Monday, October 23, 2017

#MeToo Sexual Harassment at Calvin Seminary

By now everyone knows about the #MeToo hashtags written by women who have endured sexual harassment. Here’s my story:

In 2004 when Calvin Seminary administrators were in the process of terminating me (giving me 2 successive terminal appointments), they piled on one false accusation after another in their written evaluations to the Seminary Board. One particular accusation was basically true—that I had treated “faculty member B” badly—so badly, he claimed, that it caused him “anguish.” They apologized to him for my behavior.

In an effort to deal with this and other charges I met with President Plantinga, Academic Dean Henry DeMoor and my Division chair Robert Devries and read a prepared statement, including this paragraph regarding “faculty member B.”

"I have been uncomfortable with the way he has physically expressed himself, but not wanting to hurt his feelings, I’ve never directly confronted him.  He always hugs me when he comes into my office—and not just a short little greeting hug (which is not something I do with colleagues anyway).  He holds onto me and doesn’t let me go. I was not pleased to see him when he came to my office that day, and I somehow unconsciously or consciously assumed that my very unpleasant demeanor would send a signal to him.  But even after my treating him as badly as he describes, he came over to give me a prolonged hug before he left.  I pushed my [roller] chair back as far as it would go, and tried to hold him at bay by high-fiving him, but he grabbed my hand as I did so, and then reached down and put his other arm around me and held me.  He has made me very uncomfortable on many occasions—one in particular when he pinned me against a door as I was trying to leave, and with his arms around me he told me he loved me and he kissed me while I was pulling away from him."

I concluded my statement with the following sentence: “I don’t expect you to be aware of such situations, but it certainly does seem your concern is misplaced when you are apologizing to him for the ‘anguish’ I supposedly caused.”

The immediate reaction from Neal Plantinga was, Why didn’t you report this right away? I said that while I was extremely uncomfortable with his behavior I never actually believed he would harm me and that I felt sorry for him because he often appeared to be very depressed. The administrators treated that as a phony excuse on my part to cancel out his charge against me of treating him badly. In other words, they did not believe me.

Later that day, having told my Division chair Robert Devries that I wanted to read my statement in an appeal to the Executive Board, he emailed that information to Henry DeMoor, adding his support: “and I concur.”  The next morning I received a threatening email from Henry stating that he and Neal Plantinga would ask the Executive Board not to hear my appeal because, he said that in doing so “you will harm yourself and your cause.”  I knew I was overpowered—that the Executive Board would do their bidding.

Was I surprised by their reaction? Not really. Calvin Seminary had an all-male administration with an all-male full-time faculty for 125 years before I arrived on the scene in 2000 as the first full-time woman faculty member in the school’s history. My story is not essentially about “Faculty member B” who is now deceased. It is about administrators at Calvin Seminary who disregarded and covered up my account of sexual harassment.