As a doctoral student at Northern Seminary, I have been dismayed at recent events that have broken trust between the school’s board of trustees and the student/faculty population. Numerous articles have detailed the allegations of bullying that led to the seminary president’s defiant resignation. The board has proven stubbornly resistant to admitting their culpability in eroding trust, despite student efforts to cooperate with them in reconciliation, healing, and improved standards going forward. Students are questioning whether they can remain at a school that allows toxic leadership at the top yet is known for educating both women and men for ministry in a safe, caring environment. Students have begun communicating with board members individually, rather than merely collectively, hoping to press upon them the urgency of the problem.
In order to illustrate the tumult roiling the student body, I invited one of my classmates, Christine Calareso Bleecker, to share her eloquent letter sent to each board member. Christine is an executive life coach and litigation attorney of over 20 years who is passionate about defending the rights of the marginalized. Writing as a current Master of Theology and Women student at Northern Seminary, she represents the heart of the students and faculty who are grieved and angered by the hard-hearted behavior of the board.
Dear Northern Board of Trustees members,
I came to Northern (after originally starting at Gordon-Conwell), specifically to learn from Dr. Cohick and to pursue a degree in Women and Theology. My professors Drs. Cohick, Faro, and Felker-Jones have been nothing short of life-changing for me and for my faith. Northern appeared to be an oasis in the desert for women—a place that supported, championed, and empowered women of faith. After many years of being in places that did the opposite, I told everyone that would listen how amazing Northern was and how they were doing the good work of Tov. Unlike many churches and schools that had scandals and rampant abuse of all kinds, I felt safe at Northern.
I was therefore gutted and completely disoriented to find out that there was an ugly underside: a president that harmed women through his words, a board that enabled him, and a system of silence and hiding behind legality to keep from doing the important work of repair and restoration. I could not believe this was happening at my beloved Northern. With each tone-deaf communication or complete silence from the board, my grief has only grown.
Indeed, in the last two months I have gone through the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. However, I want to be clear that I will NOT be going through the final stage of acceptance because:
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT the behavior of the board in recent months.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT a board that turns a blind eye and deaf ear to its students, faculty, and staff, especially its women.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT a board that creates a system where abuse can occur without oversight.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT the firing of a whistleblower.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT the propping up and protection of a president that has caused so much harm.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT behavior that has led to the resignation of Dr. Cohick.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT behavior that has led to the resignation of Fay Quanstrom.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT behavior that is unethical, immoral, and illegal.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT behavior that does not put its students, staff, and faculty first.
I DO NOT AND CANNOT ACCEPT a board that acts in contrast with the school’s mission of Tov.
As a Christian and a woman I am at a loss for words at the lack of Board support and response to students’ requests. As a lawyer, I am dumbfounded at the decision to fire Jennie Boysen, and the request for her to sign an NDA which is illegal as a condition of severance.
Your actions have caused hurt and harm. Your actions have broken our hearts. Your actions have questioned our decision whether to stay at Northern.
But please know that we will not stop fighting for victims. We will not stop fighting for systemic change. We will not stop fighting for Tov.