Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 4

Feminism at OBU Series
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 1
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 2
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 3
"Thy Daughters True": Feminism at OBU - Part 4

On Wednesday, I wrote about FAIR's protest of an offensive chapel message and the administration's response to that protest. Today, I will conclude the story and share some final thoughts about what happened.

In spite of the letters to The Bison, the public meeting, and the administration's official response, many students were unaware or indifferent toward our cause. A few even went against us. An issue of The Bison nearly three weeks after the chapel message had a letter from male student who defended Dr. Gillham. He said that Dr. Gillham's Wednesday chapel message and much of his Friday chapel message were good and even outstanding at times. His reasoning was that Dr. Gillham was a good speaker, so it wasn't necessary to make a fuss over two misinterpreted sermon illustrations.

After that, the controversy died down a little, though it briefly popped up during a variety show, Spring Affair, in April. The theme that year was reality TV, and during a montage of reality show spoofs, there was a clip that showed a young man serving eggs to a young woman. They weren't cooked to her liking, so she jumped up out of her chair, threw the plate at him, and verbally abused him about breaking the yolks. The audience burst into laughter, but I was embarrassed and a little angry. I was the one who'd complained about the domestic abuse joke, after all, but I wasn't sure if the skit was making fun of me, FAIR, Dr. Gillham, or everyone on both sides of the controversy.  I couldn't tell if it was simple gallows humor or a barometer indicating students' lighthearted dismissal of the situation.

FAIR persisted. On April 15, FAIR sponsored a symposium for students, faculty, and the community. The symposium featured speakers from OBU and the community who addressed issues related to rape and domestic violence, including prevention, assisting someone who had been abused or raped, and understanding why victims sometimes stay with abusers. The Bison ran an article about the symposium in volume 85, number 25, on April 17, 2002.

As ugly as the whole incident had been, it was at least bringing some much-needed information to the surface and raising awareness on campus.

In May 2002, I graduated and committed my last act of protest at OBU: I sang my own version of the Alma Mater Hymn. Every OBU student knows those lyrics  -- "May thy spirit guide thy sons / Keep thy daughters true" -- but how many have thought about them? OBU's sons receive guidance, but OBU's daughters receive an admonition to be "true." Faithful. Honest. Chaste. Not guided through life by the spirit of OBU. Was that honor for men only? FAIR had once discussed these lyrics and what they seemed to imply, though we never officially requested a change. It was a tradition we didn't want to touch, but I wasn't going to follow that tradition myself. Standing on the steps of Raley Chapel in my cap and gown, I sang my own heartfelt version by changing one word: "May thy spirit guide thy sons / And thy daughters true." Professors at OBU had preached equality to us through history, literature, theology, and sociology, and although the administration fumbled with the concept, we the students believed it.

Afterward, Dr. Todd Ream, our biggest supporter in the administration, left the OBU that same year after serving the university for only two years. Eventually, the remaining members of FAIR graduated and the group ceased to exist. The gender studies task force no longer exists (if it ever existed at all), but OBU established a Diversity Committee in the fall of 2006. This committee's purpose was "to study and recommend policy related to diversity issues," including gender. Forming a committee is the standard Southern Baptist solution to any problem, but it's clear that the administration learned that gender issues were not going to go away. I can't credit FAIR for this change, but I like to think that we played a role.

Some of you may wonder why I am bringing this protest up. First, it's a part of OBU's history. It made an impact on a number of OBU faculty members and students, myself included. I consider the matter settled and it's all in the past, so I'm not seeking to make fresh accusations toward the university. However, the story belongs on this blog. It fits into Save OBU's narrative about fundamentalism, sexism, and unethical administration. Both the speaker's words and the administration's response were sexist and rooted in fundamentalist notions about female sexuality, submission, and blame. The administration fell short with its response and was disrespectful toward the members of FAIR and every other woman on campus. I don't think it actually restricted our academic freedom, but I should note that some of the professors who openly supported us were the kind who would not have survived the "purge" without tenure. Obviously, that incident alone didn't cost anyone their job, but it probably would not have been a checkmark in their favor.

Second, the incident shows that OBU had -- and probably still has -- a significant population of moderates and liberals. No matter what conservative-minded students and alumni claim, OBU is not entirely fundamentalist, patriarchal, or conservative.  To think that way is to be blind to OBU's true nature.

Third, it shows why we need to have watchdogs like Save OBU pointing out the problems for the sake of improving the university we love. I believe that students and faculty are not the only ones who should be concerned about on-campus events; alumni have a stake in the university's welfare as well. When the members of FAIR graduated, we didn't check back with OBU about its commitment to gender studies, so we couldn't ensure that things would change. The same goes for OBU's current situation and the activism of Save OBU. If we sit in silence and submission, nothing will change.


  1. I was heartened to learn, if only temporarily, that a group like FAIR was active on OBU's campus, and that it was vocal and did have support from students and faculty.

    This particular brand of discrimination is structural and systemic. Arguably, today's discrimination is more subtle, highlighting the need for more watchdog groups similar to FAIR.

    Dr. Gillham's remarks were not misunderstood, were not misperceptions, and the responses by FAIR were not based on "impressions". The idea that any confrontation or opposing view to his sermon is "naively undermining the work of the Spirit" is an excuse to defend a discriminatory status quo. It is only authoritative because he says so. The excuse is easy, and unfortunately, effective.

    I hope other feminist (I use this term carefully, as it is now deemed dirty by many churches and portions of society) groups can find a home within the student body at OBU. The work the term represents is far from finished. Shining a light on marginalizing behavior and attitudes is still necessary to begin to address the issue.

    Amy Strickland Smith '88

  2. Hello there,

    I have really enjoyed reading through your blog. You have some real quality content here along with some very informative posts and strong opinions. I think it would be worth sharing with more people and I believe I could help to get you new readers if you are interested.

    I am looking for passionate writers to join our community of bloggers and I was wondering whether you would consider sharing your posts on Glipho and become a member?

    It might be a good idea to give your writing and your blog more exposure while having fun and meeting fellow writers.

    Please check us out at and drop me a line at for any questions.


  3. Unfortunately, the moments in chapel that get remembered are the more horrifying ones. Gillham's anecdotes, as well as his description of Jesus as "God in an earth-suit," have stuck with me for all the wrong reasons.


We invite you to join in the conversation. However, anonymous comments are unwelcome.