Do People Think Before They Act at Church Functions?

St. John Neumann Church Sanctuary, Lilburn, Georgia (Retrieved from Pinterest.com, July 2, 2016)

St. John Neumann Church Sanctuary, Lilburn, Georgia (Retrieved from Pinterest.com, July 2, 2016)

If one does not have continual time to volunteer in and/or be active in church functions, is he or she no longer needed at church?  And therefore, with regard to those within the church who make such decisions about others’ involvement, do they truly think before they act and/or put themselves in the others’ shoes?  These are the questions that I will seek to answer in the present post, based on certain experiences I have had at my church and within my faith, in general.

Throughout my life and within my faith, regardless of the church of which I have been a member, I have noticed that if one is not continually available to help, volunteer, assist, and/or otherwise minister within the church, he or she is not needed, or at least, does not appear to be as valued in the church as those who do.  Additionally, there appears to be a lack of consistency between people, philosophies, and perspectives in relation to value, importance, and need regarding members who volunteer and/or who are simply involved in various church activities.  All it takes is for one person to be unappreciative, disrespectful, and/or offensive, and it casts a poor reflection on the whole group.  This causes the church to potentially lose people and/or for some members to take their time and talents elsewhere.

Within the past five years, there have been four particular activities that I have been involved in at my church at St. John Neumann in Lilburn, Georgia, as well as two activities that my son has been involved in there, within which there has been this inconsistency of value, understanding, and/or appreciation toward us.  In describing several of those activities to follow, suffice it to say that this number of activities (6) is too many within which not to be valued or appreciated, to the point in two cases to be downright offended by others’ conduct.

While there are also many activities, volunteer efforts, and other church involvements in which we have been valued and appreciated, it was during those times that we also had much time and energy to invest in such activities.  They were also activities and efforts in which we were agreeable and accepting of the experience we had.  They were activities within which the leadership was good and the event was safe, proceeding well.  In instances, however, where leadership has been questionable and/or the event biased in some way, having identified those situations to church leadership and positive change was not observed, these have also been experiences in which feedback appears to have been used as a reason to alienate and/or exclude.

The mission of many Christian-based churches often includes being open to and accepting of all people.  This, however, appears to be true only if one continually has much time and/or money to invest in the church, and/or as long as there is no disagreement with anything that occurs within the church.  As an approved volunteer with a clean background check, I take offense when I am treated like a criminal in coming to pick up my child from youth group, find the church doors to be locked, and prevented from entering by the group’s volunteer leaders, as one example.  While this, in fact, may be a safety measure, it can also be viewed that the leadership has something to hide.  When I am unable to have access to my child, no less in a completely voluntary-type setting, and am treated as being guilty before being innocent, this is a major concern.  The church has itself to blame, in covering up countless abuses of children by religious, and must not treat concerned parents as criminals.

Some time ago, at a church potluck dinner, I was admonished by two senior citizens (a man and a woman) for filling an extra plate to take home to my family.  The woman stated that I should leave more food for others, and I explained to her my financial need.  The man stated to me that I basically was taking too much chicken.  In response to him, I was so offended that I said nothing.  Why is it that people are unable to put themselves in another’s shoes, even in one’s own church?!  Why is it that people see a Caucasian woman who reasonably takes care of herself and has a positive attitude, but they cannot perceive need?  Would they enjoy living at or below poverty level for many years due to various hardships?  Why is it that Caucasian single mothers are so often overlooked, blamed, disrespected, and offended by others?  This is something that has often been discouraging to experience.

Now that my schedule has changed and I have had good work opportunities, it appears that the time and efforts of both my son and I are no longer needed by the church.  This is another reason that I state that the church only appears to need those volunteers who continually have time available to minister and assist.  When the call went out for volunteers to assist with vacation Bible school, I offered a day when my son and I could help, and was turned down.  In the past, when we were both available to assist during an entire week, then it was fine.  Now that we have limited availability, we are not needed, to the point of our time and efforts being rejected.

In having lectored for a few years, I was scheduled to read once in a six month time period.  On that one day that I read, I took the day off to do so, reflecting the importance of the ministry to me…that I would sacrifice a day’s pay just to read at church!  Then, on the one other day that I was available to read, on a day off from work, in a period of three months, I was not scheduled to do so.  Others in the church, regardless of availability, often read two or three times in a three month period, yet being schedule once in six months truly shows me that I am not needed, my schedule cannot be accommodated, and people are unable to walk in my shoes.  Once I complained, efforts were made to attempt to accommodate me, however it did not appear to be something that would ultimately work out.  Thus, I do give the particular minister credit for his efforts as that is more than anyone else has done.

So, in answer to my questions originally posed, it seems that only a certain few people are able to think before they act in church and those certain few people are able to walk in others’ shoes, however it does appear that church members are no longer needed to assist, minister, and/or be involved in church activities and functions if they do not have continual time available to do so.  It is much easier for people to pass judgment on others rather than ask, “What can I do for you?,” or “What can I do to make this better for you?”

Perhaps there are some churches that have so many volunteers that they actually do not need everyone and can turn people away, however it is generally my experience that when people are not needed, valued, treated as important, and turned away, that they take their time and talents elsewhere.  That is why I left the previous church at which I was a member, and the one prior to that.  And, while I keep in mind the many positive aspects of my church, there are also a great many things that can be improved, these being a few examples.  Everyone needs to be treated with value, respect, and importance, and people must be able to walk in another’s shoes.  In absence of that, some sheep may seek a different place to graze.

Multiculturalism and Social Justice in Counseling (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Multiculturalism and social justice in counseling are areas necessitating increased understanding and competence. This essay addresses the revised American Counseling Association (ACA) multicultural and social justice counseling (MSJC) competencies (Ratts, Singh, Nassar-McMillan, et al., 2015). Identified will be committee composition and controversial text. Addressed will be competency-meaning to this author, and ways of competency-inclusion in education and practice. Finally discussed will be difficulties regarding competency-integration into education and practice, and ways to lessen challenges.

Multicultural competence is “having…the ability to work effectively across diverse cultural groups and…expertise to treat clients from certain culturally diverse groups…[and]…minority and underrepresented groups” (Tao, Owen, Pace, & Imel, 2015). Social justice in counseling means understanding “societal structures…that marginalize and oppress individuals,” while broadly-addressing inequalities (Roysircar, 2008). The competencies have expansive personal meaning, though are not all-inclusive. An example is that the committee was diverse, though mostly included men and minorities. Most counselors are Caucasian (Hays, Chang, & Havice, 2008), with White women warranting inclusion. Further, divisive wording throughout the competencies, identifying counselors as “privileged and marginalized,” should be revised (Ratts, Singh, Nassar-McMillan, et al., 2015).

There are several ways to include the competencies in education programs. Students can be required to complete relevant courses and intern at diverse facilities. Another way is to require achievement of specific continuing education credits. Potential barriers to achieving this include finances and time needed for program completion. Ways to overcome these barriers are obtaining student loans and adding educational requirements.

Counselors must take opportunities to experience diverse cultures and social justice issues, aimed at practice-application. Therapists must periodically check-in with clients during sessions to ascertain understanding. Challenges to applications in practice may relate to personal background and beliefs. Another challenge may relate to low degrees of diversity in some areas. Counselors must motivate themselves to expand experiences and apply competencies with broader populations to overcome challenges.

Over two decades ago, Sue, Arredondo, and McDavis (1992) encouraged multicultural competency implementation. Those standards were recently-revised, adding social justice competencies. Concerns remain, however, with this overdue revision. Challenges exist regarding competency integration into education and practice, though difficulties can be overcome. The MSJC competencies provide a framework for counselors regarding associated knowledge and skills.

