Christendom says it’s changed. Can we believe them?

Christendom says it’s changed. Can we believe them?
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On Wednesday, after we published two essays detailing Christendom College’s inadequate response to sexual assault by and on its students, the college released a statement. Out of professional courtesy, we referred to the statement as an “apology.”
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The statement, which rape survivors from Christendom referred to as a “non-apology” and a “slap in the face,” briefly offers that the school  “would like to apologize to any of those in our community who feel they were not properly responded to concerning an alleged sexual harassment and assault.”
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It then asserts that the school has made significant changes in policy, so as to prevent sexual assault and to be more responsive if it occurs.
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The statement opens by claiming that our two essays contained “misleading information and serious inaccuracies,” but it did not specify what those might be.
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We published that statement in full on Wednesday, with the intention of responding to it on Thursday.
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But on Thursday evening, a newspaper local to Christendom published an article titled “Christendom responds to claims it brushed off rape charges.”  It makes the same reference to “misinformation and inaccuracies” that the school’s statement does, also without specifying what that misinformation or inaccuracies are.
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Then it quotes Executive Vice President Ferguson saying:
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“We offered to speak to the author and they declined because they said they wanted to release the information before we could have a meeting,” Ferguson said. “Extremely odd. So they didn’t have any desire to get to the truth of the article.”
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This is false. This is the opposite of what we tried to accomplish.
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We wanted very much to get President O’Donnell’s comment on our essays before they went to press. On Friday, Damien called the school four times and they called us twice. Damien left a message for Timothy O’Donnell. That call was returned by Nial O’Donnell, who said he would try to get Damien an interview with Dr. O’Donnell. Damien told him we were planning to publish over the weekend.
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Nial O’Donnell then called back and explained Timothy O’Donnell would not be able to call back until Tuesday. Hoping to encourage him to call back sooner, Damien told Nial O’Donnell we did not plan to wait.
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Nial O’Donnell then said he would try and get Timothy O’Donnell to call before Tuesday. He did not specify a time of day.
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So we waited until Tuesday. When the call did not come, we published the essays.
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On Friday, Amanda Graf called Damien and confirmed that Christendom did not have a sexual assault policy in the student handbook until 2013. Graf is Director of Student Affairs. On Friday, Damien also called former dean Jesse Dorman, who did not return the call; and he attempted to reach Dr. Marschner, formerly of Christendom.
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In summary: We held the piece longer than we wanted to, calling repeatedly, hoping to get a statement from O’Donnell. The school said O’Donnell would try to call before Tuesday. He did not. We published on Tuesday. Ferguson’s account of the exchange, that the school offered to talk and we refused, is made up of whole cloth.
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This message was shared with alumni:

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This account is also false. At no point did anyone from the school tell Damien that O’Donnell would be available to speak between 2-4 PM on Tuesday. They told Damien O’Donnell would call us “before Tuesday.” We “moved ahead without talking to him” because, when Tuesday arrived and he had not called, we assumed he did not intend to call and there was no longer any reason to wait.
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Ferguson also said in the North Virginia Daily story, “I cannot comment legally [about alleged sexual assault], due to confidentiality laws around sexual harassment and Title IX specifically because I’m bound to keep that information confidential.”
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However, as we reported in our original piece, and as Ferguson himself says later in the NV Daily article, Christendom does not receive federal funding, and so is not subject to Title IX regulations, including anything to do with confidentiality or with collecting or reporting data on sexual assault or harassment.

The article says, “Ferguson said he was not aware of any sexual harassment or assault claims made by a student at the college in his five years at Christendom. However, Ferguson said college officials have conducted interviews with students about potential infractions.”
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So let’s think about this, based on the way the school has responded to this story so far.
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What would happen if a hypothetical student contacted the office today to report a rape?  Would Ferguson leave the calls unanswered, but then report to the world, “We offered to speak to the victim, but she declined”?
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What would happen if a prospective parent asked about current rates of sexual assault by Christendom students? Would Ferguson claim that he cannot say, because of confidentiality laws he’s not actually bound by?
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The school says that is has changed. Many sources close to the school affirm that Amanda Graf is very dedicated to her job and wants Christendom to change its ways.
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But the administration that saw no need to institute a formal sexual abuse policy for decades, despite countless stories of sexual assault like the ones we detailed in our essays? That administration is still there.
And they’re still not returning our calls. (Yes, we’ve continued to call, including on Thursday night.)
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If you’re a current Christendom student, do you trust that the school has changed?
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If the school has not changed, and sexual assault continues to be minimized by the administration, do you trust the school to be transparent about that?
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We urge any past or current student or parent of students to contact us with information about student life on campus right now.  We want the truth. This has always been our goal. We are the Catholic parents of eight daughters. We want to know what life is like on the Catholic colleges we’re considering.
Does life at Christendom reflect the “respect and honor for women” that President O’Donnell claims it now does?  Our contact information is simchafisher@gmail.com or damien.t.fisher@gmail.com.
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And once again, for the sixth time, we extend an invitation to Timothy O’Donnell to return our numerous phone calls. We are eager to speak about student safety.
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Image: detail of photo By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Knowledge should make us humble, not impatient

Check out the epistles, written to Christian communities that had already been catechised: Half of these letters have the very distinct air of a fifth-grade teacher whose class has no idea how to do long division even though they just spent the entire month on it, but darn it, she will go ahead and tell them again because that is what she is here for.

That is what we are all here for. If we know something good, we have to tell it over and over and over again because God knows we needed to hear it more than once ourselves.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: Jaysin Trevino via Flickr  (Creative Commons)

Christendom College issues official apology

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, has just posted this official response to our recent  two posts. Tom McFadden, VP for enrollment, has verified that it was written and posted by the college, and that the same statement will be posted on the Christendom homepage on Thursday, January 17.

We are glad the school took the trouble to respond. We are nowhere near done with this story. 

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OFFICIAL RESPONSE FROM CHRISTENDOM

A recent blog, which contains misleading information and serious inaccuracies, was posted about Christendom College. Despite those inaccuracies, the hearts and prayers of our entire Christendom College community go out to all involved in the incidents described and to anyone who may be a victim of sexual harassment or assault.

