My Four Years at Harding University

[Update: This post resulted in a record-breaking number of visits to my blog in one day. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this. I am mulling over the idea of writing a response to this blog post to further explain a few points given the amount of interest and response I’ve received so far. Any and all feedback is appreciated.]

I apologize for the delay in posting this. Following graduation two Saturday’s ago, I found myself semi-living out of my car, crashing on random couches until I was able to return home. Time to get back on track. Strap yourselves in; go get something to drink; this will be a long one.

For those of you who know me, you probably have some idea of what this post would contain. After all the less-than-subtle comments and blatant frustrations, it is only naturally what direction this discourse would head. And while your assumptions are probably right, they are not completely correct.

I have an extreme amount of suppressed stress, discouragement, and outrage largely resulting from the four years I have spent here at Harding University. However, even with that, it is hard to live anywhere for four years and not find some level of attachment. I have a lot of anger, but even with that, I am still walking around with a level of depersonalized detachment that follows such a radical change in one’s life.

I learned a number of important truths while a student at Harding University, but none of the ideas they had hoped to instill in me. Harding University and many of the students and faculty became the catalyst for a transformation that was already in progress prior to my enrollment. I graduated that private, Christian university with significantly less faith in Christianity than when I entered. My belief in the very ideas that institution hopes to promote, was eroded away, leaving me in a state of rebuilding: even to the point of replacing the foundation on my fallen house.

Why? The blatant hatred, intolerance, elitism, and hypocrisy espoused by the individuals I found myself surrounded by every day. I specifically remember laying in bed my first semester, thinking if this, if these people, represent what being a Christian means, I want no part. That brief realization set upon me an entire new phase in my thinking and understanding.

Let me be clear, I am not attempting to compare myself versus the majority of the Harding student body; I am not asserting that I am better, have some higher understanding, or am in any way above those which I found extreme disagreement with. Rather, I am pointing out observable inconsistencies and asserting that I have a radically different perspective than those aforementioned, which (even though certain details might be better or worse) is neither better or worse, but different. This is an account on how my interaction with this style of thinking has forever changed mine.

I entered my freshman year with some form of understanding and faith that was forcibly dismantled by the end of my freshman year. For this I hated that university; for this I will thank that university.

Talking about religion, faith, spirituality in anything more than broad strokes isn’t typically a popular topic for discussion and reading, but much of my experience at Harding University centered around this.

Thanks to the disillusionment I experienced, I now know that any spiritual understanding, any faith in God, or belief in some form of Christianity will now be the product of personal searching, discovery, and rationalization. I know that anything I believe in now will me mine and constructed upon a more solid foundation than that which was handed down to me by my family and hometown church. The path I now walk is a much more difficult one, but one from which I will eventually find the greatest satisfaction. For that, I thank many people in the Searcy, Arkansas area for adding to the increasing cynicism I fell into over the past four years. While many people did not embody these negative attributes I encountered, a seeming majority did, and there came my struggle.

Harding University operates on an archaic understanding of society that is largely incompatible with anything out of itself. Alcoholic consumption of any kind generally evokes suspension or expulsion from the university, which constantly reminded me of a 1920’s understanding of alcohol.

Being of any orientation other than heterosexual (or if even perceived as anything but heterosexual, regardless of truth) not only warranted extreme social discrimination from your fellow “Christian” peers, but was addressed with less-than appropriate counseling and intervention.

Engaging in any form of sexual conduct was also ground for suspension and expulsion, which only added to the shame and embarrassment of those involved, which almost always more negatively effected the female involved.

Students are required to attend chapel Monday through Friday, with often amusing attempts to divorce the “worship” half of chapel from the not-worship part in order that women could be on stage, speaking at the podium.

And I wont even begin to delve into the comments I encountered and overheard during the most recent presidential election and throughout the year following.

Now, the most common retort to these observations is: “You knew what you signed up for” or “then just leave if you don’t life it.” While these are ludicrous attempts to dismiss the justifiable outrage of an unfortunately small minority of students at Harding University, I’m not interested in discussing these. Rather, my frustration feeds from the direct hypocrisy of a university that claims to be based on Christianity, but apparently never read the memo on love, which happens to be a major (if not the most important) foundation for the entire religion and its teachings.

That, in of itself, was the root of my entire frustration and outrage over the four years at Harding University. I have never encountered such an unloving population of people, which would be unfortunate of any group of people, but for this to be applicable to a people who claim to follow a God that is literally defined as “God is love” (1 John, 4:8), is simply unbearable.

