Similar to Calenthia’s post, my mind is filled with thoughts of the new school year. I get excited, nervous, and, in moments of truly sober thought, I am profoundly struck with the responsibility not only for the students in my classes but for the hundreds if not thousands of young people who may be touched by their lives. My teaching takes on a whole new weight!
In addition to actual content, I think about how I teach, how I treat my students, what messages I send by the tenor of class and both by what I chose to cover and not cover in class. I try to be attentive to specific students and needs throughout the semester without having the course hijacked by any one particularly needy student or situation.
I am also aware of the conversations that take place outside of class. For the past fifteen years I have had a full course load in some form or fashion. I am also aware that every semester, I have at least one student come to me and either ask for help from a past abuse or to seek direction for an abusive situation taking place currently. This is above and beyond the expected teaching load, but it is a part of the reality of teaching in higher education.
I read an article in the NY Times over the weekend regarding a Catholic priest’s response to alleged and confirmed sexual abuse of children by other Catholic priests. I can hear the concern this priest has for the abusers. In fact, it is unusual to hear that at all. When I teach a crisis class, I almost always have one person who expresses concern for the people named as or convicted as abusers and what is the church to do with him or her at that point. The reality is that for many of my minsterial students, they would just as soon ship all abusers off to a colony never to be heard from in polite society again…until it turns out to be someone they know. I digress.
What caught my attention in this particular article was the priest saying out loud what I hear in veiled comments or behind closed doors all the time. “(T)that “youngsters” were often to blame when priests sexually abused them and that priests should not be jailed for such abuse on their first offense.” If not a priest, insert the term boyfriend, pastor, youth pastor, mentor, friend etc. I sit with victims of abuse and often find them to be broken young people who believe that they have done something wrong. If it is recent, they are asking what is wrong with them. If it was when they were younger, they are wondering what it means for relationships now. Regardless of timing, it has thrown a wrinkle in their identity formation and ability to trusty. The hardest part is that it is not only about their ability to trust others but their ability to trust themselves. They wonder what kind of person lets that happen. They wonder if they will ever be a good judge of character.
As the semester begins again, I am reminded not only to think of my course content but of the students sitting in class with me. To think of students from past semesters. To think of the young people I may never get to meet who will be impacted by classes I teach. I am reminded to pray for them and to say out loud, if they have been abused or are being abused, it is not their fault. Enough blaming the victim!