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11.16.2004

"The campus is fine"

In the course of my time at Taylor I had my privacy walked on and systematically violated as if I were a small child and the "adults" at Taylor were my parents. I've tried very hard to rationlize why this is okay -- why, "the campus is fine" in the eyes of so many. Why things I describe here, which have happened to more than just me, aren't enough to turn the stomachs of everyone who reads them.

In the course of my time at Taylor I had my personhood diminished to point near no-return. I felt absolutely wortheless because of the things that were constantly said to me and about me by people who should've known better. Things that were so utterly far from the truth it not only hurts to hear them, but it astonishes me to know that they're about me. And it was constant beating, a constant barrage of flaming-arrows that demeaned me and burned away my self-confidence, from more than one person.

And in the midst of that, the very people launching those arrows were using my counselor as if he were their personal information service. They, at the very least, questioned him about me routinely. I told him things that I didn't want to tell them, that I wouldn't tell them -- so they went above my head.

And this is the chilling effect. They didn't think twice about it. They did it over, and over, and over again. They did it to me and there's no reason to believe they wouldn't do it to others.

I once told my counselor, "It bothers me a lot that she talks to you all the time," speaking of the Youth Conference co-director who did her best to undermine my sense of self-worth. His response, "It should."

Yet, "the campus is fine."

By the end of Youth Conference (2002), I was so beaten up that I almost didn't make it through the ordeal. A week before, my counselor came to my room at 1 am -- I was sitting on the couch, crying.

"I hate her more than I've ever hated anyone in my life," I told him -- speaking of the Youth Conference director. It was a phrase he'd later repeat to me, to remind me of how I once felt. The hatred passed quickly. After the stress of Youth Conference was gone, it became clear that she wasn't worth the time or frustration I'd felt for almost 9 months. Not even close.

"I don't want to do this anymore," I said to him, speaking about leading the conference. He replied, saying that he could easily have me relieved. No one would have to know it was my decision and it could all be over. I told him I couldn't. I would've quit in January (4 months before) had I believe the cabinet would've continued under the director's leadership. And my leaving a week before couldn't have been good. I owed the some 500 people coming to the conference and all those who worked with me a lot more than that.

I spent that night in the health center, the rest of the week checking in with my counselor daily. He stuck his neck out for me quite far that week -- telling the administration that removing me from the conference at that point would've been distasterous for all involved, including myself. He was right.

The conference went great. Other than being extremely sick, I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

But the damage was done. My melt-down the week before was the culmination of nine months of emotional abuse and convenient timing.

A few days before, I was called to a meeting with Mary Rayburn, the director for TWO. I had sent an e-mail to the Dean of Students asking for his help with the conlflict with my director. I shared it with my student co-director and she in turn shared it with Mary Rayburn -- whom of course (I assume) told the conference director.

I received no help, but rather thinly-veiled threats to not go over their heads again. In an hour-and-a-half meeting, Mary Rayburn told me that she, and several others on campus (the conference director, Richard Allen Farmer, Walt Campbell and probably more that I don't know about) had a meeting. And in that meeting, based on the director's testimony and "some of (my) e-mails" decided that I was insubordinate, disrespectful, etc., etc. Mary Rayburn's words were, "be careful."

"Of what?" I asked, not quite sure how to take a warning like that.

"I'm telling you to be careful," she said. She proceeded to explain to me how I'd failed the conference, the school and all the youth that were coming. That my voluminous "mistakes" over the last nine months had placed the conference in peril. The message was clear, I was worthless, hadn't done anything right and she didn't like me going over her head (though my co-director and I had come to her numerous times before that for help). They would've have been better off removing me from the conference earlier in the semester, but had been "convinced not to" by someone (she wouldn't tell me whom).

If all that were true, this might be a different story. But in reality, my marketing plans for the conference increased attendence to heights it hadn't seen in many years. I did a lot for the conference and Mary Rayburn would tell me on the phone later that summer that I "showed tremendous vision." Still, I started to believe the things they were saying to me. I'd been degraded to a point where I wasn't able to clearly perceive my own self-image. That happened a lot at Taylor.

I stood up for myself though. I said, "I believe I've been treated very poorly and nothing you've said here changes that."

"Okay," she replied.

And then I left. It was 5:30, she had talked for a half-hour. I went back to my room. I sat on the couch and burst into tears. I was so drained that I couldn't even think clearly. By 6:00, I pulled myself together and went to the admissions office to prepare for the CREW meeting. I was one of the CREW interns and it was the one place on campus where my superiors built me up instead of tearing me down, where the student staff worked well together, where I was treated like a person as opposed to a stepping stool.

I called my supervisor in admissions to ask her a question about that night's meeting. We had talked earlier that day and she knew about my earlier meeting with Mary Rayburn. I asked my question but she ignored me and asked how the meeting went. I started to tell her, but decided I couldn't relive it all over the phone.

"Can you come over?" I asked her. She did, immediately. She sat down on the couch beside me and asked, "Well?"

I started crying again. I cried more that year than I've cried in my entire life. I laid my head on her shoulder and cried for nearly half-an-hour. She said to me later, "You're amazing, do you know that? Don't let them make you think you're not, because you are..." Her words still ring in my ears.

When the other CREW intern came in, she looked at me, frowned and gave me a hug. I didn't even have to tell her how the meeting had gone.

But, I pushed all that aside for the coming week. I had a large small-group leader meeting on Wednesday and a conference of prayer on Thursday to get through. I had to be strong. I had to manage -- and I did -- until the weekend.

I held everything together until Sunday night, when my counselor found me in my room -- completely broken and devestated.

Yet, "the campus is fine." I wish the person who made that comment could tell me that I was the only one to experience something like this -- but I know I wasn't. I wish he could say that I never asked for help or tried to work out the conflict, so I deserved what happened. But I did ask for help -- and was ignored. I did everything in my power to work out the conflict and still plan a very successful conference at the same time. I wish he could say that I am all the things they said I were -- that I were horrible, acted poorly, made bad decisions and completely disrespected those in authority. But I know I didn't. I wish he could say that I've run into these problems throughout my entire life, that when there's a major issue I really am the source. But I had never been treated like that before, and I haven't been since. I wish he could say that Taylor handled the situation correctly, stepping in bodly and decisively to correct it and see that it never happened again. But they didn't.

I wish I could believe the campus is fine, but I know it's not.

PS -- the conference director was quietly relieved of her position that summer. She was replaced by the person who let me cry on her shoulder.