We would like to apologize to any of those in our community who feel they were not properly responded to concerning an alleged sexual harassment and assault.  Christendom College will continue to do everything it can to understand how to best respond to these very difficult and tragic situations. In retrospect, the College may not have served these victims as well as we could have, and for this hurt we are truly sorry for any additional pain that this may have caused.

Please be assured that Christendom College is committed to maintaining an academic environment free of discrimination and all forms of coercion that impede the academic freedom, security, or well-being of any member of the community.

As a campus dedicated to following the teachings of the Catholic Church, we strive to foster an environment where every student feels safe and respected and where the dignity of the human person is upheld and honored. Sexual harassment and assault is inimical to such an environment. As part of this commitment, the College undertakes to educate the student body about sexual harassment and assault.
•       We have a new sexual harassment and assault policy published in the Student Handbook with instructions on how to report sexual harassment and assault and how to receive resources for recovery (page 29 of the student handbook).
•       New student orientation includes a session that covers sexual harassment and assault, reporting, and on-campus resources for support.
•       RAs are now trained in responding to and reporting sexual harassment or assault.
•       Our on-campus nurse and counselor are available at no cost and can help with trauma and recovery.
•       We now have a formal grievance policy students can use to make a complaint against any campus community member who is not covered by the student policy (e.g. faculty, staff, etc.). We can use this process to address inappropriate comments or unreasonable behavior that makes students feel uncomfortable.
•       A female Residence Life staff member now lives in the women’s residence halls. This gives women more of an opportunity to share a concern or incident with a staff member they trust. A male Residence Life staff member also lives on campus to assist the men.
•       We now offer both a men and women’s monthly formation series that addresses mental health, healthy relationships, and other gender-specific topics.

If some believe that our efforts and policies have failed to bring justice to their particular situations, please understand that despite being fallen human beings, the faculty and staff do their very best every day to provide a just and safe environment.

Respect and honor for women was at the heart Christ’s mission and therefore it is at the heart of the mission of Christendom College. We are committed in our policies, our procedures, and in our on-campus culture to uphold and promote the dignity of women and men.

We will continue to do so in fidelity to our mission: to restore all things in Christ.

Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell
President
Christendom College

Are women safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part II

In Part I of this article, Adele Smith related how she was raped by a fellow student from Christendom College, but the school failed to acknowledge the rape or punish the student for it, imposing only minor sanctions for harassing her after the rape.  Smith claims the school’s sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault — and that the administration works harder to protect its reputation than it does to protect its students.

Smith is not the only female student who makes this charge.

This has happened before

Adele Smith mentioned that there was nothing to prevent a rape like hers from happening again at Christendom. In fact, it had already happened, more than once.

A female student, a friend and classmate of Adele Smith’s older brother, says that her boyfriend raped her just off campus, too, in January of 2005. The woman has told very few people about the assault, and she does not wish to use her name.

She didn’t even know to use the word “rape” to describe what happened to her, until the moment she heard that yet another friend, a former Christendom student, had also been raped by yet another Christendom male student just off campus.

“I honestly thought it was just me,” she said. “Then I started hearing more and more stories, and I realized it was happening to a lot of people.”

“That’s Christendom culture.”

She believes if she told anyone on campus she had been raped, she would have been blamed, and would have heard, “What were you doing? What were you wearing?”

“That’s Christendom culture. We had hours and hours and hours of talks on modesty, dress code, how to act, how to keep boys chaste, all of those things,” she said. “The guys were just told to wear ties to Mass. I didn’t realize at the time there was any imbalance. What a girl wore and how she carried herself or what she said  . . . she was responsible for both her actions and men’s.”

She describes the PDA policy in the same way as Smith did.

“It was almost like you’d see in a prison: No touching! Even just to sit next to a person, you had to go off campus. Which made it easier to go further,” she said.

Her boyfriend was a Catholic young man she had met that year at Christendom. He wanted to take her out after they got back from Christmas break, and she was excited at the prospect of a “real date” off campus.

Dressing for the evening was “above and beyond your average giggling and getting ready for a date,” she said. She remembers going to her RA twice to check her outfit, to make sure it was not only nice, but “classy and feminine, modest and dignified, all that good stuff.”

“He was the man.”

She was disappointed when her boyfriend told her their date would consist of simply sitting in his car and watching a movie on his laptop.

“He was the man. He planned the date, he decided things, and I went with him,” she said.

They drove out to a local park in Front Royal. She doesn’t know where they went. It was dark. She says it seems crazy now, but she didn’t feel she had the right to question him.

He suggested they move to the back seat where there was more room. She became alarmed, because “that’s what people do in movies,” but told herself that, while she was short, he was tall, and he probably just needed more leg room.

She says she didn’t mind him getting physically affectionate at first, but as he persisted, she became uncomfortable, and told him several times to stop.

“He had me give him a blow job,” she said. “Forcibly, he held me there. It can’t have been very good, because I had no idea what I was doing.”

She told him she didn’t want to do it, but “that didn’t matter.” He was very strong. She pulled away several times.

“I didn’t hit him or anything. I couldn’t put what was happening together with what should be happening. It was just too unreal,” she said.

He then penetrated her with his fingers. She told him “No,” and pushed him away several times, but again, “That didn’t matter. ” She was in “complete shock.”

About ten minutes later, he abruptly told her, “We can’t keep going like this.” He then said he was afraid she might get pregnant, and that they needed to break up.  He immediately drove her back to campus.

Some of her friends were watching a movie in the gym, and she blindly went and sat with them.  One friend later told her that he could see there was something wrong, but he thought she had just had a bad night.

“I hoped he would forgive me.”

She later told her friends she and her boyfriend had broken up, but never said why. She blamed herself for not being a good enough girlfriend. “Was I not dressed modestly enough?” she asked herself.

After the rape, she saw herself as “a complete failure, as a Catholic, as a woman, as a horrible girlfriend who had caused him to sin.” She repeatedly apologized to him, hoping he would “forgive her” and maybe take her back as his girlfriend.

