November 6, 2014
Dear Ad Hoc Committee,
We come today seeking reconciliation with Starr King School for the Ministry. May we first state that we bear great love for the school and cherish the many lessons taken from our time as students there. Chief among those lessons we have learned is to strive for compassionate communication that upholds anti-oppressive values.
We are deeply disappointed that the school has chosen to respond in a manner that does not reflect these values.
No evidence has been provided that we have had a part in the strapped student email, and no justification has been given for withholding of our degrees, which has had a severe financial and spiritual impact on our lives.
We have been very forthcoming and participated fully in the restorative justice process. At no time did a representative of the school or the board utilize direct address to express any concerns they may have had. Instead we were informed the night before graduation that we would not be receiving our degrees. At that time we were also informed that a committee was being formed to investigate us. In light of the school’s threats of legal action against students, the serious hardship created by the board’s decision to withhold our degrees and the demand that we relinquish our right to privacy and violate pastoral confidentiality, we were forced to seek legal counsel.
Our attorney contacted the school’s attorneys in May, 2014, to try to open communication regarding our degrees, but the only response we have received has been a demand that we turn over our personal computers and emails. We still desire open, healing communication. At this time, the only communication we are being offered is to answer questions by a lawyer and one member of the committee who will make recommendations to the Starr King Board of Trustees. We feel a conversation, rather than a one sided interrogation, is befitting of religious professionals and justice seeking people. We further believe that it is imperative that we are allowed to speak directly with all members of the committee, to ensure good communication, and that a transcription is not a substitute for personal interaction.
We also do not wish to give up our right to privacy or break UUMA guidelines regarding collegial confidentiality by turning over our emails or laptops. Doing this would set a dangerous precedent and send the message that we agree that an institution with power should be able to wield that power over those with less power in order to compel them to give up privacy and confidentiality. It would also put our careers into further jeopardy by compromising relationships with colleagues and demonstrating an inability to hold confidential communications. Several colleagues have contacted us and stated explicitly that they do not want us turning over communications from or to them to Starr King. Starr King has yet to give us a reason they seek to view our communications. We would like to know on what basis or by what source Starr King is targeting us.
Let us be clear, neither of us sent the email by “strapped student.” Neither of us knows who did. There is nothing in our email or on our laptops that would lead the school to find the identity of that person. We do not agree with the anonymous manner in which “strapped student” sent the email, as shown by each of our long histories of speaking openly and honestly owning and airing our views and the views we were elected to air as student leaders.
Additionally, and more to the point, we are very concerned that the school has diverted considerable attention and resources in its quest to find and punish the email sender, instead of choosing to address the serious issues raised by that email, which the president of the board of trustees has acknowledged are longstanding.
We ask in earnest to be able to engage in the kind of communication that we learned at Starr King: open, compassionate, anti-oppressive communication that seeks healing and justice. However, while the school insists on using the significant power they have over us to continue an unfounded investigation into our involvement, with little regard for the direct damage this investigation is having on our lives and careers, we have only this statement to submit.
With hope for future reconciliation,
Julie and Suzi