Reflections on “Esse quam videri”
I am going to try to answer all your questions.
From 18-37 yrs old I did not know what I was experiencing was wrong in academia or Christianity. It was all I knew away from my secular parents. The Church took me in and being a Latina from Southern California men often looked at me and talked about my curvy body, my hair, my shoulders, my butt, my walk, and my clothes. I thought it was my problem so I dressed like a white woman, bought baggy clothes, cut my hair to a bob, and gained 30 pounds. The comments never stopped. I always felt like it was my fault. I talked to my husband about it and he didn’t think it was a big deal. I talked to my girl friends about it and they said, “Yeah, #metoo”.
At 37 I enrolled in a certificate program at Harvard and learned a ton. Then I was admitted into their world class master’s program. Part of that learning was on how people should talk to each other in academia and in the agora (the public and social sphere). I learned there were strong and clear boundaries on appropriate speech and gestures to one another. I learned about harassment and microaggressions. I learned that what I had experienced was not normal. I realized that my pain and anger to myself for being Hispanic, a woman, smart, and curvy was not my fault. I learned that men needed to treat me with respect. I talked to my Harvard friends and they said, “NOT OK”. Talked to my Harvard professors and they said, “NOT OK”. Talked to my thesis director and he said, “WTF”.
Watched an Assistant Dean who helped to save the college get fired. She was female and no explanation to the faculty was given.
From there I talked to my harasser first. He was my professor, my friend, and my colleague. Then:
Met with him again (at least 5 times over a year’s period)
Met with the Academic Dean
Met with the Academic Dean and HR
Met with HR
Met with the Dean of Students
Met with the Dean of Students a 2nd time
Met with my mentor
Met with my old college professor who is really reputable in the community
Met with the President of the College and my mentor
Met with HR, the President of the College, and my husband
My husband met the Dean of Students
Tried to meet with three members of the Board of Trustees and that was shut down by the President
Told a total of nine “godly men” in the Montreat Community and the issues continued
**My ask the whole time was an apology. An apology means, “I am sorry and their is a behavior change.”
Left the college in May 2017 with several other friends who were women, Hispanics, homosexuals, and straight allies.
Over the next year, a total of seven women had left the college because they felt mistreated. They shared their stories with me.
Five women brought a gender harassment and discrimination charges against the Academic dean. HR did an investigation. HR did not call for input from former faculty under that dean.
Another female friend of mine left. She had been mistreated.
I wrote a blog post titled, “You can apologize now.”
Over 100 people responded via email, text, Facebook messenger, Instagram all saying they had experienced similar harassment or discrimination.
I asked for an apology for three days for me, and others. On day two, the former President of Montreat and his wife called me and Facebook messaged me to apologize. They wish they would have known. They wished they could have sheltered and helped me. They were sorry. Because they were not at the college when I came out with my issues, they never knew them. And yet they cared enough about me to call me all these years later.
I sent two of my blog posts to all faculty and staff at Montreat asking them to urge their current professor, Academic Dean, and President for an apology. I asked them to BE brave and to BE Montreat. I wrote the Montreat Cabinet asking for an apology.
On the fourth day a man attacked me publicly saying I was vindictive. I wrote a Facebook post telling him of my 20 year evangelical Christian experience and why I wanted nothing to do with Church or Christianity. I grappled with still loving Jesus the man who walked the Earth and bent down to talk to women, children, prostitutes, immigrants, and the poor. I publicly wrote my youth pastor and his beautiful wife (that led me to Christ as well as three friends from my youth group), my first mentors (that taught me Christianity in more depth), a handful of men (that over time had said the support me as a woman), four church planters (2 couples that I had always looked up to), the current President of Montreat and his wife (who I have repeatedly asked to get me an apology), Women for Trump (an activist group for President Donald Trump, Jr.), my Christian book club (that I adore), Brad Daniel (my mentor of 22 years), Don King (my first Montreat Academic Dean, English professor, colleague, and C.S. Lewis Scholar), and the Universe (the united WE with God).
And then today June 23 at 12:30pm, “he”, the professor apologized. He called and cried and cried. We cried. He knew he was wrong because I had gone to him first. I had walked alongside him during tough times and asked his behavior to stop repeatedly. I had gone through the full process of what “scripture” tells us to do. He had seen me walk and “Esse quam videri” — to be rather than seem. He knew at my heart I was veritas (truth) and that I loved him. I really loved him as Jesus loves him. He apologized.
PS- It took 2.5 years because I went through the full scriptural process first. Secondly, I felt as a two time alumni (2001 and 2015) I needed to finish my Harvard masters degree first. I was scared because Montreat staff and faculty were all my academic recommendations. I had spent 20 years there as an undergrad, grad student, adjunct, and faculty member. Thirdly, many of my friends still worked there and I did not want to hurt them. Then I realized that my last close girl friend was leaving, and that the men who had tried to help us that were still on staff were weary and tired of fighting for us. So, the only next step was to bring everything into the light. The LIGHT always brings BEAUTY from ashes. Life always finds a way. It is the way of the world.
I FORGIVE HIM.
**PS- After talking to the harasser, he feels as though he was not drunk in fist fights (though I have three reports from students and community members that say they have seen them). He states that he was pulling friends off fights. As well, he states that his time with girl(s) outside of the college were not dates, but rather work related. He does agree that he stated to me that those women were “the most beautiful” and that was stupid of him. I chose to believe him, bc though he hurt me deeply I have not known him to be a liar.
Melissa B. Wilson, A.L.M. and M.S. is an active conservationist and environmentalist who happily lives in paradise (the U.S. Virgin Islands) working to create STEM career pathways and networks for Caribbean students. As a former evangelical, a current climate activist, gay ally, and descendant of the Bohemian Reformation (the first Protestant Reformation) she speaks about faith, life, ecology, and our current political climate on her blog www.ecotheologist.com. She graduated from Harvard University in May 2019. Her conservation research about wilderness, reaching Half-Earth, and STEM education can be found at www.melissawilson.net.
Photo by: Eva Appalachia