Parting is such bittersweet sorrow

Why I withdrew from SPU during times of trouble

Annie Symons, Guest Writer

Annie Symons in an Arizona State University sweatshirt after making the tough decision to complete her degree elsewhere.  (Courtesy of Annie Symons )

In general, life is about the balance of heavy and light. A tearful conversation with a loved one, loud laughter ringing through the walls of a movie theater, trudging through the rain and skipping in the sunshine. 

These concepts never quite level out equally, but the heaviness currently surrounding Seattle Pacific University is dangerously close to cracking the scale. This is one of the reasons I made the difficult decision to leave the university – the weight of being a student at a discriminatory institution became too much to bear.

As of September 2022, I had less than a year left in my studies and 160 college credits to my name. I created a plan for fall quarter with every intent to remain a student at SPU until I completed my degree. Sadly, my entire agenda fell apart before my eyes as I took a walk through campus about a week before classes began. 

With every step, I could feel the tension closing in. Collective heartbreak hung in the air like a dense fog. No matter how hard I tried, I could not ignore the negative, gloomy atmosphere that suffocated me from every direction.

Ultimately, my decision to leave SPU and pursue my studies elsewhere boils down to a few points, the first of which being my mental health. Even setting foot on campus would trigger debilitating nerves and unhealthy thoughts, and I could not afford to let my body and brain suffer. 

A successful student requires a mind with the capacity to learn. My mind could barely cope with the thought of attending classes while other members of the SPU community faced discrimination from the board of trustees, a group of individuals who claim to love the institution and act in its best interest. Pray tell me, is discrimination the best interest for SPU?

My inability to sit idly by while others experience oppression is embedded in my empathetic nature, another reason why I felt the need to withdraw. Empathy is both a blessing and a curse; it requires little effort to observe the world from multiple points of view, but it becomes impossible to avoid perspectives that are difficult to see. 

With conflict as vast and overwhelming as that which SPU is facing, my heart splinters every time I hear a testimony, see a social media post or read an article in a newspaper about students and staff who have been hurt by SPU’s recent actions. I cannot in good conscience remain a student at a university that has inflicted pain on people whom I care about so deeply. Allyship is not always the easiest choice, but it is always the right choice. 

Most college students wear many hats, but their main job is self-explanatory – go to classes, earn credits and graduate with a degree. I was a film studies major during my time as a Falcon, which is one of the smallest courses of study that SPU offers. 

In a way, my decision to withdraw was a result of SPU compelling me to do so. I only needed a handful of credits to graduate, but no one was teaching the classes that remained on my to-do list. With increasingly low enrollment numbers, many of the film studies classes were not offered simply because I was one of the only students, if not the only student, who needed to take them. 

Many students, staff and faculty have chosen to stay at SPU because of their love for the university and for their peers. I commend and respect each and every one of them, and I chose to leave for the same reasons: I loved the university that SPU once was, and I stand in love and solidarity with those whom SPU discriminates against.

At the end of the day, I feel at peace with my decision to leave SPU, but it certainly has its drawbacks as well. I found so many deep, valuable friendships with other students. I created relationships with my professors and had opportunities to learn from them as people, not just as default authority figures. I learned about God in remarkable ways in classes and clubs that had no advertised emphasis on theology. 

Unfortunately, due to the heavy statements from the board of trustees, I had to leave all of this light behind and look elsewhere to complete my academic journey. Since withdrawing, I have become an online student in Arizona State University’s English program. While I am excited for my future as a Sun Devil, this is my official swan song to SPU, the board of trustees and my fellow Falcons. 

I pray that the presence of heavy and light on SPU’s campus will regain its balance soon.