“That makes me want to barf now,” she said.

A source close to Christendom says that people send their children to Christendom because “they’ve raised them in a bubble and they want that bubble to continue.”  She said mothers of students have told her they don’t want to talk to their children about consent, because it might make them curious about sexual matters. She says that, in recent years, the male students have been given more talks and education about how to treat female students with respect and dignity, but the word “consent” is not used.

“Is there a poster hanging up in a common area, telling you what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted? No. I’d bet my right arm on it,” this source said.

“Didn’t something like that happen to you?”

The young woman who was assaulted that night in 2005 revealed small portions of her story to a friend, who suspected that what she was describing was rape. The story was passed among friends, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the young woman acknowledged to herself that it was rape. The realization happened when another student told her she’d heard another story which sounded horribly familiar: A girl was parked with her boyfriend, a Christendom student, off-campus to watch a movie on a laptop, and he raped her. The male students was friends with the male student who perpetrated the first assault. The first woman’s friend asked her, “Didn’t something like that happen to you?”

The first young women immediately drove to the house of the woman who had just been assaulted, to talk to her about what had happened.

“This happened to me, and I didn’t say anything until literally right now,” she told her. “I don’t want to force you into something, but I don’t want you to make my mistake. I’m just now realizing this is a big problem.”

She persuaded the second young woman to go to the hospital and get a rape kit done. The second young woman also went to the police, but, because she didn’t have any bruises or cuts, they advised her that her case would not go anywhere.

“This is Front Royal; no judge is going to convict a rapist.”

An official whom the first woman describes as “the battered woman counsellor” told the second young woman, “I’ve seen a lot of these, and I can tell you right now it’s not going to go anywhere. This is Front Royal; no judge is going to convict a rapist, even with evidence.”

She was also told that, in Front Royal, a prosecutor will assume that a religious young woman such as herself is simply feeling guilty for having had sex, and is calling it “assault” to assuage her conscience. So the second young woman stopped pursuing a legal case.

According to the first young woman, all of Front Royal is “a notorious boy’s club.” She says a female employer once told her, “Basically, guys don’t have anything to worry about.”

The second young woman went to the Christendom administration with her complaint, according to the first young woman.

“She was confident it was going to be dealt with seriously and professionally,” she said. “I was less sure.”

Just looking for drama

Nothing ever came of the complaint. The Christendom student who assaulted the second young woman ended up transferring out, which was hailed as good news for the girls. The young woman who was raped in 2005 said that one professor told her the female students were making too much of it, “just looking for drama.”

She says sexual assault is “something we stick our heads in the sand about, as conservatives, as Catholics. ‘Don’t be a slut, and it won’t happen to you!’ But that’s not how it works.”

The ordeal has not damaged her faith, but it has changed her perspective.

“By the time I saw [the school] brushing things off, I had moved to a place where I could say, ‘No, that’s wrong. They’re not representative of the entire faith,’” she said.

She was able to separate their actions from Catholicism itself; but she was disillusioned with Christendom.

“A lot of their policies create an environment where stuff like this can happen, and especially where it can go unreported,” she said.

Perception is so important.

She says the school heavily promotes the idea that the campus is like a safe, happy family, that “[p]arents can send their homeschooled, sheltered, don’t-know-anything-about-the-world kids there, and they will be safe. Curfew’s at ten, everyone wears skirts, and it’s just perfect. The closest thing to having them at home.”

But current students and alumni say the school has a “boys will be boys” attitude which allows the male students to harass and grab at the women. If a young woman is raped or assaulted, the other students are ready to assume she did something wrong. Several students interviewed for this story made a distinction between “rape” and “date rape,” and only acknowledged when pressed that rape is rape.

The school administration has a vested interest in failing to punish male students who commit sexual assault.

“People see it to be a traditional Catholic School, and there’s a tendency to whitewash anything that did happen,” Elizabeth Foeckler, former RA, said.

More than one alumna said that many of the teachers at Christendom are excellent and caring, and that many of the students are sincere and faithful people. When asked what they would say to a student interested in attending Christendom, they said it could work out, as long as you go in with your eyes open.

In many cases, says a source close to the college, the rules regulating campus life arise from an ideology, and not from a practical understanding of student behavior. The lower echelons of the administration, those who deal directly with students, struggle with trying to convey ideas like safety and consent without subverting the founders’ notions of what virtuous student life looks like.

The result is an unusually vulnerable population of young women who don’t know how to navigate basic relationships, and who are terrified to express their wishes for fear of being rude, and are afraid to speak out when they or their friends are hurt.  They don’t have the words to describe what happened to them if they are assaulted, and they feel very strongly that they will be blamed for anything that happens to them.

And there is the reputation of the school to guard. “Perception is so important,” said the woman who never reported her rape at Christendom. “We have to evangelize, so everything untoward would be covered up.”

Adele Smith says there was a running joke among the student body about the fountains on campus.

“The school had lots of fountains,” she said, “But the carpets were the original carpets. They were thirty-eight years old. If you lived in the dorm, you were going to be sick. They installed fancy fountains, visible to everyone. But in student living, you can’t get new carpets.”

“Let’s craft and paint the outside,” she said. “But if the inside is not so good? It’s okay.”

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom, was unavailable for comment when we called. He is still welcome to return our call.

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This story was researched and reported by Damien and Simcha Fisher. Part I can be found here. 

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Image credits:
christendom sign: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Statue By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
regina coeli hall By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352616
student center By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352611
front royal clock  Clevergrrl via FLickr
church By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
men’s dorm By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
seal By Niall ODonnell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Are women safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part I

Christendom College, a small, Catholic, liberal arts school in Front Royal Virginia, celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Christendom is praised as a safe haven where young students can focus on their studies, grow in their faith, and “breathe the Catholic air.” But several former and current students say the school’s sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault — and that the administration works harder to protect its reputation than it does to protect its students.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which publishes an authoritative annual guide to Catholic Colleges, says Christendom “makes a point to emphasize virtuous living, which translates to a faithful Catholic lifestyle and strong friendships. With this goal in mind, the College utilizes single-sex dormitories, visitation policies to promote chastity, planned weekly events as a way to proactively promote sobriety and counter any temptation toward a ‘drinking scene,’ and spiritual programs to foster students’ prayer lives and spirituality.”