References

Hays, D.G., Chang, C.Y., & Havice, P. (2008). White racial identity statuses as predictors of White privilege awareness. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development 47 (2), 234-246.

Ratts, M.J., Singh, A.A., Nassar-McMillan, S., Butler, S.K., & McCullough, J.R. (2015). Multicultural and Social Justice Competences in Counseling. American Counseling Association.

Roysircar, G. (2008). A response to “Social privilege, social justice, and group counseling: An inquiry”: Social privilege: Counselors’ competence with systematically determined inequalities. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work 33 (4), 377-384.

Sue, D.W., Arredondo, P., & McDavis, R.J. (1992). Multicultural counseling competencies and standards: A call to the profession. Journal of Counseling and Development 70 (4), 477-486.

Tao, K.W., Owen, J., Pace, B.T., & Imel, Z.E. (2015). A meta-analysis of multicultural competencies and psychotherapy process and outcome. Journal of Counseling Psychology 62 (3), 337-350.

Author’s Note: This is an essay that I recently submitted for the American Counseling Association’s Doctoral/Graduate Essay Contest.  Fifteen awards were issued, nationwide. Although I was not fortunate to be selected as a winner, I have the satisfaction of having participated in the competition.  It is certainly difficult to create an essay of 500 words or less and include thorough references, as ethically should be done.  I could have included approximately 120 additional words in my essay without the references.  The sponsors of the competition might consider expanding the word length of the essays to 1,000.  I originally wrote an essay of that length, and edited out half of it!

 

Ignoring is a Form of Bullying (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Women Bullying Woman (Retrieved April 8, 2015 from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

Women Bullying Woman (Retrieved April 8, 2015 from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

Ignoring is a form of bullying.  It is as plain and simple as that.  There are many issues and situations in people’s lives about which others may be aware and/or somehow involved.  Behaving in a manner that is supportive and empowering regarding particular issues and situations is helpful to all involved.  However, ignoring the situations and/or issues, not taking them seriously, overlooking them, covering them up, and/or minimizing them in some way typically makes them worse.

I have remained mum, publicly, about a few situations that I have experienced within the past three months or so, in regard to education and related training, however in order for these situations to improve (at least for myself and in my own mind), they are among those that need to be addressed, particularly as they have involved a few of those in power positions above me who have behaved in a manner exactly as I have described above.

The longer I live, the more I observe and experience that most people do not treat others in the same manner or as well as I treat others.  Perhaps it is because I expect that others will treat me as well as I treat them, that I believe that I should be treated in the same manner in return.  I think that if it were not for those who have been supportive, empowering, and positive – those who “do the right thing” – there would be precious little hope in our world of people experiencing joy and happiness in their lives.

And, so I say again, as I have also stated in the past, “Thank goodness for those who do the right thing!”  We live in such a competitive society that I often believe and observe those who trample upon others rights and feelings are those who consistently move ahead.  Certainly, there are exceptions to that, however it is tragic and unfortunate that selfishness, greed, and materialism are often the persistent motivators for people’s actions. Simple survival is a relief for some, while the challenge and competition of trampling upon others is never enough for others.

So, as someone who is against bullying and retaliation, as well as one who attempts to prevent and eliminate bullying from situations, I must express, again, that ignoring, overlooking, minimizing, and not taking issues seriously are forms of bullying.  Sometimes, with the passage of time and/or the involvement of those who are supportive and whose contributions are constructive, these types of situations eventually work themselves out.

However, what happens when this does not occur?  These issues and situations worsen.  And, therefore, I often observe the person who is most negatively affected by them (in this particular case, myself), is blamed.  It is all too easy to for people to blame and point fingers, especially if they are in positions superior to you.  There are so few people who care to step up and take responsibility for their own involvement – or lack therefore – that created or contributed to the situation.

In the present situations that I have experienced, there have been those who have been supportive, however, there have also been those whose approach is to ignore, blame, and not take responsibility for their own involvement.  Sadly, a couple of these folks are in positions of power in academia in which, by virtue of their stature, they are not (or tend not to be) questioned by their colleagues or professional peers. These couple of folks also do not appear to respect their superiors, as I have observed, either.  While their actions may lack professionalism and while they may lack the care, understanding, openness, and compassion needed to better fulfill their duties, this is not something that appears to bother them in any way.  They know they will get paid regardless of how they treat others.

Sometimes, when you tell a person, directly, that he or she is a bully, it is taken to heart.  The person may actually contemplate the manner in which he or she behaves like a bully.  Positive change in that person can occur through a concerted effort to self-reflect and change one’s actions for the better.  In other cases, however, telling a person that he or she is a bully only further compounds an already ugly situation.  What is sad is that, often, in those situations, those who have been victimized by the bully are not heard and are those who are forced to tolerate the bully’s actions, or flee the situation because it never improves.

So, what is a person to do in these types of situations? The best things are to keep one’s cool and be honest about the situation.  In these ways, one may not be heard, but at least he or she will be true to themself.  I, for one, am tired of having to tip-toe around bullies.  It is tiresome to work with others, whether in school, or in personal or professional experiences, who are bullies. The world needs more people who are willing to step up and do the right thing.  Will you be one of them?

This Valentine’s Day, Practice Love and Understanding (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Water Heart Design (from www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

Water Heart Design (from http://www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

It is St. Valentine’s Day, a day for love and romance, especially as reflected in our culture and history. Valentine’s Day is a day that is important for couples, though it is also important for everyone. On Valentine’s Day, everyone can show a little more love, respect, appreciation, and understanding toward each other.

I’ve already heard the national news today of a plot to kill people in a mall in Canada that was thwarted. Later today, I heard about a cartoonist in Denmark who was killed – an artist who apparently depicted Mohammed in a negative manner. There are also likely so many more countless tragedies, hate crimes, and killings that have occurred around the world.

Today – as every day – however, should be a day for spreading love, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Do not be the person who is ugly toward or who hurts others. Take the opportunity to do an act of kindness for another.

For those who are unable or unwilling to practice loving kindness and understanding, my heart and prayers go out to you. I understand that, sometimes, life experiences may make it more difficult to love, but it should not be an excuse to avoid doing so.

On this day of all days, we must open our hearts and practice loving kindness and forgiveness. Of course, that does not mean that we should fall victim to being hurt for doing so, however setting a good, positive example may be all a person needs for his or her spirit to be uplifted, even for one day.

How will you practice love, kindness, and understanding toward others today?

Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

Thoughts on Some Recent Societal Violence (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Talking, writing, and/or teaching about violence in society, and ways to reduce it, are always sensitive issues that tend to stir up many emotions in people.  Unfortunately, many times, emotions sometimes get the best of people regarding situations, and those situations escalate into those that only fuel maladaptive and/or harmful conduct.  Two recent situations that I would like to address include the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, and the killing of a 12-year-old boy (who was holding what appeared to be a real gun) by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a person who tries to view all sides of a situation or issue, I am one who does my best to think through it before addressing or weighing in on the subject.  My approach is the same in regard to the two above-identified issues.  Knowing that these are sensitive and controversial issues that have created tragedy and turmoil, my approach is one that tries to consider and share different perspectives.  These, of course, are views that others may or may not agree with, and I understand that.

Admittedly, regarding Charlie Hebdo, I know little about this company, but can already see that the satirical cartoons published by it may be offensive to particular people.  First, as a Caucasian, Christian, and Westerner, I understand and appreciate people’s freedoms of speech, expression, publication, and the arts.  Even if what is expressed is offensive – and certainly, there are plenty of publications and art mediums out there that are offensive – there are protections on them that are guaranteed by official government documents in many countries.  For people whose cultures may be middle eastern and/or who practice religions other than Christianity – such as Islam, for example – their upbringing may create views that clash with the majority, including rights enacted within countries in which they live.

