Going to Seminary | Part 6

by Elouise

Maya Angelou quote, tumblr_mhan4eWS1o1rv1fi2o1_500

Why write about this now? Because the issue raised by my professor didn’t go away. To his credit, he raised an important issue. Pornography. Yet even if there had been only men in that classroom, the assignment was questionable.

So what happens next? (See Part 5 for what happened first)

  • I go home and write an accurate and non-informative report.
  • I go to class the next week and sit next to my woman friend.
  • I feel embarrassed and humiliated during the entire class session.
  • I turn in my carefully written assignment and leave.
  • I carry on with the rest of my assignments for this course.
  • I talk about the assignment more than once with my woman friend and with D.
  • I try to forget it ever happened, especially when I see this professor on campus.

What doesn’t happen?

  • I don’t contribute to class discussion that evening.
  • I don’t ever talk about the assignment with the professor.
  • I don’t write a note to the professor objecting to the assignment.
  • I don’t speak with my faculty adviser or anyone on the faculty or staff about the assignment.

I didn’t know this then, but I know it now. Unless we ask them, or students tell us, we NEVER know what past or present lives our students bring to the classroom. Nor do we know what triggers or hooks we may be setting off in them. Unless we ask, or they tell us.

As a theological educator, I’ve raised tough issues in the classroom. It comes with the territory. Here we are at seminary, studying for work in churches and various ministries to people with exactly the same kinds of issues and unresolved pain we carry in ourselves as instructors and as seminarians.

For example, as a theologian, I can’t just talk about the sins we/I commit. I must also address the reality of sins committed against us/me, even though I, for example, may not want to talk about them or let them see the light of day.

At the same time, talking about them or letting them see the light of day isn’t a magic wand. The context must be safe, with access to safe, wise, experienced professionals. Otherwise, we can do more harm than good when we raise issues such as pornography, which happens to be one of the largest secret addictions of clergy.

What’s the issue for me personally? Pornography, more than any other reality I can think of, creates a culture of often subterranean, unrecognized and unchecked contempt against women. That’s the issue for me personally.

I’m a childhood and teen survivor of contempt directed at my body. No wonder I go ballistic internally when, at age 30 and with no warning, Someone in Authority tells me I am Required to Purchase Pornography and Look At It.

I don’t know whether my professor was to ‘blame’ for making the assignment. I do, however, know this much–thanks to hindsight and experience:

I am not and was not to ‘blame’ for completing the assignment,
 for deciding not to confront my professor,
or for choosing not to speak with some other authority figure about this assignment.

First, I didn’t know how to think about it. I only knew I felt humiliated in my female body. I’m grateful I wasn’t numb when this happened. My response was appropriate, given my age and circumstances.

Second, I was not in a safe place. My professor hadn’t created safety for everyone in the course. He’d created a climate in which some male students felt free to speak while the rest of us did not. I’m glad I didn’t make myself into a sacrificial lamb.

I stand with my 30-year old self. I also recognize in her what I’ll deal with years later—in a safe environment. See Part 5.

  • I’m carrying around, unopened and unexamined, a trunk full of humiliating punishment.
  • I’m also living out my chief survival tactic from childhood: Do whatever is necessary to “just get it over and done with.”

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 December 2015
Image from olivaquotes.tumblr.com