Adele Smith, class of 2012, experienced some culture shock when she arrived at Christendom. Accustomed to a large, sociable, extended family, she knew Christendom would be conservative, but was bemused by the strict segregation of males and females. She describes the “open houses” that would take place in the dorms once a semester.

“The girls would get baked goods and candy, and the guys would come into the dorm and take a tour. It was very much like a museum, like an exhibit. It was the same with the guys’ open house, except they’d have TVs and video games. ‘This is how the native people on the men’s side of campus live!’ This is not how young people engage in a normal way. It felt like a human zoo.”

The school’s rigid rules governing male and female interaction weren’t just awkward, though. Smith claims they are dangerous.

Rigid student life rules drive students off campus

She says that the rules against romantic public displays of affection were so restrictive, it drove couples off campus. Because Christendom is in a rural, isolated spot with few restaurants, clubs, museums or theaters, going off campus generally means going into the woods or into a field.

“It’s just a natural human need to connect with someone you’re in a relationship with,” Smith said. “Just to hold hands, they’d go off campus for a date; and by ‘off campus,’ it could in be in the woods, or in a field down the road. There are not a lot of options if you don’t have a car. So you end up having couples potentially isolate themselves. They should be able to express themselves romantically in a public setting, which is a safer setting to learn how to navigate as a couple. Instead, you’re put into remote, isolated areas where things can get out of hand.”

That’s precisely what happened when Smith was raped by her then-boyfriend, a fellow Christendom student. The rape occurred on Friday, October 2, 2009, on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, about thirty minutes away from the college campus. We contacted the young man and he has not yet responded, so we are not using his name at this time.

“He had sex with me, and I didn’t want to.”

Smith, who was then a sophomore, says she was so naive, she didn’t even know to use the word “rape” until many months later. She told her friends, “He had sex with me, and I didn’t want to.”

Smith had hurt her back in a car accident when she was a freshman. On the day of the rape, she re-injured her back while cleaning her room for Homecoming Weekend, and so her new boyfriend suggested that they have a low-key, relaxing date.

He didn’t have a license, so, at his suggestion, they borrowed a friend’s car and she drove them up to a scenic point overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. He told her her back might be more comfortable in the back seat, and they could put the laptop in the center console to listen to music.

“In retrospect, I can say, ‘You’re a dummy!’ But back then, I was nineteen. He was my friend, I knew him, I knew his sister, and it felt very natural sitting in the back,” Smith said.

He started kissing her. She had no objection, as they had kissed before. But when he started putting his hand inside her shirt, she told him “No,” and pushed his hand away. She said, “I’m not comfortable with that,” and he said, “Okay.”

“Then he tried it again, and I pushed his hand away, and said, ‘Please, I don’t want to do that.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ Then he tried a third time,” she said.

They were in a confined space; the young man was around six feet tall, and Smith is five feet tall.

“If it was me vs. a kitten, the kitten would win,” Smith says.

“I can’t stop him, apparently.”

She had been diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder after graduating high school, and her anxiety kicked in at this point. She said she realized she could not stop the man.

“He’s not stopping. I’ve told him three times not to. I can’t stop him, apparently,” she recalled thinking.

The young man then started unbuttoning her jeans, and she again told him “No.” He pulled her down so she was flat on the back seat.

“I had my arms pushed together, my elbows to my hands pushed together in front of my chest, trying to keep myself covered. He pushed my arms apart with his hands. My legs were tightly closed. He took his knee and pushed my legs open, pulled my shirt off, and pulled my jeans down. I felt him,” she said.

“Up until that point, I considered myself fairly knowledgeable,” she said. “But it took me a second to realize what was happening. I remember thinking, ‘Is that what I think it is? Is that what’s happening right now?'”

“Why are you making such a big deal of it?”

Smith does not remember getting dressed after the rape. She remembers standing outside the car, smoking a cigarette and shaking, and her boyfriend saying he didn’t know why she was making such a big deal out of it. So she drove them down the mountain and back to campus.

It took all of her strength not to drive off the mountain. She returned the car to her friend, went back to her dorm, sat down in the shower fully clothed, and cried.

Although Smith’s patron is Maria Goretti, the teenaged saint who was stabbed to death while resisting rape, Smith said the concept of rape was foreign to her. She didn’t want to accept that something so ugly had happened to her.

“When I tried to figure out what had happened, I would say, ‘He had sex with me, but I didn’t,’” she said.

Smith texted her boyfriend the next day, saying she didn’t want to see him again. He responded by calling her a bitch and a prude, and saying, “You know you liked it.” She blocked his number.

The victims always blame themselves.

Smith skipped many classes her sophomore year, unable to endure being in the same room with him. Her GPA slipped to 1.2.

It wasn’t until the beginning of her junior year that she heard the word “rape” applied to her ordeal. She was at a party hosted by her theology teacher, Eric Jenislawski, after a meeting of the Chester-Belloc Debate Society. Smith and her brother stayed long after midnight talking, and Jenislawski told her he knew something had happened to her. He said she noticed a change in her, and wanted her to know he was there to help her if she wanted to talk.

Smith told him what happened

“I’m so sorry you were raped,” Jenislawski said.

At first she didn’t want to allow that word, and grew defensive, blaming herself for the assault.

“When you’re Catholic you’re taught that your virginity is one of the best gifts you have, a gift you can give your husband,” Smith said. “I had been a virgin. I had been waiting for marriage. I was that fallen woman, and I didn’t want my parents to see me that way. That was not how my parents were, but sex assault is unique crime. The victims always blame themselves.”

But Jenislawski was the first one who made her feel like the rape wasn’t her fault. He encouraged her to get counseling and to tell the school administration what had happened. An RA friend, Elizabeth Foeckler, also encouraged her to go to the administration.

“I had seen already something was wrong, something had happened,” Foeckler said.

The idea of reporting her rape scared Smith. The young man was charismatic, well-known, and well-liked on campus. When she told a few of her friends that something had happened between them, he began circulating the story that she had seduced him and then regretted it.