I am not condoning, nor do I support any kinds of harassment or terrorism – in any forms – however what I am saying is that increased tolerance, understanding, and sensitivity toward peoples and cultures that are not the majority in particular countries must be exercised.  People who commit terrorist actions appear to believe they are actually doing a good thing.  In the case of those who died as a result of the terrorism at Charlie Hebdo, it seems that the terrorists were acting as martyrs, willing to sacrifice their own lives in seeking vengeance and retaliation (but what they likely believed was justice) for insults to Muhammad and Islam.  In their own way (that most likely view as twisted), they believed they were doing the right thing, even though it is completely against Western values in this regard.

An issue closer to home – in Cleveland, Ohio – about which I read, online, today is about a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer.  The boy had been holding and/or carrying what appeared to be a real gun, but was apparently a replica of a gun that sure looked real to me.  I’ve also read about situations in the past in which boys who hold guns, including toy guns that appear to be real, have been shot by police.

First, I express my condolences and sympathies for the boy and his family about his untimely and tragic death.  This is certainly an unfortunate and devastating occurrence that could have been avoided and prevented.  But, what drew me to reading this story are the many questions that I have about it.  First, why is a child holding what would appear to be a real gun?  Wasn’t he taught not to hold anything that would remotely appear to be a weapon?  Why does he want to hold it to begin with?  And, hasn’t he been taught that police officers are trained to shoot to kill in these types of situations?  This boy’s actions were like inviting suicide.

With all of the recent bad news about incidents involving police officers around the country, we must also remember and keep in mind that there are many truly good and helpful police officers who place their lives on the line every day in service to others.  Sometimes, it seems that police in some areas have resorted to using increased and unnecessary force.  Requiring that police are competent in training regarding the de-escalation of violent and potentially violent situations is necessary.  Also, police minimizing, covering up, and/or excusing situations that are clearly wrong and/or which could have been prevented or improved upon only serves to increase public distrust of the very people who are supposed to protect us.

So, that brings me back to the boy who was holding what did appear to be a real gun, but was not.  Parents must educate their children that our society has drastically changed.  In today’s generation, there was the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in which so many were killed, including children.  In my generation, I noticed the change when the violence at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred.  In a prior generation, the change may have been more noticeable as a result of the students who were killed by authorities at Kent State University in Ohio.  What I’m saying is that police don’t play – they can’t.  Police sometimes have only split seconds to decide on what actions they must take – shoot or not shoot.  And, in my understanding and observations, police typically shoot to kill.  They don’t shoot to wound or they may end up being those who are killed.

Therefore, and as tragic as it is for the young boy who was killed, and his family, children must be taught these things.  Guns and weapons – and things that look like them – are not toys.  In this day and age, people aren’t playing, especially police.  It is up to adults to educate children to act in their best interests.  Yes, this boy did a stupid thing, but it is something that could have been avoided.  Because he did not, he tragically paid for his mistake with his life.  How many more children will be killed by police for holding fake or toy guns because they have not been taught otherwise, are taking unnecessary and dangerous risks, and/or don’t care?  People have to remember that police are going to shoot first, and will shoot to kill – that is their training, otherwise they will become the one who falls.

There are many other situations of violence that have occurred in our society, especially recently, that I could address here, as well, however these are two that have captured my attention because of the manner in which they could have been prevented in the first place.  So, while there is freedom of speech, press, and arts in the West, those from other cultures who now live in Western society may have differing views.  Sadly, they are willing to sacrifice their own lives, take the lives of others, and create turmoil out of situations that they appear not to respect, tolerate, or understand.  Increased tolerance, respect, and sensitivity is needed on all sides in order to improve relations between people of differing backgrounds and cultures.

Lastly, people must not invite tragedy to occur.  The boy in Cleveland who was holding what appeared to be a real gun, but which was not real, lost his life because of his actions.  This boy was wronged by a society and culture that either did not teach him that holding what appeared to be a gun was extremely risky and dangerous, or it was not instilled in him enough that he not do such a thing.  While the boy should have been old enough to understand some consequences and risks regarding his actions, parents must also do more to educate and instill in children not to do such things that invite escalating repercussions that might involve loss of life, regardless of whether the person taking the life was a police officer.

May all who have died in these situations rest in peace, and may society learn from these situations so that they do not continue to occur.

References:

Ahmed, B. (January 8, 2015). Charlie Hebdo and the alarming evolution of terrorism.  ThinkProgress.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/01/08/3609528/paris-terrorism-evolution/

Cleveland boy, 12, shot and killed over fake gun (January 23, 2015).  CBS News.  Retrieved on January 23, 2015 from  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cleveland-boy-12-shot-and-killed-by-police-over-fake-gun/

UB – the University at Buffalo – as a Sexist Institution (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I first entered the University at Buffalo as an undergraduate student in 1989, I felt included. For me, as a woman, it is important to me to feel and be a part of any group or institution that truly “includes” women, both appreciating and respecting women. The atmosphere that is present at UB today, in 2014, however, has changed. UB has become a sexist institution that promotes a perspective and images that make men the priority. Women’s concerns and interests have taken a backseat to those of men, sometimes being entirely excluded. What happened?

The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the four university centers within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Being born and raised in Western New York State, I was aware of UB as an institution that was prestigious, with a reputation for educational excellence. As a high school senior, I was accepted at all of the eight or ten colleges and universities to which I applied. UB was actually my second choice behind Ithaca College, though I chose to attend UB because of the lesser cost, closer proximity to home, and excellent reputation as a research institution. I had been interested in pursuing a medically-related career at that time, and I am an individual who gets much enjoyment from completing research, so UB seemed the perfect place for me to go after high school.

After arriving at UB, I quickly gained the feeling that it was a place in which I could soar, and I was correct. In my first year there, I became a member of several student organizations in which I was interested; studied a science-related curriculum to prepare for a medical career; worked part-time in my dormitory complex; was active in the university wind ensemble and chorus; and was a member of both the indoor and outdoor women’s track and field teams. I was not, nor have ever been a “partier;” and I never put on the “freshman 15.” In fact, I became more busy and active at UB, getting into better shape, and structuring my life and managing my time so that I would be as successful as possible. While doing this, I also met new people, made new friends, tried out different avenues of interests and enjoyment, and stayed as focused on my studies as possible.

As a member of the women’s track and field team at UB, I was one of the Royals. The men were the Bulls, and the women were the Royals. My specialty areas were in field events, including shot put, discus, and javelin. In my last two years of high school, I was recognized as one of the top competitors in shot put and discus throughout Western New York State. While I also competed in nearly every other event throughout the six years that I was a member of my varsity high school team, those two were my top events. As a Royal, I was a proud member of the women’s team at UB. Today, women’s sports teams are only known as Bulls, a masculine term that excludes, overlooks, and denies the “femaleness” of women. As such and in the manner that it is used at UB, the term ‘Bulls’ has become a sexist word that excludes women, and in turn, prioritizes only the gender, concerns, and interests of men.

Throughout most of my time spent at UB as an undergraduate, I was also a member of the university’s pep band. The Pep Band was a group that played songs during men’s home football and basketball games to liven up the crowd. The Pep Band also played at one away football game per semester. In my schooling prior to attending UB, I had been a member of the band and marching band for eight years. Included as a requirement for being a band member in high school was participating in both the marching band and pep band. Therefore, while UB did not have a marching band at that time, I was quite familiar with what was expected and required of musicians, whether they were extremely serious or playing just for fun. The Pep Band provided an outlet for students to play their instruments socially and recreationally.

