Four years ago, I arrived onto the campus of Shorter University (then college). I know this sounds odd since I am a freshman vocal performance major, but it’s completely true. Four years ago, I attended the Summer Arts Institute for piano. That week forever changed my life. Being surrounded by great counselors, campers, professors showed me what college life was going to be, and from that first day, I knew Shorter was where I was going to go to college.
Time went on, and my plans changed. I decided to go into Vocal Performance rather than piano, but I still knew that Shorter was the place to be. It was like a second home to me. When the time came for me to audition for my undergraduate program, Shorter was one of three schools I applied to, and the only one I actually auditioned for. I was excited to start my career at Shorter University! I had my voice teacher selected; I had my rooming assignment; I had attended Summit; I had bought things for my room. I was ready to go. The first few months went by in a flash: the chorale retreat, recitals, opera rehearsal and performances, and then the unthinkable happened: The Personal Lifestyle Statement.
At first, I didn’t know what to think about such a document – surely this could not be a legitimate request. No one could force another human being to sign such a hate filled and limiting document. It was impossible for me to think about. A week (I think) went by, and I was informed that people were going to leave if this didn’t change, and it seemed as if things weren’t going to change. I found solace in nothing. I became a shadow of the person I was. How could anyone destroy my beloved Shorter? How? It just wasn’t fair. Groups and protests were organized, and for a while it seemed like there was a glimmer of hope that the document would be retracted, but the powers that be became even more relentless. Although I wanted to stay, it didn’t seem like I would be able to, so I started applying to new schools. How funny… I spent my first year of college looking for a new one.
When first deciding about transferring, I had to sit down with myself and ask if transferring was the correct option for me. I mean, of course there were the obvious facts – my voice teacher wanted to leave, and other countless teachers and students did as well, but were those good enough reasons to leave? No. That alone was not enough. This issue dug deeper than just my peers leaving. This was personal. They had attacked me personally just because I have a “disease.”
I grew up in the Mormon faith, and I was treated the same way there as I am here. I struggled for years to come to terms with who I was as a person, and how I was different from people around me. I couldn’t help but ask why it seemed like I should be punished for something beyond my control. I chose to be gay just as much as someone chooses to be straight, so why am I a sinner? I was told every day that because I feel a certain way, I would never be with God in Heaven. How is that fair? It’s not. What made this predicament more difficult was that I could not talk to my parents about everything that was going on, for their religious dogma coincides with fundamentalist Baptists on homosexuality.
Like other countless music majors, I sing in a church choir in Rome. For me, my church was Saint Peter’s Episcopal. At Saint Peter’s I finally felt accepted in God’s eyes. I finally found the place where God’s love permeated to every last individual in their church. Not just the ones they said were worthy. Everyone is accepted there. Saint Peter’s was the epitome of what Shorter really should be to be considered a Christian university.
So, yes this is my biggest issue with the document. How can a self-proclaimed Christian university come out with a document that is not Christ-like at all? Homosexuals are people too, but it seemed like I wasn’t at Shorter. I felt judged every Tuesday when I would walk to the cafeteria as other were walking to the Chapel for their worship service. I felt judged every time I passed someone. Solely because I am gay and it obviously showed. Should I have to hide who I am? Not be proud that I am a child of God and I am perfect the way He made me even though it’s different from others around me? That’s not fair. The only place I found solace was in Chorale where I was among people who loved and supported me for who I was and not who they wanted me to be.
I started my audition process. It was tedious for I did not want to do it. I thought that I was going to be at Shorter for four years, not just one. I had some fun though. I took a road trip to New Jersey; I also went to Atlanta for a regional audition, and I went to my hometown to audition at Mercer. I received great honors and scholarships everywhere I applied, but nothing seemed right, because it wasn’t Shorter. I thought I was never going to be able to get over it. I lost hope. Some days, I could hardly even get myself out of my bed to go to class; in fact I skipped many classes because I did not want to be reminded of what I was not going to have. It became too hard to bear.
The only thing that kept me going and inspired me to get out of bed was Chorale rehearsal for ACDA, but sometimes it was hard to put forth effort to pretend I was not depressed. I went to convention and had a blast. It was such a treat to be out and away with the people I hold dear to my heart, but spring break came and afterwards came opera scenes which was just another reminder of the censorship and rules Shorter administration was putting us under. (We were supposed to do The Elixir of Love, but because of the alcohol references, we had to change our opera). During spring break I finally decided what I was going to do with my life: Musical Theater Accompanying. I applied at Shenandoah University, but I did not apply in time for their auditions.
April came and I found myself thrown into the craziest month of my life. I had performance after performance, but I enjoyed every last minute. It blew my mind how much great music I was making with people at Shorter and in Rome. How could such a small town produce such great music? I knew I was where I was supposed to be. There were so many great things happening for me, so this is what hurts the most: leaving the people I am emotionally invested in, leaving such a great opportunities for music making, being attacked so personally for something beyond control.
So why am I leaving Shorter University:
- My professors are
- My peers are
- For being personally attacked for my sexuality
- To be in a comfortable and supportive environment where I can be who I am.
- God’s love and guiding hand is not found at Shorter
I feel that Shorter, the GBC, the Board of Trustees, and/or whoever can do what they want to the school. It’s their school, but I cannot personally attend a school so full of hate. The personal lifestyle statement is picking and choosing which sins are worse than others, but a sin is a sin. Why were homosexuality, premarital sex, and adultery singled out? What about child molesters? Is it acceptable to be a child molester? Is it acceptable to rape innocent humans? NO! It’s not. It’s just as wrong, but it wasn’t pointed out. That to me screams bigotry. Let it be known that this is not an attack on a religion, this is an attack on the thoughts of individuals who believe that they are above others and believe that God speaks to them and moves them to do things. Well, it is my opinion that God does not work like this. “LOVE so amazing SO DIVINE!” It is through Christ’s love that people are changed not by forcing them to attend Chapels, and to deny what they are to themselves. I believe God made me perfect the way I am, not the way someone says that I should be, and because of this I cannot agree with what Shorter says. Jesus did not tell the adulteress to get out of his sight, he said “Go and sin no more” not: sign this document or lose your job. Once again, this screams bigotry. I feel slighted as a student as if I’m not even important. This whole predicament is not fair to the student body. I have had to spend my whole first year of college LOOKING FOR A NEW COLLEGE, and I’m mad about it.
To those who are in charge of everything going on, know that I respect your decision to do this, and I know you have every right, as Shorter is your school, but do know that a legacy that has been built at Shorter University will now forever be demolished. Shorter’s reputation preceded her in many cases, and it does again now, but for different reasons. Also, do know that it is wrong to claim to be something you aren’t: Shorter is no longer a liberal arts college; it is now a Baptist seminary. You are not transforming lives through Christ; you are transforming lives through narrow mindedness fundamentalist views.
May God bless the Hill to keep her in constant care and peace through the turmoil that will ensue. May every endeavor upon the Hill be met with strength and courage.
Finally, remember you cannot force people to transform their lives through Christ. It is only through an example of His perfect love that people can be turned to him. Forcing people to believe what you believe will accomplish nothing.