“Hit me.”

He then began approaching and provoking her on campus. One day, she was sitting and waiting for a friend to come out of his dorm, and the young man who had assaulted her came out. He sat beside her and began to make small talk, putting his hand on her leg. She felt frozen and could not reply. After what felt like hours, he left. She fled to her dorm and went to bed.

Another day, while other students played some sort of game on campus, the young man approached her and began to insist that she slap him across the face.

“He kept saying, ‘Hit me.’ He kept grabbing my hand and trying to make me slap him,” Smith said.

Smith thinks he might have been trying to make it appear that she was the one who assaulted him. He also told some students that she pulled a knife and forced him into sexual acts.

Smith’s grades continued to slide, and her mental and physical health suffered as students and even outsiders, people she didn’t know, would approach her in the dining hall to talk about the ordeal.

The chances of going to trial are very low.

In April of 2011, Smith decided to tell the police about the rape. Front Royal Police told her it was out of their jurisdiction, since it had happened in a national park. Discouraged, Smith hesitated, then eventually called law enforcement rangers and met with them at Shenandoah National Park.

They explained to her that a prosecutor would take her case, but that the chances of going to trial, much less of the young man being prosecuted, were very low.

Smith’s father consulted with a lawyer friend, who said that the best they could realistically hope for would be that the young man’s record would include an accusation of rape. If he was accused again in the future, the record would help support that accusation.

“But the job of the press would be to make me out a liar,” Smith said, noting that rape victims often find the trial to be more traumatizing than the actual event. “The idea of being torn apart in court by someone with a law degree, and it being in the paper, was too much for me to imagine. So I pinned all my hopes for justice on my Catholic, conservative college, to uphold moral principles.”

So she went to the then-dean, Jesse Dorman, and reported the rape and subsequent harassment. The school promised to conduct a “complete and careful investigation.”

In loco parentis

Next came many months of frustration for the Smith family. In a letter dated May 16, 2011, Scott Smith, her father, wrote to Timothy O’Donnell, the president of Christendom,

“Adele’s grades plummeted that first semester of her sophomore year. She sought psychological help from Dr. Patrick Divietri. She has nightmares about the incident. She developed Crohn’s disease, a disease exacerbated by severe stress. Adele has no ‘bad girl’ reputation on campus. Her subsequent behavior is entirely consistent with that of someone who has been traumatized and assaulted. She implored [her brother] Peter to continue to live in Front Royal and to visit the campus often because she felt so unsafe.”

Scott Smith states in his letter that he left messages for nearly a week before he was able to arrange to speak to the dean, and that the telephone conference was “disquieting.”

“We clearly received the impression that Mr. Dorman wasn’t going to do anything . . . Mr. Dorman showed no apparent interest in pursuing any sort of investigation,” Scott Smith wrote.

Dorman, who no longer works for Christendom, did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Smith’s parents also drove the four hundred miles to meet with the dean, hoping to encourage him to take the charges against their daughter’s rapist seriously.

“Forgettable as most commencement addresses are, I remember yours clearly,” Scott Smith wrote to O’Donnell. “You spoke to the parents of the graduating students gathered there of the profound sense of responsibility you felt of acting in loco parentis for our children and your gratitude that we, as their parents, had entrusted our children to you . . .

“But here Christendom has done the opposite. It has sent the implicit message to women at Christendom that the such attacks ‘within the Christendom family’ will be tolerated, that the attacker will receive no punishment, that women who are attacked will have to endure the fear of retaliation, both on a physical level, and on the level of damage to their reputations.”

“So now my daughter must endure the presence of her attacker on the campus. Each day that goes by, she is reminded that nothing will happen to him. Each day she is persuaded that the college has no intention of supporting her.

A week later, in a letter dated May 23, 2011, President O’Donnell responded.

“Respectfully, I must disagree with your recollection . . . [in loco parentis] is not a phrase that I use with any frequency,” O’Donnell wrote toward the end of his letter to Scott Smith. “But more importantly, I think that you might be using the term more broadly than is appropriate in this matter. In speaking with our counsel, it is my understanding that under Virginia law, the doctrine of in loco parentis as applied to colleges and universities simply means that Christendom has a responsibility to provide a safe campus for its students. Christendom is very diligent in making sure that it provides a safe campus for the education of our students.”

Throughout the letter, O’Donnell refers to the young man by his last name, but refers to Adele Smith by her first name.

In the letter, O’Donnell tells Smith’s father that the school “understands the anguish” the Smith family is feeling as they wait for a judgment against the young man, and that the college will make “a complete and careful investigation of [Smith’s] allegations before rendering a decision that will impact both the life of the accused and the accuser.”

“After a prior incident”

Two months later, the school explained what the young man would be charged with: harassing Smith “after a prior incident.” The charges do not mention rape.

In the charge letter delivered to the young man on July 19, 2011, then-dean Jesse Dorman wrote:

“The intent of the Student Life Office is to support each student as he or she works to grow in virtue . . .

“we have reports that indicate that you have violated the Code of Student Conduct by harassing another student and causing emotional harm. The reports indicate that Adele Smith indicated, after a prior incident with you, that she no longer wanted a relationship with you. Then on November 24, 2009, you sat next to her on a bench and made unwanted contact with her by placing your hand on her knee. Furthermore, it is alleged that you continued to harass her by trying to provoke her to slap you, hit you or kiss you. Another student instructed you to leave her alone but you continued. After Adele did slap you, you allegedly said, ‘If you slapped me really hard and it really hurt, I wouldn’t want to kiss you.’ It is further alleged that on other occasions you went out of your way to volunteer with groups of friends that Adele had seduced you.

“Therefore, you are being charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct.”

A disciplinary conference was scheduled for July 28 of 2011. The school determined the young man was “responsible for the violation of Harassment.”

His punishment: He could not live on campus for one semester, and he could not contact Adele Smith.