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

At UB today, there is the Thunder of the East Marching Band. The main logo that promotes the image of the group reflects a man playing a trumpet. Inequality and sexism are represented in the image because of this. There is no woman who is reflected in the logo. Women are completely excluded from being portrayed in the logo, though the marching band is not a group that is exclusively male. This reflects another situation in which men’s gender, interests, and concerns take priority over women, excluding women.

At UB, I never had a boyfriend. As a heterosexual woman, that was a part of my life that was lacking. At more than half way through my senior year, I was still a virgin, and was quite proud of it. I had prided myself in trying remain chaste for the “right” person. Certainly, I dated and always had many male friends, with many who were very good friends – respectful, caring, protective, and gentlemanly, more like good brothers. But, there was never one who could adjust to my busy and focused lifestyle; perhaps there was never a man who wanted to work as hard as it would be required to maintain an intimate relationship with me. My focus was on my studies and activities, ending up with completing two degrees in the less than 3.5 years, less than the amount of time that it takes most students to complete one degree. And, perhaps I was not willing to “make” the time necessary for which an intimate relationship would have required to be successful. Through all of this, it was still okay at UB for me to make my own decision in regard to the types and levels of intensity of my relationships with others.

In the latter part of 1992, in my last semester at UB as an undergraduate, a peer raped me. The rape occurred on a blind date with him that had been arranged by two mutual friends, one of whom was a fraternity member. This man was a fellow UB student, two years younger than me, from Downstate New York who was also a member of the same fraternity as our mutual friend. The morning following the violent and hurtful rape that I experienced, I informed my two friends about it, and one friend encouraged me to confront the rapist about it by phone, another hurtful experience for me. While four people knew of the rape, it was not reported until I reported it to UB campus police a few years later, having caused all those involved to protect the rapist so that he cleanly got away with his crime, as well as creating accomplices out of our mutual “friends.”

In later reporting the crime to public safety at UB, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, dismissing it and minimizing it. The case went through the legal system, but the perpetrator was never charged, nor prosecuted. He got away with a violent rape in which I was harmed and injured in many ways. No one at UB provided me with any support in coping with what had occurred. No one told me that women at college and university campuses may have a chance of being raped. No one told me that men who are members of many college and university fraternities believe rape is sex. No one told me that the assistant district attorney in Buffalo would deny that I was raped, telling me that I had not been raped. No one told me that my life would be forever altered by being trusting of a man who was twisted in his thoughts and actions, violently raping and harming me, and getting away with it. No one asks to be raped. And, when it happens, I have experienced that it is the victim or survivor who is blamed, revictimized, and punished by many in society who do not hold the offender responsible or accountable for his actions.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Colleges and universities in which there is a rape culture present within their fraternities are not only sexist and harmful, but criminal. When all those who are supposed to protect women from harm, and support them in their reporting and recovery, but do not do so, and instead, support the actions of the rapist, they embolden and enable such men to continue their criminal actions, believing they can get away with it, because they have gotten away with it. It has been my experience that this hidden rape culture within certain fraternities at UB has continued and has been perpetuated. The annual tradition of fraternity men creating snow sculptures of ejaculating penises is only one reflection that this hidden rape culture within UB’s fraternities still exists, and is very much alive and well.

Lastly, when I completed my studies at UB in 1992, and returned to attend the graduation ceremony in 1993, it was a Division III institution. There had been a lot of talk and news about the possibility of UB going to Division I. Many students did not think it would happen; in fact, many hoped that it would not happen, including myself. This is because there was a belief among students that football would detract from UB’s reputation as a renowned research university in the Northeastern United States. My experience, as well as that of many students and faculty, was to observe that to occur.

In 1994 and 1995, I returned to UB and took several classes as an open student. I completed undergraduate courses, a graduate course, and a post-graduate class. It was during that time that I realized that the atmosphere and mood at UB had changed. Football became the “all important” aspect of UB. An example of that occurred in my sociology class. In my class were three football players who had extremely disrespectful attitudes and toilet mouths. They were disrespectful to the instructor, resistant and angry about having to attend class (and often, did not do so), and sat in the back of the class, swearing and causing disruption. Unfortunately, because they were football players, they were “untouchable.” They got away with all of these behaviors, and appeared to have the support of the heads of the athletics department in their unruliness. They acted abominably and they got away with it. Professors were afraid to speak out and express themselves about the manner in which education was deteriorating at UB, having been replaced with football, so lauded and supported by the institution’s president.

Women who enter UB, as well as other colleges and universities, must be informed and educated about these types of issues that are present in institutions of higher education so that we can better empower, bond with, and protect ourselves. Our society so often teaches girls and women that we must sacrifice ourselves, our identities, our safety, our intelligence, our feelings, our bodies to men. In order to survive and even prosper, women have often learned that it is a man’s world, and that we must be submissive and/or subservient to men. There are men and women who perpetuate this societal standard when they promote issues such as sexism and inequality toward women, as well as issues including sexual assault and rape. Denying and turning a blind eye to resolving these issues only promotes a culture that becomes even more sexist, unequal, harmful, and violent toward women and girls.

Prestigious universities such as UB have an opportunity to get back on the right track. College and university leaders must remain open-minded when faced with issues such as sexism, inequality, and sexual assault on campus, including rapes experienced by both women and men. They must not attempt to hide, cover up, ridicule, deny, or minimize these situations. Doing so only worsens and perpetuates them. College and university leaders must promote environments on campus that are fair and equal, respectful and appreciative, caring and sensitive.

I went to UB to gain an excellent education. While I, indeed, obtained a great education from an outstanding institution, I also graduated from UB, unnecessarily, as a rape victim and survivor. 😦 No one did anything to prevent or stop it from happening then, and to my knowledge, the culture there has not changed for the better for women, thus still perpetuating its continuance now.  UB did not make it better for me, but it can still make things better for others.

Author’s Note: This post – along with dozens of others regarding campus sexual assault – is listed on the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence website as of January 1, 2015 at: http://www.ncdsv.org/publications_sa-campus.html .

Bullying, Abuse, and Suicide Risk Among Students: Ignorance is Bliss for Disbelievers (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Recently, a man commented on one of my blog posts that I made last year regarding a particular school in which bullying (and worse) occurred by children and adults toward other children.  What was so shocking to me was that the man basically stated that he was physically abused by religious at a parochial school during his childhood, and he inferred that children should currently be treated more harshly (infer more abuse and violence) than what they already endure in many schools.  In responding to the man – and seeking to provide information for his understanding of the seriousness of the issue – I stated to him that bullying, abuse, and violence is extremely serious in the United States.  The United States has the highest child mortality rate of any Western country.  And, in the United States, Texas is the state with the highest single mortality rate (about 4%) of any state.

Why isn’t the American public outraged about that?!  Why do more people not stand up for and protect children, nor seek to listen to, hear, and understand them?  Why is it so easy for so many people to minimize, overlook, ignore, and discredit children?  It is no wonder that so many children and youth commit suicide when they do not receive the assistance and/or protection that they need from their families – or other adults, and then, experience bullying, abuse, and/or violence at school.  Children and youth are so vulnerable.  They are growing and developing, and are going through stages of their lives in which they are most fragile.

