Bursting the homophobic bubble of Spring Arbor University

By |2018-01-15T20:40:21-05:00March 29th, 2007|News|

SPRING ARBOR – The students at Spring Arbor University discuss their time there as if they lived in a bubble. In fact, students and staff alike refer to “The Bubble,” half jokingly.
This bubble is an illusion, says Drew Hinkle, president of SAFE, formerly the unofficial Gay Straight Alliance. “I feel like if you explain it to some one not in it, it seems like a sci-fi movie,” he says.
“SAU is our own little enclave, it seems disconnected from the rest of the world, including Jackson. We are a little happy conservative place where nothing happens, or if anything bad or dirty happens, it is swept under the rug. Everything in SAU is good. It’s this whole psychological mind screw,” adds Hinkle.
Jamie (not her real name) agrees.
“The more classes I take, the more I hear about, even the professors will mention the bubble, that it makes SAU a safer place. That it’s not penetrated by the outside world. They don’t allow anything they believe to be non-Christian to stay in the bubble. They pretty much exile them off the campus.”
Within this bubble was born the recent controversy of Julie Marie Nemecek’s federal EEOC lawsuit against the university for discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but it has also given rise to stifling oppression against LGB students as well.
Both Hinkle and Jamie agreed to sit down interviews with BTL about their experiences as gay people at SAU.
Jamie has asked that her name and some details of her experiences be left out or changed in order to protect her and her partner. Under SAU policies, if Jamie is found to be having a homosexual relationship, she can be expelled or suspended and her parents notified. She plans to leave SAU this spring.
Both students say they struggled with their sexuality for years, before finally accepting it. Hinkle in December 2005, Jamie in 2006.
“I pretty much emotionally broke down,” Hinkle says. “I can’t keep hating myself like this, living two lives. There was no more choice I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.”
He embarked on a two week coming out binge, where he told everyone from friends, to his family to the school.
His family was very supportive. “They said we love you, you are our son. We don’t know how this fits in with Christianity, but we are here to let you help us understand that,” Hinkle quoted his parents as saying to him.
Jamie, on the other hand, was more circumspect about coming out. She told only about 15 friends. Her realization came from counseling the university forced her to enter. The counseling, Jamie says, was a result of intense depression. The counselor had her start a journal and she realized that her attraction to women was not going away.
“I could be myself with my writing. I could put my true emotions down and how I really felt about things,” she says. “I realized that the environment that SAU forced you to be in is not what I want. I’m happiest when I can be with my friends, hold hands have a beer, hold my girlfriend’s hand.”
Jamie says the expectation of heterosexuality was suffocating. “It is the main goal of the students at Spring Arbor to come out of there with a wedding ring or an engagement ring. It was ridiculous. It pissed me off,” she says. “Its put in your head that college is the main place you will find someone to be with for the rest of your live and you do not find them then your chances are more slim then they were before.”
And this expectation of heterosexuality is part of the reason Hinkle decided to come out as well. While at SAU, Hinkle met a young woman he says was “beautiful and intelligent,” and “someone I could fall in love with.” The two shared a special friendship and a passion for social justice. They even held hands once. But something wasn’t clicking.
“We held hands for like five minutes, then I let go,” he says. “It was really awkward.”
“Why do I not even have the desire to make out, kiss, or any of those things?” he said he thought to himself. “If I liked a girl, this is the girl I could be in love with – I could marry. That just really bothered me.”
Both admit they had struggled with sexual attractions to members of their same gender for years, Jamie even dated women in high school. But Hinkle created a series of twisted logic leaps to justify his lack of sexual attraction to women.
He thought the church teaching that you would date when you were ready for it, had some how over influenced him. That he had sublimated his attraction to women into an attraction for men over this. He even struck out with homophobic slurs directed at a high school classmate who was gay.
“I backstabbed him, then I went home and watched gay porno,” Hinkle says, his voice sad.
Both decided to attend Spring Arbor for its “Christian” community.
“All the students and stuff I met seemed really cool,” Jamie says. “I pretty much fell in love with campus. I was a new Christian at the time, and I thought Spring Arbor University would help with that. I did not realize all the hypocrisy at the time.”
That hypocrisy has Jamie jumping ship at the end of this semester in favor of a public university.
Hinkle concurs with Jamie, but unlike her, he is planning on graduating from this university.
“I see it as a sign of – for me, personally – of defeat,” Hinkle says of his plans not to leave the institution. “It would be like I gave up.”
And accepting defeat, in Hinkle’s mind, is tantamount to abandoning other LGBT students. Students he says have no voice. “I know that there are students in situations like where I was before I came out, was very effected by the homophobic community I was in and perpetuated by SAU. I had to find those kids and help them find their way out.”
Both Jamie and Hinkle confirm that as many as four students may have attempted suicide in the past calendar year as a result of sexual identity crisis. That could not be confirmed by phone calls to Jackson’s Foote Hospital, the closest hospital to the university or by SAU officials. In fact, SAU officials refused to return phone calls and emails seeking comment on the issue of LGBT students at Spring Arbor.
Supporting those students is key to both students. So important to them, in fact, they gave these interviews at great risk to their own academic careers at the university.
“I just hope that anyone who reads the piece that feels like they can’t be themselves even around their friends, that they know it’s not OK to feel that way. It’s not OK to feel like you are wrong. You are not wrong. It’s different but not wrong,” Jamie said. “I think people shouldn’t have to feel like the feelings they have or the relationships they have are wrong, even in God’s eyes.”

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