Smith and her family were floored. There was no mention of her accusation of rape, either in the charge letter or in the sanction letter. The entire passage describing his offense is as follows:

“Specifically, you admitted: to placing your hand on Adele Smith’s knee, attempting to provoke her to slap you and or to kiss you to deal with her frustrations with you, and finally for telling some students around campus that she had seduced you. You did emphasize at length with regards to the first two incidents that they were not done maliciously and you found them to be normal interactions. As I informed you at the meeting, I do not find these interactions with Adele to be acceptable, appropriate, or in keeping with our Code of Student Conduct. Therefore I found you responsible for the violation of Harassment.”

What does the handbook say?

The school apparently based its response on two facts: First, there was, in 2011, no clause in the student handbook prohibiting sexual assault. Amanda Graf, the current Director of Student Affairs at Christendom, confirms that student handbook did not include a policy against sexual assault until 2013, two years after Smith reported her rape.

Second, the rape occurred off campus; and so the school considered itself helpless to respond to it.

“[T]he alleged assault of Adele did not take place on campus. Rather, the incident apparently occurred in a national park several miles away from Christendom’s campus,” O’Donnell wrote in his letter to Scott Smith. “Moreover, both Adele and Mr. [redacted] are adults — meaning that Christendom faculty and staff have inherently limited options for enforcing standards of appropriate (or even prudent) conduct, especially when students leave the confines of campus.”

When you come back to campus, you’re still a rapist.

Students are, however, punished for coming back to campus drunk, even if the drinking took place off campus — for instance, at “The River,” a popular drinking spot where even professors are known to visit and socialize. “The River” and the drinking that occurs there is an open secret that the administration is aware of.

“I always find it interesting they always try to punish students for drinking off campus, if you come back to campus drunk,” Smith said. “I say, if you rape off campus, when you come back to campus, you’re still a rapist.”

Smith says that the administration cracked down on professors hosting off-campus parties, because they involved drinking. The message delivered was clear, according to Smith.

“We care if you drink off campus, but not if you rape off campus,” she said.

Sanctions

Although the school imposed sanctions on the young man, he was taken under the wing of one of its founders and professors, William Marshner, and he lived in Marshner’s house for the semester he was barred from living on campus. Marshner has since left Christendom.

After the sanctions were imposed, Smith and the young man still had classes together, including core classes that were required for all students.

“It was up to me to avoid him,” she said. “I would go down the road to the convenience store, and he’d be sitting outside, and I couldn’t walk in. I would go to the only cafe in town, and he’d be sitting outside. I would turn around and drive right back. All his body language was hostile and arrogant.”

Her focus and concentration were gone.  Her grades continued to be low for the rest of her junior year.

“It was my story.”

Then, one day during her senior year, her friend texted her that Marshner was talking about her in his moral theology class, using thinly veiled language.

The teacher gave the class a hypothetical example of a young man and woman who were dating and decided to go off campus to Skyline Drive. In the example, they decide to fornicate, but then the young woman regrets her choice, and decides to claim the young man attacked her.

“In what world is this okay?” Smith said. “It was my story. Everyone knew.”

Smith complained to the school, and she says they gave Marshner “a slap on the wrist.”

Smith considered leaving the college, and looked into other schools. Her parents, brother, and friends encouraged her to transfer.

“But the stubborn Irish in me determined if I left, he would win. He’s taken enough from me; he’s not gonna take this.”

But he did take it away from her, she says.

“I can’t get into grad school with my GPA. It’s hard to explain why my GPA is so poor.”

It takes a long time to change the handbook.

The young man left Christendom in Smith’s senior year. His absence helped her reclaim some of her focus. But in that year, 2012, a year after she reported her rape, the school still had not added a policy against sexual assault to their student handbook.

“There was nothing to stop this from happening again,” Smith said.

Smith says the school claimed it “takes a long time” to implement changes in school policy.

“No, it takes opening a word document and writing it up: ‘Don’t rape people.’ If there’s a single member on your board who has an issue with that, they shouldn’t be on that board,” Smith said.

Smith continued to call the school after graduation to see if they had changed the policy. In 2013, after Smith had graduated from the school, she again downloaded the student handbook and was aghast to see there was still no language forbidding sexual assault by students. It wasn’t until August of that year  that the language was added to the handbook.

The student handbook now includes a sexual assault policy.

Christendom College does not receive federal funding, and so is not subject to Title IX regulations, which would legally require it to respond to and remedy hostile educational environments. This also means there is no publicly available data about sexual assaults or other crimes taking place on campus, as is required of Title IX schools.

***

This story was researched and reported by Damien and Simcha Fisher.

 This is the end of part I. Part II can be found here. Below are pdfs of the four letters referenced above.
***
Image credits:
christendom sign: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Statue By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
regina coeli hall By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352616
student center By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352611
front royal clock  Clevergrrl via FLickr
church By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
men’s dorm By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
seal By Niall ODonnell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hurt by Catholics? Don’t deny the bad, but try to find the good.

It was not a representative of the Church that wounded me, but someone else, a long time ago. I want to tread very carefully because I cannot know what suffering other people have endured, and I would not presume to tell anyone else what to do. All I can tell you is what I have experienced.

The other day, I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. It’s taken many years to get here.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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unsplash-logoLarm Rmah

What’s for supper? Vol. 114: Hello, chicken, my old friend

Sorry for the light posting this week! It’s just been crazy-go-nuts.
Thanks so much for the prayers for my father as he recovers from his triple bypass surgery on Monday. He has had some ups and downs, as you can imagine. He is recovering, but it is a tough road for sure, especially as they work on managing his pain without too many bad side effects.

At the end, I have a few things to say to Etsy merchants and other craftsmen, plus a hat recommendation, because it’s a food blog. I don’t know.

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SATURDAY
Chicken blueberry salad

Blueberries were 99 cents a pint at Aldi, so I changed my menu on the fly. I roasted some chicken breasts and sliced them thin. We had mixed greens (no Romaine lettuce, just to be safe) with the chicken, plus minced red onions, toasted walnuts we never managed to bake with over Christmas, feta cheese, blueberries, and balsamic vinegar dressing.

So pretty and delicious.