Too many people believe that children and youth should be harmed – and then, they call it discipline or disciplinary action.  Children and youth need support, care, kindness, understanding, and compassion.  How does American society expect children to grow and develop in a healthy manner when many of their role models, teachers, coaches, and/or other adults bully and harm them?  What is worse in a Catholic or religious faith-based school is when the expectation is that children are to be valued and appreciated, but are bullied and harmed by many of the very adults who are charged with protecting them.  The situation is not restricted to faith-based schools, but is present in all too many schools in the United States, both public and private.

I believe that much of the issue relates to the toleration, acceptance, encouragement, and promotion of violence – particularly media violence – within our culture.  So many television shows, movies, and other programs that have been deemed “entertainment” are so horrific that I have rarely watched them, now, over a period of many years.  Yet, for many people, the more violence they view, the more they want.  It is as if there is a competition in the United States in media and entertainment to produce more and more violent shows and movies.  That would not occur if people did not spend so much money to view violence, to play violent video games, to participate in sports that are violent, etc.

Thus, I have broached a few more topics about which most people do not want to contemplate, talk about, or take action to prevent or eliminate.  These are, however, issues that must be brought into the open and discussed if there is any hope for improvement in regard to them within our culture.  One person who takes his or her life due to bullying and abuse is too many.  Yet, there are dozens of children and youth who commit suicide in the United States, with such deaths continually on the rise.  Last I knew, there were about 135 reported deaths due to suicide in the United States in one recent year.  There are likely many more that are not reported.  And, many of these children and youth who commit suicide have been bullied and harmed at school, by their peers and/or teachers.

I have taken the liberty to post several links regarding children and youth who have committed suicide in such circumstances so that the man who posted his comment, saying that my article was “stupid” can have a better understanding that when someone is dead, the situation is too late to improve – and is far from “stupid.”  For this man, ignorance is bliss.  Following, therefore, are just a few of the 100s of links on the Internet (in no particular order), all of which I retrieved on April 30, 2014, related to children and youth who have committed suicide due to bullying and/or abuse experienced at school from their peers and/or teachers:

“Bullied 10-year-old girl commits suicide.” http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Girl+Commits+Suicide+On+Camera&Form=VQFRVP#view=detail&mid=7A9D5FDFA0071FC8A1657A9D5FDFA0071FC8A165

“Suicide of Amanda Todd.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Amanda_Todd

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince

“Suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamey_Rodemeyer  (One of my student teaching experiences was at a school that he attended, Heim Middle School, in the Williamsville (New York) Central School District.)

“Gay Ottawa teen who killed himself was bullied: Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school.”  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/gay-ottawa-teen-who-killed-himself-was-bullied-1.1009474

“Suicide of Kelly Yeomans.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Yeomans

“Girl commits suicide after boyfriend sends her naked photos to fellow students, Family receives $154K from school.” http://news.asiantown.net/r/26323/Girl-commits-suici–100-e-after-boyfriend-sends-her-nak–101-d-photos-to-fellow-students–Family-receives–154K-from-school

“Girls, 12 and 14, arrested in death of bullied Florida girl who killed herself.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/10/15/girls-12-and-14-arrested-in-death-bullied-florida-girl-police-say/

“How a cell phone picture led to a girl’s suicide.”  http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/10/07/hope.witsells.story/index.html

“Georgia middle-schooler commits suicide after bullying, being called ‘snitch,’ dad says.”  http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17616979-georgia-middle-schooler-commits-suicide-after-bullying-being-called-snitch-dad-says?lite

“Bullying allegations probed after boy, 15, commits suicide after first day of school.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/29/bullying-allegations-probed-after-boy-15-commits-suicide-after-first-day-school/

“Anti-gay bullying cited in Georgia teen’s suicide.”  http://www.projectqatlanta.com/news_articles/view/anti-gay_bullying_cited_in_georgia_teens_suicide

“My bullied son’s last day on Earth.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/23/bullying.suicide/  (It is difficult to believe this already happened five years ago; I remember the news about it.)

“Ex-teacher gets 30 days for rape of girl, 14; judge says she was ‘older than her chronological age.’ ”  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ex-teacher_gets_30_days_for_sex_with_student_14_judge_says_she_was_older_th/  (I am aware that the National Organization for Women made a formal complaint against the judge in this case, desiring his removal as a result of the sentence that he gave this man.  The girl committed suicide.)

“Teacher Kidnaps, Rapes Boy.”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/video?id=7390696

“Mary Kay Letourneau.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kay_Letourneau

“Columbine High School massacre.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

These 17 articles represent at least 29 people who died, either by suicide or homicide, in relation to bullying and/or abuse by peers, or abuse by teachers.  The articles also represent at least two other survivors of abuse who remain living.  The victims and survivors in each of these articles are reason enough why bullying and abuse must be taken more seriously, and be prevented and eliminated, especially in our schools.  Hopefully, the man who commented on a different one of my blog posts in relation to this issue no longer views it as “stupid.” 😦

As a result of the comments made by the particular man in regard to a prior post relating to these issues, I have been inspired to create a new LinkedIn group, “Stop Youth Suicide.”  I created the group today, and promoted it within 30 LinkedIn groups, and invited 70 people on LinkedIn from around the world to join.  Six fellow LinkedIn members – most of whom are mental health professionals – have already joined the group as of 5:30 PM Eastern Time today.  I have also promoted the group on Twitter, and will continue to do so.  Today, I have also gained additional followers and “likes” on Twitter as a result of creating this group.  (As of 1:30 PM Eastern Time on May 4, 2014, there are 55 members of the group!)

The comments made by the particular man – and the thoughts and attitudes of so many regarding these issues – definitely reflect the need for increased understanding, sensitivity, compassion, and support toward children and youth, especially those who are contemplate, attempt, and/or commit suicide as a result of bullying and abuse, that which is especially experienced at school from peers and adults.

“Society Must Hold Offenders Responsible, Not Punish Victims” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mother Nature Crying (Retrieved from http://www.free-hdwallpapers.com/wallpaper/abstract/mother-nature-crying/22445, January 11, 2014)

Mother Nature Crying (Retrieved from http://www.free-hdwallpapers.com/wallpaper/abstract/mother-nature-crying/22445, January 11, 2014)

Very often in our society, we are informed of criminal offenders who are held responsible and accountable for their actions.  There are those in our society who work hard to see to it that perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice, that they are removed from the greater society for a period of time, and so that, potentially, they do not commit the same or similar types of crimes in the future.  There are many people, such as a police officers, attorneys, prosecutors, and judges whose hearts and minds are in the right place when it comes to holding responsible and accountable those who commit crimes, particularly violent crimes, including sex crimes.

Conversely, there are also times when people who have committed crimes are not held responsible or accountable for their crimes, nor are they ever required to answer for their criminal actions.  In these situations, there may or may not be extenuating circumstances in which evidence has been removed or destroyed by the perpetrators and/or accomplices; corroboration and/or substantiation of facts regarding the crime may not be obtained; confessions of those who committed the crimes were not secured; evidence and/or facts regarding the crime were concealed or never located; and other reasons.

Sometimes, in cases involving child sexual abuse, there is the possibility that police, attorneys, prosecutors, and/or parents do not desire to place children on the stand in court to testify against the person(s) who assaulted them.  In other situations, it is possible that a particular network of people, such as athletes or fraternity brothers in a college, promote and live a culture of disrespect and/or violence, covering up for each other when sexual assaults are committed.  Or, has often occurred in the Roman Catholic Church when religious have committed sex crimes, they may be protected by higher authorities in the Church.

Many years ago, a local pediatrician in my area informed me that preschools are commonly places where young children are sexually abused.  I have always remembered that, and have often wondered why doctors do not do more to inform about this and/or take measures aimed at protecting children.  Too often, physicians are more interested in treating a problem or issue after it arises rather than seeking to inform, educate, protect, and prevent such things from occurring in the first place.

