On Bryan College and What to Think



Until recently, I could tell people where I went to college and most would never have heard of it. Bryan College is a small non-denominational liberal arts school in Dayton, TN (yes, that Dayton). When I attended, from 2001-2005, undergraduate enrollment was just around 650 students. Tiny. 

I count my time at Bryan as a gift. I came away with a broad education, thanks to the liberal arts emphasis. I made the best friends of my life--like-minded brothers and sisters who, in recent years, have walked through many trials together. Hey, I even came away with a husband (and, if I'm being honest, so did most of my friends...pretty high alumni marriage rate over there).

But I also left the school with a greater understanding of how to think, and how to love those who don't think like me. 

Now all of this--my degree, my alma mater's integrity, and the lives of the faculty and staff I love--is being threatened. Yesterday the New York Times published a piece online (in print today) on the situation at hand. In a nutshell, President Stephen D. Livesay and the Board of Trustees have added a "clarification" to the statement of belief, a document all faculty and staff are required to sign. The clarification has to do with origins and the belief that Adam and Eve were created beings, not evolving from other life forms. 

The issue, however, is by and large not the words themselves, but rather the idea that a clarification could be made at all. The document, when created, was not to be amended in any way. This recent decision was made unilaterally, and much too quickly for faculty and staff to seek other employment if necessary. Some who disagreed, including two professors who are currently suing the school, did so not necessarily because they disagreed with the content of the statement. Rather, this was the last straw in an administration that had increasingly devalued its faculty and staff. 

I don't want to comment on the statement of belief. But I do want to comment, because it's the integrity of my degree, and those of my family and friends, at stake here.

Bryan College rises and falls on the strength of its faculty. This is a place where I was taught how to think. I was invited to faculty homes, spent hours in my professors' offices, went on mission trips with staff members, and, along the way, learned to love sacrificially. 

When graduates of this school go on to become medical professionals (and yes, it happens...three of my friends have either received, or are candidates to receive, a PhD from Vanderbilt in medical or research fields, others are PAs and NPs), they treat their patients with incredible love. When an AIDS patient walks into an infectious disease clinic expecting to be yelled at for not taking their meds, and is instead treated with love and kindness by my friend, a P.A. who takes the time to listen and give a hug, they are receiving the benefits of a Bryan College education. 

It is the love of Christ that compels these professors to truly invest in students. I cried in Dr. DeGeorge's office, and sat with Dr. Barnett as he compared his conversion to the poem, The Hound of Heaven. These men had a profound impact on my life. They didn't teach me what to think. They taught me how. And now they have suffered as a result of taking a stand against a decision they consider wrong.

So when we read a story about a Christian institution of higher learning taking a brave stand on an issue like creationism, I just want to suggest that we all think a bit before jumping on the bandwagon. Whatever the motivation for the administration's moves here, these choices are ripping apart the institution I love. 

Bryan College is the reason I'm married to Erik, related to Jen, Peter, Kyle, Liesl, and Laura. It is the reason I am an author. It is the reason I look for beauty and truth in art, movies, books, and music--and not just "Christian media." It is the reason I have a global perspective on the Christian life. 

I hope to be able to recommend it one day to my own children.