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SUNDAY
Chicken cutlets with basil

The Husband wanted to cook, so he made homemade marinara sauce and these magnificent chicken cutlets. Very labor intensive, but so worth it, especially when your husband is making it.

You pound the chicken, bread it (he used panko bread crumbs, which are so nicely fluffy), fry it, top it with a fresh basil leaf and a slice of provolone, and then ladle some hot marina sauce over it all so the cheese melts and tucks in the basil leaf like a sweet little sleeping child which you then devour.

 

Whenever he suggests making this dish, I think, “Oh, we should have some pasta. Just chicken and sauce isn’t enough.” I am always wrong. This meal is paradise in your mouth. Even the savages appreciate what a treat it is.

We also had a ridiculous chocolate trifle for dessert. I made enough for two nights, which was not truly a problem, as problems go.

I baked one box of triple chunk chocolate brownies, then broke it up into little pieces. I made four boxes of instant pudding, two chocolate and two mocha, and I grated one giant chocolate bar and six or seven Heath bars, and then whipped up some cream with sugar and a healthy amount of Kahlua. Then I just layered everything up in several layers in two glass bowls.

I only got lousy pictures, but this is truly a fail-proof dessert, and is going on the list of fancy-danciness. I don’t yet own a trifle bowl, but oh, I see more trifle in our future.

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MONDAY
Hot dogs and chips

Monday we had my sister’s little kids over so she could drive up and be with my father during and after his surgery, so we kept dinner simple.

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TUESDAY
Kids still here. Arms getting tired. Chicken nuggets and . . . something. Oh, frozen corn. It turns out I am old and frail, and yell a lot.

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WEDNESDAY
Chicken quesadillas with cheddar and jalapenos.

Wednesday I drove up to see my father in the hospital, an Damien took a sick day to hold down the fort at home. When he makes quesadillas, he folds the tortilla in half on the pan, and then he turns the tip over again, to seal it like an envelope. Maybe I was feeling sentimental, but this seemed so tidy and brilliant and wonderful to me. No chicken escaped.

It was also on Wednesday that everyone noticed I had made a weekly menu that was just wall-to-wall chicken. This was unintentional. I guess we were simply having a wonderful Chickentime.

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THURSDAY
One-pan chicken thighs with roast vegetables

Everyone loves this dish from Damn Delicious.

I used a large butternut squash, two pounds of Brussels sprouts, three pounds of red potatoes, a pound of baby carrots, and about 18 or 20 chicken thighs. It was way too much food, but I can’t help myself. I filled my two giant quarter sheet pans, which, by the way, continue to be my smartest purchase ever. No warping, and they are useful for so many things — containing the mess when rolling out cookie or pastry dough, for instance, or keeping beads or buttons from rolling away while the little guys play, or for preserving unfinished board games if you have to clear the table to eat. We also use them as serving trays to organize meals with lots of little bowls and saucers and bottles of things. Pans!

I am old and frail. I yell about pans.

I was able to prep all the vegetables in about 25 minutes in the morning, and then I finished it up pretty quick right before supper. It’s a lot of chopping, obviously, but then you just season everything, put it all in the pan together, and chunk it in the oven. It takes slightly longer than the recipe says. Here’s an old pic of pre-cooked veg, because I have lost track of the ones I took yesterday. Isn’t it pretty? You want color in January.

I cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and scooped out the pulp, then put it in the microwave for 4-5 minutes to soften up a bit. Then I could peel it pretty easily with a sharp knife. I have lost my potato peeler, so I’ve been using a cheese plane, but I lost that, too. Somehow I can always put my hand on a knife, though, she said somewhat ominously.

Why is it “omInous” instead of “omEnous?” I protest.

Ah, I found a picture! Here’s the cooked dish:

So nice. I’m having leftover veg for lunch right now.

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FRIDAY
Fish tacos

Frozen fish sticks on tortillas with shredded cabbage, sliced avocado, salsa, sour cream, cilantro, and lime. Good schtuff. Here’s a picture from a previous meal:

Oh, I’m trying out a new affiliate program called Skimlinks. It’s sort of an umbrella affiliate system that works with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of merchants. So the links above, to the pans, the cheese planer, and the trifle bowl are affiliate links which can earn me a small profit. So click away, me hearties! (As far as I can tell, Skimlinks just requires bloggers to follow FTC regulations about disclosing relationships with merchants, so fingers crossed I’m not violating anyone’s arcane TOS this time!)

I’ve also become an Etsy affiliate, and will be doing a monthly Etsy artisan feature. In the meantime, may I point you toward an awesome shop called Hats By Charlotte? We ordered this hand-knit Samus hat for our oldest for Christmas, and it’s awesome.

It’s soft, comfortable, and well-made, and Charlotte was a pleasure to communicate with. We ordered late and the hat came sooner than we could reasonably expect. Highly recommended! Lots of neat, geeky patterns.

ONE MORE THING. I’ll be doing a handmade Valentine’s Day feature here in a few weeks. If you have romantic or relationship-related gifts to sell, especially unusual or hard-to-find items, please drop me a line at simchafisher[at]gmail[dot]com with “Handmade Valentine Feature” in the subject heading, with links and photos of one or two items with a short description. Deadline is January 26. Thank you!
(Open to all, not just Catholics. Not all submissions will be featured. No essential oils, please. They give me a headache even just online.)

 

His surrendered body: Astronauts (and others) who grow in space

Astronauts grow in space! Actually, they don’t really grow, which would mean they would have more cells. Instead, they stretch, especially in the spine, because their bodies take a vacation from the constant compression of gravity.

Most astronauts grow a few centimeters, but Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai grew 9 centimeters, which is 3.5 inches, during only three weeks aboard the ISS — and he’s now afraid he might not fit into his space suit or his custom protective seat that cradles their bodies at the impact of landing. In the interview I heard (which is not yet available online), the expert assured us that the seat and suit are adjustable, and can be modified to keep Kainai safe.

I love listening to astronauts. They always convey some combination of the good cheer of rugby players, the unflagging courtesy of retired military men, and the bland precision of engineers. The fellow they interviewed for the BBC was no exception, but I was taken aback when the interviewer asked how quickly astronauts return to their normal height after they return to earth.