In 2007, there were two police reports made regarding a preschool teacher at Sola Fide Lutheran Church Preschool in Lawrenceville, Georgia, describing her repeated sexual abuse of children, aged 2-4, who were in her care.  Four children were identified as having been repeatedly emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by the preschool teacher.  All four children were interviewed by a special investigator with the county police department.  Out of fear, three of the four children denied any sexual abuse by the teacher.  Without corroboration, evidence, or a confession by the accused, the case was unable to be substantiated and was closed.  Without a formal charge or conviction against the teacher, the case was never made public.

One of the children who had been identified as having been abused was the school principal’s two-year-old daughter, who regularly participated in classes with the three and four-year-olds that were taught by the teacher.  In these classes, there was an assistant teacher, as well as a volunteer.  The lead teacher perpetrated the abuse that was ignored and overlooked by the other two women.  Abuse was perpetrated in the bathroom, storage room, and empty classroom in the trailer that was used for classrooms.  During the investigation, the principal destroyed evidence related to the abuse so that it was never identified or recovered by police.  Following the close of the investigation, the school promoted the lead teacher who had perpetrated the abuse by providing her with her own classroom and extending the hours of her classes.  Two years later, the principal got another job, and he and his family left the school.

Child Angel Statue Crying (Retrieved from http://www.watchmanscry.com/article-get-your%20house-in-order.html, January 11, 2014)

Child Angel Statue Crying (Retrieved from http://www.watchmanscry.com/article-get-your%20house-in-order.html, January 11, 2014)

In 1995, a rape was reported to campus police at the University at Buffalo that had occurred in 1992 on the Amherst Campus.  The rape was committed by a male student against a female student.  Both students had been arranged by mutual friends to have a date.  The man took the woman to a local bar, and entered the bar and drank though he was underage, having used an inauthentic driver’s license to enter the establishment.  During the date, the man persistently encouraged the woman to drink, though she drank little.  Following the date and because the student lounge of the woman’s dormitory was a shambles, the woman invited the man in to her dorm room, where he proceeded to deceive her into trusting him, and raped her.  The action was against the woman’s will as the man held her down and caused internal injuries to her while raping her.  The attack was extremely traumatic for the victim who told her friends about it, and they did nothing, in effect becoming accessories to the crime.  In fact, those “friends” never spoke to the survivor again.  No one helped the survivor at her university; she coped the best that she could on her own.

When the rape was reported in 1995 to the campus police at the university, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, demoralizing and dehumanizing the survivor.  The case went to the county district attorney’s office, but was conveniently found to have exceeded the statute of limitations for the category in which the crime was placed.  No support or understanding was offered or provided to the survivor at the university or through the district attorney’s office.  Worse, the district attorney who handled the case told the survivor that she had not been raped, thus blaming and revictimizing the victim.  The offender got away with his crime, was never required to answer for it, and ended up being protected by the DA’s office and the university police by not being brought to justice for it.  Several years following the closure of the case, the perpetrator’s name was deleted from the police report by the campus police, as was the description of the crime that had occurred.  Neither the description of the crime, nor the offender’s name were maintained by campus police in the police report, essentially absolving him of the crime and revictimizing the victim.

These are two examples of crimes in which the perpetrators got away with their offenses.  They were not held accountable, charged, or prosecuted by the very individuals and agencies that are supposed to be protective against crimes, including sex crimes.  While these are just two examples of such situations, there are many more that occur in society every day, and from which perpetrators walk away.

It is important that society be sensitive, understanding, and insightful about victims and survivors of crimes and trauma, including sex crimes.  It seems that most people, because they have not been properly trained in relating with crime victims and trauma survivors, stigmatize and revictimize survivors by blaming, shaming, and punishing them.  Those who should be held accountable and responsible are the perpetrators, themselves, however and often, people make incorrect assumptions and judgments regarding appearances and surface information without knowing all of the details and information that is confidential.

Jesus was also a person who was inaccurately judged by many.  He was a good and merciful person of whom many in power positions were jealous.  Jesus was also different in his goodness, different in that he was so good that he tended not to fit in and was, therefore, ostracized and resented by many.  Jesus was a person who died as a result of jealousy, hated, and evil of those who were unable to tolerate a good and merciful person, a person who was unique and unsurpassable in his goodness and mercy.

Therefore it follows that it is important for people not to inaccurately judge and/or make incorrect assumptions about each other, especially without having all of the details or confidential information.  It is also important that people not stigmatize, blame, punish, and revictimize survivors and victims of crimes, simply out of their own fear, and lack of both insight and understanding.  As people, we should strive to be understanding, helpful, and supportive to each other, as well as forgiving, even in the worst of circumstances, yet also stand up for ourselves and the truth, whether or not we are blamed, stigmatized, punished, or revictimized.

Silence protects and empowers the perpetrators of crimes.  We must seek to speak out about crimes so that criminals are not protected, and so that the greater society is informed and educated about them.

References:

American Psychological Association (2014).  “Understanding child sexual abuse: Education, prevention, and recovery.  What are the effects of child sexual abuse?”  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.   http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/sex-abuse.aspx?item=4.  Retrieved January 11, 2014.

Babcock-Nice, M. (November 23, 2013).  “Trauma-focused group therapy proposal for adult female rape survivors.” Atlanta, GA: Argosy University, Atlanta.

Baldor, L.C. (January 10, 2014).  “‘Culture of disrespect’ fuels academy sex assaults.”  MSN.com.   http://news.msn.com/us/culture-of-disrespect-fuels-academy-sex-assaults.  Retrieved January 10, 2014.

“On Being a Reluctant Catholic” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

For the past few years, especially, I have been and would consider myself a reluctant Roman Catholic.  There are many reasons for this, as I will reflect upon herein; and these are thoughts and feelings that I have personally encountered and coped with in the past, as well.  While I do have my own internal, personal struggles with being Roman Catholic, I have always returned to the same realization after much introspection and contemplation – to remain Roman Catholic.  I am sure that the internal struggles that I feel about being Roman Catholic will not just go away, and in fact, they seem to increase with time.  However, for now, I continue to remain Roman Catholic, whether more or less involved as I have been in the past.  My religion and spirituality are a strong part of who I am as a person, and are not things about myself that I take lightly.  And so, serious understanding, thought, awareness, introspection, and consideration are concerns that I bring to my own table in contemplating what being Roman Catholic means for me.

I was born, baptized, and raised Roman Catholic in the Greater Buffalo Area of New York State.  My mother is of purely Polish descent, and was born and raised Roman Catholic.  When my parents married, my dad converted from being a nonpracticing Quaker to Roman Catholicism.  My mother, especially, and my dad, often, attended weekly mass on a regular basis even before I was born.  Therefore, it was a sure thing that I would become Roman Catholic, being indoctrinated in the ways of Roman Catholicism.  It was an expectation that, as the offspring of my parents, I would be Roman Catholic.  My mother made sure that my brother and I received religious education.  We attended public school, and so, took religious education classes every Sunday before going to mass since religion is not taught in public schools.  We both attended religion classes at my hometown church and school from our ages of 5-16.

Even at a young age, the thing that struck me the most about Roman Catholicism was that there were few female role models in my church, and even fewer who were visible, appreciated, or recognized in any way.  Certainly, in the parochial school in my hometown, there were nuns who were principals and teachers, however I did not attend Catholic school and did not regularly experience women’s leadership involvement in my religion.  I attended religious education classes for one hour each Sunday, and went to mass for one hour each Sunday.  Therefore, it was the men in the leadership positions of the church whom I always saw, and who were always prominent in speaking, performing mass, and being at the forefront of the faith.

