What is racism, bigotry, ethnocentrism, homophobia, etc.?
The actual experiences of people who have had to endure the bigotry of others while they tried to move along and achieve their life goals gives an understanding of bigotry which helps us root it out of our lives and out of the institutions in which we live and work. With that in mind, we hope you learn from and can use the stories in this series.
Usually in instances of racism, it is the person who is acted against – the person who has been forced to experience another’s bigotry – who is chastised or loses an opportunity or is moved out of a home for no reason or denied entrance to an educational institution for which they qualified and ‘but for’ would have been accepted. This needs to stop. Especially, we need to stop the denial when we come across an instance of bigotry. We cannot afford to call for the bowl of water, soap and a towel to wash our hands leaving the responsibility for our sins on others or on the institutions which we created.
This story continues what we started – another part of the actual life experience of a minority denied:
This is about the Field Education positions at a seminary – which means a part of your course work or your experiences for which you receive a grade and which is a required part of most seminary educational experiences on your way to a Mdiv Degree (Masters of Divinity). Where you are placed for this Field Education experience depends upon conversations and consultations with the person who would supervise your work, the head of the Field Education area, the Field Education Committee and the head of that Committee who is normally very influential in these things, and more.
I applied for and was accepted for a Field Education placement at Church of the Messiah in Auburndale, MA. under the Rev. William Lowe who agreed to serve as my supervisor. He had no problems with my being African American. In fact such a conversation didn’t come up. I had already completed a successful Field Education program at Trinity Church, Copley Square but Trinity agreed to sponsor my ordination process and so the Field Education program I completed could not be considered for credit of any kind leaving that requirement for the Masters of Divinity unfulfilled.
After those initial things were done which included outlining the activities and course work for the year, and the proposal was accepted by the Field Education Committee, we thought all was well until I received a letter from Eric Law who was Chairperson of the Field Education Committee.
It was a letter of rejection and went something like this:
“We admit that our existing Field Education Program, while meeting a lot of the students’ needs, is not adequate in serving others from a different cultural background. I want you to know that you have enabled us to look at ourselves honestly and to question our organization — its strengths and its weaknesses. Hopefully, what has happened, painful as it may have been, will move us to establish a better educational system that is more inclusive.”
The rejection letter went on to state “This is a systemic problem created by conflicts between two different communication systems, based upon different cultural values. We realize that a mediation between the two systems must be set up so that similar situations in the future can be handled with better understanding.”
It was a truly amazing letter especially since it also claimed “our decision depended a great deal on the qualifications of Bill Lowe as a supervisor (then rector at Church of the Messiah). Based on the evidence we had, we had a lot of questions about his qualifications.” The Rev. Lowe was a supervisor in the Field Education program. He had been vetted and certified and had Field Education placements before and after my rejection – all white.) It was a stunning paragraph which not only rejected my proposal for Field Education at Church of the Messiah, but also included down grading the rector of the Church which had accepted me.
Who is Eric Law – the chairperson of the Field Education Committee – who apparently engineered this turndown? A first or second generation Chinese American student at Episcopal Divinity School, who later became an ordained priest and whose work during that time was with the Chinese Community solely and was the same for quite some time after his ordination.
The racism through all of this was stunning, unacknowledged, unaddressed and continued to plague the Field Education program for years after as it had for many years prior. The racism I experienced had been a part of the Field Education Program at EDS for a very long time and had been complained about from the days of the Rev. Kenneth Hughes whose complaints we discovered when my husband and I worked at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Cambridge, a Church Rev. Hughes pastored many years earlier.
What was the problem which caused all of this? An African American woman chose a white suburban church for her placement in the Field Education program. Normally, an African American chooses to do their Field Education at an African American Church. A white American can choose whichever Church he or she decides best suits his or her educational needs, but those choices did not and still today do not extend to minorities
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