Almost immediately, it turns out. The astronauts tone remained cheerful, but his vocabulary suddenly turned rather florid as he described feeling the discs of his spine compressing under gravity, the “punishing oppressor.”  He seemed to take the effects of gravity personally; and he seemed to feel that space was where he truly belonged.

I thought immediately of Out of the Silent Planet, which I recently re-read. It’s the first in C. S. Lewis’ “space trilogy,” and has philologist Dr. Elwin Ransom kidnapped and forced onboard a small ship that travels to Malacandra (Mars), where, his captors erroneously imagine, the natives demand human sacrifice.

Out of the Silent Planet was written in 1938, nearly twenty years before the launch of Sputnik; so the science of space travel in the book is vague and conjectural. The kidnappers’ spaceship is spherical, and the cabins are grouped around a hollow center, which feels “down” to them. It’s never explicitly explained, but presumably some kind of artificial gravity has been contrived. Ransom’s body, we are told, feels unmanageably light, and so the three men wear weighted suits — which they later strip off when their vessel gets too hot for clothing. So, some inconsistency, unless I’m missing something.

(I also tried reading this book to my kids, and they got very hung up on the part where Ransom is still naked, but decides to hide a kitchen knife in case he needs to defend (or kill) himself. Where did he hide the knife? We never got past that chapter. )

Anyway, I adore the way Lewis describes the effect of the sun on Ransom. Here are some of his first impressions after he gets over his initial terror:

The Earth’s disk was nowhere to be seen, the stars, thick as daisies on an uncut lawn, reigned perpetually with no cloud, no moon, no sunrise, to dispute their sway. There were planets of unbelievable majesty, and constellations to dreamed of: there were celestial sapphires, rubies, emeralds and pin-pricks of burning gold; far out on the left of the picture hung a comet, tiny and remote: and between all and behind all, far more emphatic and palpable than it showed on Earth, the undimensioned, enigmatic blackness. The lights trembled: they seemed to grow brighter as he looked. Stretched naked on his bed, a second Dana, he found it night by night more difficult to disbelieve in old astrology: almost he felt, wholly he imagined, ‘sweet influence’ pouring or even stabbing into his surrendered body. All was silence but for the irregular tinkling noises. He knew now that these were made by meteorite’s, small, drifting particles of the world-stuff that smote continually on their hollow drum of steel; and he guessed that at any moment they might meet something large enough to make meteorites of ship and all. But he could not fear. He now felt that Weston had justly called him little-minded in the moment of his first panic. The adventure was too high, its circumstance too ‘solemn’, for any emotion, save a severe delight.

How I would love to ask some astronaut if any of this rings true. Lewis continues:

But the days — that is, the hours spent in the sunward hemisphere of their microcosm — were the best of all. Often he rose after only a few hours sleep to return, drawn by an irresistible attraction, to the regions of light; he could not cease to wonder at the noon which always awaited you however early you were to seek it. There, totally immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour and of unrelenting though unwounding brightness, stretched his full length and with eyes half closed in the strange chariot that bore them, faintly quivering, through depth after depth of tranquillity far above the reach of night, he felt his body and mind daily rubbed and scoured and filled with new vitality. Weston, in one of his brief, reluctant answers, admitted a scientific basis for these sensations: they were receiving, he said, many rays that never penetrated the terrestrial atmosphere. But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now — now that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren; he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the Earth with so many eyes — and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens — the heavens which declared the glory — the ‘happy climes that ly Where day never shuts his eye Up in the broad fields of the sky.’ He quoted Milton’s words to himself lovingly, at this time and often.

Whether or not the actual experience of being in space is anything like what Lewis imagined, his fictional description has forever rescued the word “space” for me, too — Lewis, aided by many happy childhood memories of bundling into the car in the middle of the night with a telescope to see some wonder, a comet, a convergence of planets, or just the naked, glorious river of the Milky Way, way out in the country where no streetlights glared and the only sound came from cows shifting their weight as they slept.

I never understood the common trope that gazing at space makes us feel small and insignificant. Why on earth would beauty make you feel that way? Beauty tells us that the world means something, and so do we.

Whenever there is a story on the news about space, I feel myself stretch and grow a little bit, and I don’t compress again until the story is over.

Area Woman Pinning An Awful Lot On That One Run

Area woman Simcha Fisher rebounded from her Christmas and New Year’s slump with a brisk one-mile run this week.

“It’s so good to get moving again,” Fisher said, toweling off her neck with a mitten. “Whew, it’s been too long!” Fisher didn’t say so out loud, but she privately believed her hips had actually already gotten a little bit smaller even in that one run, probably because the fat was just temporary silly holiday fat, and not actual regular fat.

All through December, Fisher had allowed countless phalanxes of cookies and cake, various smoked meats and soft cheeses, sugared nuts, candied fruit, and cream-filled alcoholic beverages to parade down her gullet like a conquering army marching down the streets of an occupied city. But she did go for that one run, and is going to run some more at some point soon, so.

“It’s actually a huge relief to be back in the routine of working out again,” Fisher continued, mentally scoffing at her former bad habits that may have crept up a bit over the course of the last few weeks, during which her only physical activities were cooking, baking, shopping for more food, and cutting mammoth wedges off panettone sweet bread, which is just bread, and not really cake.

Fisher slenderly untied her virtuous running shoes, saying, “I’m going to take tomorrow off and then bump it up to two miles the next day.” She laughed quietly to herself as her abdomen bulged over the waist of her leggings.

“That belly doesn’t even bother me, because I know I’m already working on it,” she said. “I even started running again!” She then rolled her eyes derisively some of those poor suckers who were just starting out at the gym this year, and who were actually fat, instead of just temporarily silly fat.

Fisher than sat on a stool and ate some quick granola, just a little bit to keep the energy up, and then, ooh, there is some of that smoked gouda left, while making her schedule for the coming week. She noted that January was going to be really busy, and it would be hard to find time to get to the gym.

“Well, I’ll fit it in when I can,” she said. “It just feels so good to be active again.”

Actually, that run was last week.

 

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Dancing Venus by Nina Paley

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