means to live faithfully is both unambiguous and unavoidable. In my case, I had to bear witness to my beliefs, to the gospel and the truth. It's not the path I would have picked, and it would have been simpler simply to let slide an issue that would likely never present itself in point of fact. I could not, and I knew it was likely professional suicide. There are worse things to lose than one's job or career, however.

So I moved up the line. I spoke with the aforementioned counselor in our community, as well as my pastor who was on the Board of Trustees, and I stated my case by memo to the director, the vice president, and the president. The response was diplomatic from on high and annoyed at the Center-- putting this out in the open didn't win me professional "friends." I was, however, allowed to draft an alternative policy which stuck closer to the facts (that the APA had adopted its stance, that we desired to be a safe place for "sexual minority clients," etc.), limited the center's practice (none of us were qualified to engage in reparative therapy with clients anyway), but did not limit our ability to refer. This policy was adopted in place of the former one.

Perhaps my most surprising confidant in this was Jon. I sought his counsel because, out of everyone I knew, he was the one who could best understand the position I was in. Were our roles reversed, and we had adopted a policy that allowed only reparative therapy, even for students who identified with a sexual minority orientation, integrity would have demanded that he do exactly what I did. He knew this, too, and we had some wonderful conversations because of it.

The rest of my time at the college (a few months) was professionally uncomfortable. Soon after this, I was informed that my position was slated to be cut back in the Student Life budget, while two other full-time positions in residence life (created after mine and held by persons with no graduate work in stundent development) would remain intact. That led to more soul-searching and my ultimate decision to seek a move to Seattle (another long story), as well as more troublemaking on my part as I sought to remind the college of the importance of its Christian mission (yes, another long story).

Though there was and still is some pain involved, I'm glad this is part of my story. I can glimpse, however dimly, how God has used these circumstances in the formation of my character, and I can but ponder whether He used these events in other ways, here or in the spiritual realms. He loves me, passionately, and works all things together for my good.

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