Thursday, February 18, 2016

Laughing and Listening and Not Being a Dick

Turns out, I can't laugh about Bob Jones University anymore.

They were cute at the Meeting of Astronomers in South Carolina that we all attended at USC that year. I looked at them like I look at...middle school students from a wealthy community. How adorable, in their little suits. How neat their little presentations were, even though it was clear that their advisers neither taught them how to make a presentation, nor taught them about the subject matter or its beautiful intricacies; complexities that mirror the brilliance of the Creator they so admire. 

Since their fundamentalist beliefs prevent them from accepting that the universe is larger than our own galaxy group, they are constrained to studying eclipsing binary star systems. Brilliant research projects, but absolutely no potential from where they sit. No room for growth. No ability to answer even the simplest questions on extrapolating their studies for application. These young men do exactly what they're told, and they're told to talk about light curves and then to glare at us when we make the blasphemous suggestion that the universe is probably close to celebrating its fourteen billionth birthday. 

But while coming dangerously close to being scientifically useless, there is no inherent evil in studying eclipsing binaries and eclipsing binaries alone. Reason says, in fact, that they should be the leading experts on eclipsing binaries, but I don't have any data to either confirm or deny that, and it's neither here nor there. The point is, if your beliefs are hinged on a speculation so obviously false that the mere suggestion that it may be false results in a total shutdown of coherent thought or collaborative energy, that's okay with me. In theory, BJU is filled with (more or less) grown-ass adults, and they are entitled to their grown-ass beliefs without any friction from my end. It's fine that a subset of the well-groomed young Southern Christian population can't conceive of a Universe as large as ours (which, to me, tells me that they can't conceive of a God as large as ours, but I'll shut up) and it has no bearing on my research, or my life. It's fine. I'll respect your presentation, ask relevant questions, act satisfied with your unsatisfactory responses, and giggle like a schoolgirl with my colleagues later over beers. It really is that simple.

Or, it was.

Up until now, I've done a pretty good job of laughing things off. Not really, but we can pretend. I don't devote my energy to convincing people that one theory is probably more likely or more supported than another. If you can't see the evidence yourself, then you can't be convinced. My most heated arguments mostly consist of me passionately explaining my side of things, listening to the other side, and generally, deciding that neither of us is wrong. I pay very little attention to groups that are radically ridiculous, even if I am a member of their targeted community. Traumatic stress is fun in the way that I feel unsafe in normal situations, and completely safe in perilous ones. It's my joy to carry it around with me, my greatest fucking joy.

But if there's one thing that I really can't handle right now, it's Bob Jones University. Not because of its unscientific scientific process, but because it's currently the cherry on top of the way I've felt this week. Just...like...a bad PTSD week, really. And then BJU comes out with some bullshit and I just can't deal with the fact that people like this still exist, people who believe that they are champions of love but are really poisonous harbingers of actual evil.

A lot of schools, my alma mater included, have been under investigation for the ways by which they (don't) handle sexual assault cases. Progress, y'all. But this one just pretty much makes me want to join in chorus with the rest of the survivors at BJU, throw in the towel, throw my hands up, and set everything on fire because this is hopeless. Instead of taking a more Christ-like approach to life, they seem to be taking a holier-than-though, wrath-of-God approach to handling struggles of, I don't know, the typical student that attends BJU. If you really want to, you can read more about this here, but I'll sum up.

Instead of hiring licensed trauma therapists to take care of the survivors' needs, they seem to be using any literate higher-up who can take the bible and twist its words and its spirit into sessions full of victim-blaming blasphemy. Instead of focusing on protecting students, they're expelling and shaming students who come forward with symptoms of trauma. Instead of focusing on sins against their sanctified bodies, they're focusing on sins committed (?????) by their "impure" bodies. 

And, just like that, and just like BJU as a whole, I'm thrown back a decade (at least) into the past. Because I resonate with this so strongly. The fault must lie with me. God is punishing me for my sins. I deserved this. This was meant to be a wake up call for my life. I must've been too stubborn. If I don't listen, God will use his wrath to make me listen. These are the things that are being told to survivors by the counselors at BJU. And they are being told as gospel truths, grace and healing be damned. 

Thankfully, I've grown into a human with a brain that is slightly less self-deprecating. But at the time, these were some very real thoughts and enormous fears floating around in my adolescent mind. Any rational beating heart can recognize the faults in these ridiculous accusations, but when a survivor already feels violated and already feels disgusting and already feels guilty, these are easy lies to believe. And to have your university refuse to advocate for you, and even worse, to have your university tell you that you are not welcome in an environment that is supposed to foster learning and growth...well, it's a little too much. 

At some point, it would be pretty rad if these things stopped happening. But as per my reflections this past week, they won't. Even if they did, it changes nothing in my past or ours. The brilliant Cheryl Strayed spoke about how the things I resolve in my twenties will have to be resolved again, and again, and again, in my thirties and forties and fifties and until-I'm-dead-ties. It's not a joyful life sentence (that was indeed sarcasm above) but it is not a doomed life. As far as I know, there is not a man, woman, or child alive who has not been impacted by violence in some capacity. Instead of overwhelming me, I'm learning to humanize my trauma. Not normalize it or make it okay or acceptable or deserving, but simply humanize it. It is part of the human experience. It has made me stronger. It has made me better. It has made all of us better, despite the woefully blind "leaders" at BJU and the toxic environment there.

Toxic not just for scientific stagnation, but for crimes against the human spirit. At best, it's additional unacceptable behavior aimed at individuals who have already survived violent instances of unacceptable behavior. In simplest terms: not cool. 

So, BJU, you are not a laughing matter. I get it, and I take you very seriously. But remember: as you short-change your Creator during your scientific presentations, you are also breaking His heart when you disregard, dismiss, and publicly shame His children. That isn't something about which I can laugh over beers with colleagues. Perhaps it's time to realize that the entity you worship has not abandoned these survivors, and despite your blatant terribleness, He hasn't abandoned you, either.

In my experience, God is pretty good at helping people not be dicks, if only we listen. 

Listen, and don't be a dick, BJU. Don't be a dick.