Like many, I was upset to learn of the school’s treatment of Olivia Birk. Initially I thought to write about how SPU is alienating its future alumni with each backwards decision.
I was going to argue that, in protecting itself from litigation by firing what it deemed to be an “unstable” PA, SPU is hurting its future fundraising efforts. Ultimately, though, the cold logic of dollars and cents fails to capture the root of the school’s issues: SPU is afraid.
It is afraid of sexuality. It is afraid of mental illness. It is afraid of its own students. To an extent, I can understand the source of this fear. Conservative Christian culture has demanded perfection and conformity for years, not because this is what Jesus taught, but because legalism and exclusion are easy alternatives to grace and compassion.
I understand that the jobs of university administrators are difficult, and that they’re asked to juggle competing interests. But, in my time at SPU, my professors and fellow students taught me to hold myself to a higher standard of compassion, to put the community above myself, and to care for the marginalized.
Unless this administration can close the gap between rhetoric and practice on an institutional level, we will continue to see students mistreated and hurt as Birk has been. When artistic expression and frank discussions about sexuality and mental health become fireable offenses, Residence Life cannot expect the same quality of applicants in coming years.
We do not, and cannot, ask perfection of our student leaders — first because it is impossible, and second because SPU students need examples of how to be how to be whole and how to be broken. We cannot all live lives within the confines of the ideal PA, nor should we try.
Birk spoke her truth and was left without food or shelter by the same school that tries so desperately to change the world. Perhaps it’s time it changed itself.