As a young girl, these experiences caused me to feel that the male leaders of the church were out-of-touch with children.  Of course, they spoke about God, Jesus, His family, and His followers, and how we should love Jesus, however their words always seemed so far away.  They seemed to preach about what they did not practice.  Jesus showed the example of being caring and compassionate for children, but I did not observe any of them being that way.  They did not know how to interact with children, how to appreciate children, how to respect children, how to relate with or reach children.  They were – and, often, still are – out-of-touch.  There was alot more spiritual need that I had as a child that went unrecognized, unnurtured, ignored.  As a result, I felt invisible and unappreciated by the male leadership of the church when I was a child.  They did not know, understand, or care about me.  They preached what they did not practice.  How is a young girl supposed to gain respect for those who are so distinctly separate from her?

When I was five or six, I had my weekly religion class with Sister Mary.  Sister Mary was a very young nun who always dressed in her habit, and who was a role model for me.  She was kind and caring to children, especially to me.  I was one who wanted to stay after class and help Sister Mary clean the chalk boards.  I had alot of questions for Sister Mary who probably thought I was more of a chatterbox.  She seemed to look for reasons for me not to remain after class to talk with her, however I ignored and overlooked her hints, and asked more questions.  Always, she was very kind, compassionate, and understanding.  To me, she always had the right answers, could relate with me, and placed me at ease and at peace.  The next fall, it broke my heart to learn that Sister Mary had been relocated.  I never saw her again.  Sister Mary was like an angel to me – and worse, an angel who had been ripped away from me.  I cried over the loss of my relationship with Sister Mary.  I needed a female role model to look up to, and to whom to ask all of my curious questions, and she was gone.

I never got that feeling back about anyone in a leadership position in the church even coming close to understanding me, as a person, until I took my Confirmation classes with the deacon of my hometown church.  Deacon Louis was extremely knowledgeable, and also very upbeat and enthusiastic about Roman Catholicism and people’s individual spirituality.  I told Deacon Louis that I was interested to learn more about the Rosary, and that I wanted to pray the Rosary but did not know how.  Deacon Louis provided me with a beautifully-pictured and colored pamphlet about how to pray the Rosary.  Wow!  For once, someone who actually listened to me – amazing!  As time progressed, I learned that Deacon Louis was very understanding and respectful about individuals’ faith and spiritual development.  Again, I privately spoke with Deacon Louis and let him know that I was contemplating a few saints to be my patron saint at Confirmation.  He made photocopies of a few pages of a book for me that he had about the saints that I had identified to him.  Based on that information that he provided to me, I chose my patron saint, St. Joan of Arc.  I had a great respect for Deacon Louis.  He was a man who was married and who had three daughters; he understood me and my need for faith and spiritual fulfillment in my religion.

Throughout my life, I have always tried to reach out to priests in the churches that I have attended and/or those in which I have been a member.  In most cases, I have not had good experiences in that the men seem unable to relate with or understand my experiences as a woman.  Most priests are extremely uncomfortable in speaking with me, as a woman, about women’s issues and traumatic life experiences, for examples.  Even less so, most are unable to understand and relate with me about relationship, marital, divorce, children’s, and even career and financial issues.  They often seem to feel threatened by or unable to cope with such topics.  One expects to go to a priest for support and guidance, and when it is not received, it may lead to one questioning his or her faith.  It makes me wonder if they are simply like most men who, when faced with a problem, want to “fix” it; or if they are truly unable to relate with or understand the issues that women, children, and families face.  Certainly, fixing problems is good, however there are often times when women simply want to talk out and vent their concerns, seeking emotional support; most priests seem to be unable to understand and provide that.  For these reasons, I have learned that it is often better not to approach priests with such issues because they are typically unable to understand about and relate to them with me, at least on a personal level.

In my mid to late 20’s, I seriously contemplated becoming a nun in the Roman Catholic Church.  As a person with a strong religious faith and who was single with no committed intimate partner in sight, I thought that religious life might be suitable for me.  I sought to understand whether or not I had “received a call” from God to become a religious.  I was a member of two Roman Catholic Singles groups in Western New York State, and had opportunities for interactions with many religious, both women and men.  In this capacity, I also learned more about religious life and took several opportunities to go on religious retreats with my peers.  I participated in one weekend retreat at a convent in Cheektowaga, New York.  I also personally interviewed with a nun at the convent in Athol Springs, New York.

While both of these experiences increased my faith and spirituality, they did not convince me to pursue religious life.  In fact, they did the opposite.  At the first convent that I went to, I saw women who appeared to do much praying and sitting.  Most of the women were older or elderly, and many did not have the medical assistance they needed.  It seemed that the convent was more like one big dormitory building for women of the same faith who prayed alot.  I did not see their good works, but only saw them living amongst each other in lives that caused them to be excluded from society at large.  I similarly observed and felt this at the second convent where I interviewed.  The elderly woman who interviewed me did so in her small bedroom.  She appeared to have no family, no nothing.  To me, she appeared to have lived an empty and solitary life, and was very much unappreciated.

After more thought, I realized that I did not want any of what I observed at the convents.  I felt sorry for these women, and angry at the Roman Catholic Church for requiring them to make such huge sacrifices in their lives.  I was also upset that the Church required priests to be single.  I did not believe that was fair, or took basic human nature into serious consideration.  It seemed to me that the Church wanted fewer people for which to pay simply by requiring that religious did not have families.  Conversely, I desired the opportunity to be married and have a family.  I also realized, after more thought, that I was pursuing religious life for some of the wrong reasons.  I had experienced a traumatic experience at college as an undergraduate, and pursuing religious life was a way of escaping from it.  I realized that, and decided to deal with it – and did.

As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, I also realized all of the limitations on and misjudgments about women that it practices.  The Roman Catholic Church is often extremely rigid and insensitive toward people and understanding the basic needs of people.  Certainly, there are many wonderful things that the Catholic Church does in helping and supporting people throughout the world.  I have also received assistance and support from the Roman Catholic Church, but this has only begun being received after having been a member of the faithful for 41 years.  Most people cannot wait 41 or more years before some of their basic needs are met; they would be dead, otherwise.

The Roman Catholic Church is also extremely patriarchal.  Women are excluded from high-ranking positions in the church.  Women are not allowed to be priests or deacons, bishops or cardinals, or popes.  Even if a Roman Catholic woman becomes a priest, she is often not recognized or supported by her followers.  Women – often but for the Virgin Mary – are viewed in a negative light in Roman Catholicism.  After all, followers are typically taught that it was Eve who led to Adam’s downfall, and the resulting exit from Paradise.  There are different versions of this story that place equal responsibility on both Adam and Eve for being removed from Paradise, though those are the stories that one does not hear and that are not taught in the faith.  Whether consciously or unconsciously women are, therefore, blamed and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church is also sexist.  In viewing Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a virgin and placing her virginity on a pedestal, the Roman Catholic Church has elevated a woman to a position in the natural world that is unrealistic for all other women.  Certainly, virginity and chastity are important for women, however they are also ideals that are not realistic.  Often, for example, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold the same ideals for men, and this leads to a sexist double standard.  Such standards are biased and unfair.  Further, the many prayers and recitations in the Roman Catholic Church are sexist because they are not gender neutral, therefore excluding and purposely ignoring the need for increased rights, equality, and freedoms of women within the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church is also sexist in regard to its views regarding abortion.  I am a Roman Catholic for whom the choice for life is extremely important, however I also understand that it is important to provide choice, as well.  As a person who has only had one pregnancy, and who has never had any abortions or miscarriages, I believe in the value or life, though I also support the importance of choice.  It must be understood that there are situations and experiences that girls and women have that may be traumatic, out of their control, and/or life-threatening.  The are other situations in which females simply decide against continuing their pregnancy.  Women and girls must have opportunities for choice in whether or not to give birth to children.  It is wrong when the Roman Catholic Church preaches about life, but then, does not provide support or assistance to girls or women who are in need of it.  And, what about the male who has caused a pregnancy to occur?  Typically, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold males accountable to a role of responsibility when women and/or girls whom they impregnate obtain abortions.  Again, the responsibility is usually all upon the female, and the male is absolved of responsibility.  The female, again, is often blamed, stigmatized, and lacks support she needs in the very place that should provide it.

