Dear Strapped Student

22 Nov

This post is regarding a controversy at Starr King School for Ministry, one of our Unitarian Universalist seminaries. You can read about the conflict at the New York Times, the UU World, and a recent letter from the new president, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt.  I have heard people debating whether it is SKSM that is in the wrong or the two students who have not received their diplomas, but I am not hearing much talk about the Strapped Student or the person who leaked the documents to begin with. This letter is for those people.

**Update: Since publishing this blog, it was pointed out to me that back in August, President McNatt issued a message indicating that “the school uncovered through digital means the identity of at least one person responsible.” However, in reading the message it seems the school indicates that more than one student was involved, so this letter stands.**  

Dear Strapped Student and/or the Original Leak,

I would imagine it must be very difficult for you to watch what is going on at SKSM right now and not feel a huge mixture of emotions.

On the one hand, I imagine that you are grateful that the school is getting a spotlight shone upon it. You probably felt very angry at the secretive selection process, one that maybe felt very unfair. So you took it upon yourself to level the playing field and bring some secrets out into the light.

On the other hand, this has turned into an enormous hullabaloo – probably much bigger than you intended. The spotlight you intended to shine has turned into a search light that is revealing more than you imagined – indeed it is almost looking like a proverbial witch hunt.

The longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes for you to step-forward. At this point, you no doubt realize that your future ministry, should you reveal yourself, is probably cut short. I would like to offer to you that your future ministry will be cut short even if you don’t’ step forward and reveal yourself, because this is a burden of guilt that you will carry with you and will cripple you over time. This secret, should you continue to keep it, will hang over your head everywhere you go. You will always be afraid of being found out and that fear may keep you from taking the risks that ministry, in all its many forms, requires. It will most certainly prevent you from bringing your whole self to your vocation. With each day you may find you have more and more to lose.

I am not talking about the burden of guilt from revealing confidential materials, though you may indeed feel guilt about that. Whether you felt it was justified or not, you did cross a line when you revealed them. But the break in covenant that occurred when you crossed that line could have been restored if you had stepped forward sooner.

Instead, it is the inadvertent side effects of your action that I imagine you feel the most guilt about: turning two presumably innocent students into the focus of this conflict, rather than keeping focus on the actions of SKSM that you disapproved of.

Two students who are asserting that they are taking the principled stance – that they should not be required to turn over their emails when neither have been charged with leaking the documents – have had their careers put on hold due to your actions.

Two students who, if you are a student, were in the trenches with you in seminary and through the difficulty of that formation process.  And if you are not a student, then these are individuals for whom you presumably had some responsibility, some important role, in their formation.

That has to weigh on you. To know that Suzi and Julie are now suffering – and at what cost? The president you probably didn’t want has been hired and is not going away.  While you may be enjoying the writhing that is going on in the school around you, I can’t help but think that it is not worth the continuing price.

Because the cost does continue to escalate. These students can’t get on with the careers they spent years studying for. Their emotional toil continues to increase, and so does their financial burden as well. And until you step forward, these costs will continue to accumulate.

And so I ask you, Strapped Student, I ask you as someone who has no affiliation with SKSM but who sees that there is indeed much dysfunction in this whole messy situation, I ask you to please look into your heart and imagine coming forward. Find someone you trust who knows you and will have your back, or find a lawyer to speak through. Come forward so that these two students can continue on with their lives, so that the burden of their futures is lifted from you, and so that you can do the work you really wanted to do in revealing those documents.

It won’t be easy. Ministry rarely is.

8 Responses to “Dear Strapped Student”

  1. Captain* Reverend Mother November 22, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    Wonderfully pastoral. As well, powerfully compelling. I’m calling upon you should I ever be held hostage and need a skilled, compassionate negotiator. Seriously.

    • Rev. Dawn November 22, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

      Let’s hope the need never arises!! And thank you.

  2. Amy Zucker Morgenstern November 25, 2014 at 3:49 am #

    I’m with you on all of this beautifully written piece except this, Dawn: “Two students who are asserting that they are taking the principled stance – that they should not be required to turn over their emails when neither have been charged with leaking the documents – have had their careers put on hold due to your actions.” That makes the situation sound a lot like when the teacher says, “Everyone is going to stay in at recess until whoever put the tack on my chair confesses. It’s that person’s fault you’re all suffering.” A time-honored tactic for creating peer pressure, but dishonest. The teacher made the decision to punish everyone for one person’s infraction, and while the other students might justifiably be angry at the tack-placer for obnoxious and cowardly behavior, their anger at the injustice of undeserved punishment should be directed at the teacher.

    Without knowing the reasons that Suzi and Julie were singled out, and without knowing their relationship (if any) to “Strapped Student,” we cannot conclude that they are deliberately shielding “Strapped Student.” Therefore, we can’t assume that the punishment they are suffering could be alleviated by anything “Strapped Student” could do. The school is putting pressure on these two for reasons that I don’t understand and that all parties are warned by their attorneys not to explain. From that cloud of ignorance, we can’t dismiss the possibility that the school is playing the role of the irate teacher, punishing those within its reach because it can’t punish the one who is actually guilty.

    • Lindasusan Ulrich November 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

      FWIW, Julie and Suzi have repeatedly said that they don’t know the identity of Strapped Student, which means they can’t be intentionally shielding the person from the consequences of sending the initial email.

    • Rev. Dawn November 30, 2014 at 10:00 am #

      Agreed. And I think you are right on when you say “we can’t assume that the punishment they are suffering could be alleviated by anything “Strapped Student” could do.” I had hoped that this would not be the case – hoped that if SS came forward that this might help. But as I understand the situation better and better, I am less convinced that is the case. There is much here that is being concealed.

  3. Kimberley Debus November 28, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    I still don’t see why SKSM is keeping this alive. There was a leak. It was temporarily bad and showed (perhaps) a break in covenant. But covenant – as the anonymous writer at Tom Schade’s blog pointed out – expects reconciliation, not retaliation. How is the anonymity of Strapped Student doing anything to SKSM but making them look petty? I’m not saying Strapped Student was necessarily in the right, but keeping this alive and jeopardizing two ministries rather than allow that shit happens seems ill-advised.

  4. Curtis Murphy November 29, 2014 at 2:54 am #

    I agree with some of the comments already made. “Strapped student” was responsible for the initial leak, but SKSM bears the responsibility for keeping Julie and Suzi in limbo. The school has the power to grant the withheld degress and allow things to move forward, whether or not anyone takes responsibility for the leaked documents.

  5. John Kelly December 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    As a UU I am disgusted and embarrassed to see SKSM play this vindictive hostage-taking game. The seminarians have earned their diplomas; they should get them. SKSM has no right to impose added (and frankly evil) constraints. Why make Strapped Student responsible for ending this abuse of authority? SKSM is doing the wrong thing. It’s up to SKSM to stop.
    Does SKSM really want to produce ministers who will violate their correspondents’ privacy to satisfy this sort of fishing expedition? Because I for one would not join such a minister’s congregation, nor would I support calling such a person to ministership.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: