Students and faculty want to open up a dialogue and find solutions on this controversial issue
What does it mean to be a college for Christian Scientists? Principia faces this question when students working towards a healing feel led to use material support as well as prayer.
Dean of Students Debra Jones says, “Principia genuinely cares for all students and respects the choices students make regarding the means they seek for healing.” However, Jones remarks, “It’s good to remember that we are not a medically savvy community and are not set up to support long term medical needs.”
In order to help fulfill its mission, “to serve the Cause of Christian Science,” and to serve students, Principia has Policy 4. It states, “All members of the faculty and staff shall be active Christian Scientists…[and] will be expected to rely on Christian Science for healing.” The purpose of Policy 4 is to create a community of practicing Christian Scientists who “maintain the integrity” of Principia as Mary Kimball Morgan envisioned, said Tiffany Green, the Director of Christian Science Nursing for the College and School.
However, Policy 4 has stirred up controversy on campus. Junior and CSO President Vanessa Ramirez believes that students fear being labelled as “[bad] Christian Scientists.” It has been heard that some students also worry about the consequences that would result if the administration found out about the use of physical care. Supporting students’ needs while also upholding Principia standards is “walking a fine line,” said freshman Hannah Hathaway. Dean of Students Debra Jones said, “In my three-and-a-half years here no student has been asked to step away for relying on medical means.”
Another policy related to this topic is the Spiritual Reliance Policy. If a student is involved in a medical regimen, “the college will try to accommodate, as much as it is reasonable and for up to one semester.” This policy, Jones said, “has provided for temporary medical regimens while still trying to honor the spirit of Policy 4 [and] was designed to insure students could continue their academic work in a reasonable timeframe.” She acknowledged that “it’s not a perfect approach, but then nothing human is.”
This policy includes access to a Family Care Apartment where students can receive care from parents or medical care from a caregiver until another solution is found. This is a compassionate measure that the College offers and has only been used once in over two years, according to Jones.
If students are unable to progress out of their medical regimen after the semester ends, “Principia asks students to step back and work through the health concern with their family until it is resolved.” Not meeting this within a semester “does not mean being kicked out or being judged,” Green said. It lets students work through healing in a way they see as best while maintaining Principia’s standards.
Jones clarified what this means: “It’s good to remember that while Principia cares deeply about every student, this is not a medically savvy community and is not set up to support ongoing medical concerns. Stepping away and then returning does not affect academic or financial aid status.”
Some students find the one semester time restraint limiting. Hathaway believes the Spiritual Reliance clause sends problems away when “as a community [we] should be at the forefront” of thought in order to overcome challenges head on. Conversely, Ramirez knows a student that needed to leave in the best interest of their health.
Despite differing viewpoints, students and faculty are working together to achieve greater clarity. Student Government unanimously voted for “physical therapy” to be removed from the list of medical regimen that can only be used for a semester because of the long-term nature of physical therapy. This vote has been sent to the Board of Trustees who will make the final decision.
A committee of six campus leaders and two trustees is reviewing Policy 4 and considering how much medical usage should affect the status of prospective and current students. The findings from this committee along with “ample…review and input from the Principia community” will contribute to the Board of Trustees’ further decisions towards Policy 4.
Jones also said that the Administration has been “exploring for some time ways to adjust the temporary medical regimen to provide more equity to those engaging with temporary medical care late in the semester vs. early in the term.”
What are other steps moving forward? Green wants students to feel comfortable discussing and sharing misunderstandings as this is part of “constantly educating.”
Jones believes that whatever the trustees decide, there’s no getting around our continued need to “educate each other better about the ideals in Education at The Principia (EAP), [working] for greater clarity in distinguishing between Principia policies and Christian Science, [building] trust with each other, and putting policies and rules in perspective.”
Ramirez believes that a friendly conversation between the Administration and students would be beneficial. Rugby coach Ward Patterson agrees that open conversation is essential. To him, challenges should be taken case by case and considered with metaphysics and wisdom.
Due to the physical nature of athletics, the way that coaches approach injuries will be essential to progress on this issue.
Athlete Hathaway struggled with an ankle injury this past season. She appreciated the encouragement to use metaphysics but wished her coaches had provided her with more practical steps. She said that coaches “should be metaphysically grounded” and should help athletes face instead of ignore challenges. Coach Patterson agrees by encouraging his players to overcome challenges early on, either on their own or with help if need be.
Senior and rugby player Brannon Wittenberg likened coaches’ roles to military chaplains. Like chaplains, Wittenberg believes coaches should serve as a non-judgmental resource that lets players choose what is right for them while “providing as much unconditional love as possible.”
Principia has a unique responsibility as a college for Christian Scientists, which is to find prayerfully led solutions to student needs while also serving Christian Science. Above all the human rhetoric surrounding this issue, advice that Wittenberg gave seems fitting: “Leave it up to God. Let go and let God.”