In marriages in which there is difficulty, abuse, or domestic violence, Roman Catholic priests are not consistent in their views regarding what steps should be taken to either maintain or dissolve the marriage.  Such views contribute to confusion and increased sexism in the Roman Catholic Church.  Some priests maintain the view that the wife and children must be subservient to the male, whom they view as the head of the household and the absolute, all-powerful leader of the family.  Such a view is harmfully patriarchal, and in fact, can contribute to a worsening of the situation in which the victims continue to be victimized, blamed, and unsupported.  Men should not necessarily be believed or obeyed at all costs, or it could cost one her life.  (Then, of course, people will ask why she did not just leave the marriage.)   On the other hand, there are priests who encourage marital counseling for a couple who is in trouble, however none of those with whom I have ever interacted are qualified to provide it.  First, they are not licensed counselors, nor do they have experience in marriage, or in having a wife and family of their own.  Then, there are those priests who say that if counseling does not help and if the situation is so bad, then divorce is the best option.  Wait, I thought marriage was supposed to be forever.  Sometimes, however, no matter how much a woman may try to improve and maintain her marriage, divorce is the only viable alternative that remains, whether it is initiated by her spouse or herself.

There is also the issue of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church.  I am an individual who is and who always has been heterosexual, though I recognize that there is a need in the Roman Catholic Church to provide support and equality to all peoples, including those who are homosexual.  I am also one who believes that marriage should be – notice that I said “should be” – between a man and woman, though I recognize this as one of my values because this is what I was taught.  I also take care not to impose my values about this issue onto others.  Therefore, I maintain the view that marriage should be between two partners who love and are fully committed to each other, for the benefit of themselves and their families, if they have them.  Therefore, I believe that the Roman Catholic Church should not exclude or condemn individuals who are homosexual, nor create guilt in them or cause them to feel sinful simply because of their sexual orientation.

Further, there are many experiences that I have had in the Roman Catholic Church – a church that promotes Jesus and Christianity – that have been extremely unchristian.  Within individual Roman Catholic churches, schools, groups, and/or organizations affiliated with it, there have been a great number of situations I have had in which people who contend to be Catholic and Christian behave in decidedly unchristian ways, in ways of which Jesus would not approve.  There are many Roman Catholics who are basically hypocrites because they preach about and say they believe what they actually do not practice.

As an example of such hypocrisy, a number of Roman Catholic men throughout my life (both as a child and as a woman) have been sexually harassing (or worse) of me, and have outright wanted to have an affair with me, even though they are married and/or we were both married to other spouses at those times.  I am a person who has never – I repeat, never – had an affair with any man.  Even in a difficult (to say the least) marriage in which there were temptations to be unfaithful, I remained faithful to my then-spouse.  I have also turned down every man who has wanted to have an affair with me.  I understand that he is seeking something temporary and for his own gratification, and does not understand the seriousness or implications that having an affair would create on himself, his wife, and his children.  The Roman Catholic Church and society must teach men to be faithful to their wives and families, even when times are tough.  When times are tough, it is taking the easy way out to throw in the towel regarding one’s marriage and commitment.  More instruction and better role models are needed for Roman Catholic men (and all men) in regard to maintaining and developing healthy marriages, at least from my perspective.

Another major issue in the Roman Catholic Church is abuse and sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and/or harassment by priests toward female and male congregants, particularly those who are younger and/or who are in positions of vulnerability.  In churches and dioceses throughout the United States, in Ireland, and elsewhere, there have been numerous instances of sexual abuse by priests.  While I have not personally experienced sexual abuse by any priests in the Roman Catholic Church, I do know of those who have and those who have perpetrated abuse that was unrecognized by the greater congregation and not at all addressed, corrected, or resolved by higher level diocesan church leaders.  Such abuses have ripe ground to occur in such a closed, structured, hierarchical organization of men who all too often have ignored, overlooked, and not considered the seriousness of the situations.  Instead, and all too often again, abusive priests are ushered along to different parishes where they continue and/or escalate their abuses, and/or continue them unrecognized.  Certainly, there are many good priests, and those who perpetrate abuses give a bad name to those who do not.  And, the Roman Catholic Church has implemented serious steps at preventing future abuses, as one good thing that has come from these situations, however they do continue to occur.  Such abuses by priests have caused many followers to leave the faith, and to lose hope in the very people who are supposed to be Christ-like.  I personally know of several people who have left Roman Catholicism because of these issues – such issues that should never occur.

Because of all of these experiences that I have had as a Roman Catholic, and more, I have become a reluctant Roman Catholic.  In the past couple of years, I have actively sought out and have considered other faiths.  All of the faiths that I have considered are still within Christianity, though they have been either less Catholic or more Protestant than Roman Catholicism.  In these faiths, however, I have found many issues that are similar to those I have encountered in the Roman Catholic Church.  Certainly, in some faiths, women have higher positions of power and might actually be the highest leader of their faith, however I observe that being practiced to the most minimal extent in the area where I live around Atlanta, an area that is mostly Baptist and thus, also highly patriarchal based on related religious and cultural views.  Also, in other faiths, the Virgin Mary is not held in nearly the same regard as she is in Roman Catholicism.  While Roman Catholics may place her on a pedestal and view her unrealistically in regard to virginal expectations of women in society, she is completely absent in some other faiths, leaving me with a feeling that I could become a member of such a faith, but that is the only thing holding me back – that faith’s exclusion of Mary as the Mother of Jesus.

So, I always return to the same crossroads – do I remain Roman Catholic or do I convert to another faith?  While there are many things in Roman Catholicism with which I disagree and do not support, I always reach the same answer – to remain Roman Catholic.  The most important part of my decision always includes that I am a faithful follower and believer in Jesus.  I might not agree with many of the practices of Roman Catholicism, however I do believe in the teachings of Jesus.  I have always come to the conclusion that I can pray for myself, and my friends and enemies.  I can pray that the eyes of those who have sight but who are blind can be opened.  I can work to do more to bring awareness about the importance and value of women and children in the Church, rather than support the male leadership’s exclusion of them.

I recognize that I am one who is not content to simply accept the rigid, patriarchal, and sexist nature of the Roman Catholic Church, but who is one who strives to bring increased equality and support to marginalized groups, including women and children.  While Blessed Teresa and Pope Francis, for examples, are excellent role models within the Roman Catholic Church, and have brought much compassion and support to people around the world, I, personally, continue to experience much rigidity, patriarchy, sexism, and inequality in my faith.  I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will ever provide full equality, understanding, or acceptance in the Church for women, and while I am intolerant of that, I do accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thus, I continue to remain a reluctant Roman Catholic, and will likely revisit this issue at many points throughout the remainder of my life.  I place my faith in God that He will continue to guide me on the path that is right for me.