My four years at Harding University were filled with almost constant frustration and indignation at the words, actions and attitudes of those I found myself forced to interact with on a daily basis. However, not everything about those four years were negative.

By the end of my sophomore year, I found myself in a new major of study that has and will forever change my life. After a brief attempt at majoring in History, I switched to Social Work and almost instantly knew this was where I belonged. Within the small, but excellent Social Work Department at Harding University, I found a group of faculty and students dedicated to promoting the well-being of marginalized people and populations. The social work mission requires a level of compassion and style of understanding that cuts through and circumvents much of the prejudice found around the rest of campus.

Within the faculty and students of my social work classes, I found a group of individuals that understood many of my frustrations and were equally dedicated to helping any and all in need. This here, with the addition of several core friends, provided the main source of strength and I battled through my time at this university.

Two weeks after graduation, I find myself losing the anger I once felt, and in its place a calm understanding that all things happen for some form of a reason; every struggle is an opportunity for growth. While there are many things I wish had been different, I can only take what has been and ensure that I am a better person for these experiences.

So here I stand, a graduate of Harding University. Despite the frustration, despite the anger, I am thankful for my four years; I am thankful for the relationships I formed and for the lessons I learned. These lessons were not the ones found in Harding mission statements and chapel talks, but rather my own studies that will forever shape my path and direct my feet.

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8 thoughts on “My Four Years at Harding University

  1. bweare says:

    Imagine what type of person you would be without suffering. The fact that you suffer for the plight of some, and the indifference (or hatred) of others to that plight, meant you could have had no other experience at Harding. Now that the pain has been removed, the gift it left behind can grow. Keep on caring, and keep on writing. Stay indignant but try not to let anger rule you. Your battles are just beginning so pick them carefully. Be watchful for narrow minded zealots in Social Work settings, they can be brutal. And by the way, I finally registered so I could comment on your posts. Something I am reluctant to do; register that is. Best wishes for you Doug.

    • Doug says:

      Thanks Bill,

      And that’s exactly what I hope to accomplish. I’m trying to use my frustration and and indignation to propel me to greater things, to make changes so that others behind me will benefit, yet all the while trying to remain above the cynicism.

      And yes, I have learned the hard way about picking my battles, and I hope to learn more wisdom in this area.

      And I appreciate you taking the time to register. I would leave it free to people not registered, but then I get all sorts of awful spam comments which are a hassle to monitor.

  2. This idea of personal study as the foundation of our world-view was a hard lesson for me to learn as well; however, I through this time of vigorous inquiry and scrutiny I have found a greater sense of achievement and a far more personal religious stance because what I have come to accept as truth has been found in me. Is much of it empirical? Of course, but it is personal nonetheless.

    Keep studying, keep searching… an often over-used, but decisive quote that I have come to live by: “The unexamined life is not one worth living.” – Socrates

    • Doug says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      I’m hoping to do just that: continue pushing forward, questioning everything in order that I may arrive to a more complete understanding and faith. And I love that quote; it’s one of life’s constant truths.

  3. I’ll just simply say that I am glad you were at Harding.

    • Doug says:

      Thanks Brittany. Ultimately, I’m glad I was too. If for no other reason than spending the last two years with you and everyone in the social work department, which made these four years worth it.

  4. Doug, as we part way I hope you will carry something with you that I have (and still do) wrestled with. I too was appalled at some of the behavior and comments I saw and heard. I too could not understand how many on campus professed to be followers of Christ, yet knew so little about him nor acted like him. But nevertheless– and this is my point– just because certain people seem to give Christianity a “bad name” does not give anyone the excuse to not be a part of God’s family and purpose. True, there may be many on campus who do not represent Christ in a way that is pleasing to him, but that does not mean that you or I should give up our faith or relationship in him because of others. I am not accusing you of doing so, but I hope and pray that you and I will continue to seek the truth, and not be hardened by hypocrisy or fake lifestyles, but that we will continue to pursue God a midst those who have a skin-deep faith. There will always be people who take their faith for granted and treat their identity in Christ as if they are entitled to it. But we have a mission to reach out to those people as well, and follow Christ even when all others refuse to. Love you buddy, I hope we stay in touch!

    Kyle

    • Doug says:

      Kyle, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t have any concrete words for the current state of my faith or belief, or understanding of spiritual/religious/etc things. But The hard times these past four years forced me into a serious state of introspection which, while it has fostered a current and continued state of doubt and uncertainty, I believe will ultimately result in a more solid understanding. A faith that I can call my own and will be established on a foundation that doesn’t break.

      All things with time. Thank you for your input. I’ll try to come tour the West coast sometime and visit you and Rebecca.

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