Frivolity, Bob-Jones-style

And now I’m looking into darkness;
And everything around me makes no sense.
I feel like hating everyone but you;
You’ve always come to my defense.
Nathan Davis, “Carolina Sky”, from the album Nathan Davis LIVE

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I spent two years at Bob Jones Academy, which is the high school associated with Bob Jones University, against my will. My mother dragged me to Greenville shortly after she and my father divorced (in part due to her religious conversion) and stuck me in that place. I was totally unprepared for it – especially for southern fundamentalist culture. When I read the handbook, I remember asking my mother what in the world they meant by “no mixed bathing.” I thought they were talking about boys and girls taking a bath together. I was from West Palm Beach, Florida, where the beach and bathing suits were as normal as palm trees or seafood.

I lasted two years, ninth and tenth grades. During the winter of my tenth grade year, I had dated a guy who was in the 11th grade. He and a group of seniors used to go to some bar in Greenville where the manager would allow them to have a room upstairs which they dubbed “The Upper Room”and they’d drink some beer in privacy, wait until they were sure they were nicely sober, and then go back to the campus.

Only one particular weekend in March, all the seniors had a poetry notebook due for English class and naturally, none of them had done it. So they bowed out and my friend went alone, and got very drunk. And came back on campus in that condition, and got himself very shipped.

And blabbed a lot, more or less incoherently, and got a bunch of us in trouble.

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And that is how I found myself in the Administration Building the following week, along with several of my fellow students. There were two other girls and about 12 boys.

We were placed in a waiting room, where we immediately realized we were being tape-recorded, and had to wait there while each one of us was called into an adjoining conference room to be interrogated.

I was the third person in, preceded by the two other girls. Nobody came out the way they went in, so we didn’t see each other again until after it was all over.

In the conference room, at one of those long lawyer-office tables, was Dr. Bob III, Dr. Marvin Lewis (campus “pastor”), Miss Riley (Dean of Women), Miss Barker (dorm supervisor), Dr. Liverman (Dean of Men) and probably a couple of other people I’ve forgotten. Dr. Bob, Jr. was out of town, and Dr. Bob III (who wasn’t using the title of “Dr.” yet) was filling in. He was 25 years old, so young that it’s astonishing to me to realize it now. I turned 15 that week.

They began by telling me that they wanted me to understand that they knew everything I knew, that the other girls had told them everything and that my inebriated friend Steven had told them everything. They just needed for me to verify what I knew that they already knew so they’d know that I was being honest and upfront with them, and insert Bible verse here.

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And I answered them, honestly. I told them that I knew exactly what they wanted to know – who was in the habit of going to town with Steven – and that I wasn’t going to tell them because I’d promised not to do so.

Dear Flying Spaghetti Monster, was I ever a dumb kid.

What ensued was utter chaos. Dr. Bob lost his temper, rather rapidly, and began yelling that I was “shipped”, loudly. Dr. Liverman kept trying to reason with me. Miss Riley was saying, “Now, my dear. . . ” in that soft drawl of hers. And I was crying, but stalwart. No way was I going to tell them.

The longer it went on, the more I knew that they didn’t really know anything. And I remember how horrified I was to realize that they were lying to me, but I knew they were.

They called my mother, working downstairs in the Business Office, and got her to talk with me on the phone and try to convince me to tell. No way.

More yelling. “You’re shipped!”

Finally, Dr. Bob said (yelled?) “You’re a silly, frivolous little girl and I have no use for you.” I have never forgotten those words and it has been fifty years. I can still hear them ringing. I replied: “What I think of you, sir, I cannot say because it’s all four-letter words.”

And he went off again, screaming “You’re shipped!  Get her out of here. She’s shipped!”

At this point, I was removed from the room and placed in an office nearby to wait. I wasn’t sure for what. I assumed it was for an escort to remove me from the campus or take me to my mother since I was shipped. My memory of this is of being locked in the room, but I’m not sure that was possible – I don’t know if those office doors would lock from the outside like that and lock somebody IN. I contemplated ripping the office to shreds but thought better of it and just paced.

They then interviewed all the remaining kids and somebody came back to get me.

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Dr. Marvin Lewis

When I went back to the conference room, Dr. Bob III was gone. I’m not sure how many of the others remained, but a few. They told me that I was being given a second chance, including 149 demerits (actually, fewer than that, since I already had a few), and I was going to have to be counseled by Dr. Liverman and Dr. Lewis at their convenience.

Dr. Lewis did the whole pastor routine. I’ve forgotten most of it and don’t think I had to see him but a few times. He would begin each session with prayer, during which he explained at length to God what a wretched human being I was and asked for mercy for me. Much appreciated by all, I’m sure.

I never knew why I had to see the Dean of Men instead of the Dean of Women, but I suspect it was because they thought I needed a father figure to talk with me.

Nobody told me the why of anything. I just did as I was told. It soon became obvious that the counseling sessions were designed entirely to get me to tell what I knew. The other two girls, far from telling them anything, had just done what brilliant teenage girls have done for thousands of years and I didn’t – burst into tears and proclaim that they knew nothing at all.

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The guys didn’t cry, but they also denied knowing anything at all, and it was obvious that Steven had offered up no names in his drunken state. I alone had the key to everyone’s safety. These boys were all seniors. Most of them were already accepted into one college or another. None of them were returning to the University.

At that time, if you were shipped from BJA during a school year, you lost that whole year. So these boys would have lost their senior year of high school, and wouldn’t have been able to go to college the following fall.

No way was I telling.

Dr. Liverman did everything in his power to get me to tell. He cajoled and read me passages from the Bible. He chatted kindly. He begged. I smiled and didn’t answer. I suspected that if I capitulated, I would miraculously obtain that final demerit the following day and be shipped for real. And eventually, he gave up and I stopped getting those lovely little pink slips.

And March turned into April and then May and then school was out. And I was denied re-enrollment for the following year, to my everlasting delight and joy. I went to Wade Hampton High School (public school) for the following two years and happily left Bob Jones behind forever.

Sort of.

After graduating from Greenville General Hospital’s School of Nursing, I moved into an apartment near the BJU campus and was treated to the Don incident, recounted here.

After that, I quit going to church for a while, only to walk right back into the frying pan a few years later. Married by then, we spent 14 years in fundamentalism, and then a few years as kinder, gentler evangelicals before I finally deconverted altogether in the late nineties.

“You’re a silly, frivolous little girl and I have no use for you.” The words have followed me for fifty years. Even though I knew it was baloney, that I was not silly  or frivolous and that he was just angry because I wouldn’t do as he asked, it was still awful.

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I cannot be anything but delighted to see him singled out in the GRACE report as a source of serious problems. He certainly was well on his way there when he was 25. How does it feel, Bob old buddy, to be sitting in the hot seat?

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