Seven years ago, I could see today. In my mind, things were thriving; a new generation was raising the bar of academia and competition on the hill. Their voices were united and passionate about changing the future.
Seven years ago, I watched with a heavy heart as my beloved Shorter became a place that fostered hate instead of hope, criticized differences instead of praising individuality, and began a landslide that I hoped would never last this long.
You see, I am Shorter. I bleed blue, and have since the first time I stepped on that campus in the spring of 2000. I remember vividly the smiling eyes of Sharon Holcomb Ellis dropping everything she was working on to take me on a tour of the campus. It was a Saturday; she was in the office by chance. I wasn’t a burden to her; I was her mission. Sharon was a graduate of Shorter and, more than anything, she wanted to pour into me, for me to experience what Shorter meant to her, knowing one day I would feel exactly the same way. She is the sole reason I left everything and everyone I knew in my small town of Hiawassee and made Shorter my home.
During my time as a student, I knew my professors, especially Dr. Kristine Achhamer, Mrs. Gina McDaniel and Dr. Renva Watterson, treasured me. I knew that love meant challenging me to think on my own, to know what I believed in and why. They fostered my growth, and encouraged me to not be a carbon copy of everyone else, but to embrace my uniqueness. That kind of love wasn’t just found in the classroom. Marcia Slade encouraged me to not let financial obstacles be hurdles for education; those talks were often around her kitchen table on a Sunday after church with her family. Then there is the athletic department, at that time, a group of men who treated me like their daughter. There will never be another Walt Attaway, Richard Cowan, Vic Mitchell, Matt Larry or Ricci Lattanzi. They all pushed me to reach my dreams, but it was their passion for Shorter Athletics that rubbed off on me the most. They bleed blue, so I wanted to bleed blue. I wanted to be just like them.
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater that I really knew how much those above mentioned people and several others loved me. You see, when you get the chance to love on current Shorter students, you have a new level of appreciation for what others have done for you. Instantly, I understood why Sharon dropped everything that fateful Saturday to give me a tour. Words can’t adequately explain what it means to be Shorter; it’s an experience, a feeling of pride and loyalty. Being back on the hill allowed me the opportunity to give back to a school, a group of people who had, along with several others in Rome, helped me grow up.
As an employee, I witnessed things from a different perspective. As to be expected, things aren’t always rosy on the other side. Students are shielded, and rightfully so. BUT through it all, the faculty/staff at Shorter remained loyal to the mission of that university, which at the time was to provide accessible, high-quality education for students to accomplish their academic and career goals, by offering programs that meet the learner’s need in a challenging and nurturing Christian environment. In other words, give of yourself for the benefit of others, nurture an environment where our students can excel, and love them hard!
During my time in the Department of Athletics, Shorter experienced a season of growth. We were busting from the seams! This was all a direct result of the leadership of President Dr. Harold Newman, Director of Admissions John Head, Director of Athletics Bill Peterson, and several others. Shorter had emerged off the hill, and established itself as an active member in the community. Rome, too, was embracing the growth of Shorter! Dare I say, things were perfect!
The arrival of Dr. Donald Dowless on the hill changed the entire culture of the university. Immediately, without any regard to the foundation Shorter was built on in 1873, things started changing. Who can forget the day we all received the lifestyle pledge? I can’t! As a practicing Christian, I took issue with all but one of the four pledges — be loyal to the mission of the university. This was the first time I saw hate rise above love on the hill.
I signed the lifestyle pledge. I’m still embarrassed by that, and probably always will be. I signed it for two reasons, knowing that I would never hold myself to the standard of hate it pushed. Shorter was transitioning from NAIA to NCAA Division II, and seeing that three year process was important to me, to my alma mater, and my loyalty to Coach Peterson. The biggest reason though, is that I thought by staying I could be a part of restoring the old Shorter. I needed to make sure that the students at Shorter had the same wonderful experience I had.
I stayed at Shorter as long as I could, but I saw the writing on the wall. It was getting worse, not better. Issues outside of the lifestyle statement began to rise such as financial stability, enrollment numbers, and most of all, in my opinion, poor leadership decisions. After leaving Shorter in 2013, without the fear of being fired, I found my voice to stand up against the intolerance. I have been fighting since then.
My cry today is for the Georgia Baptist Convention to ask the hard questions, and to quit letting the current administration drive our precious Shorter into the ground. Ask to see the financials, all outstanding bills. Ask why over 400 faculty/staff have turned over in seven years. Ask to see the true enrollment numbers. Ask why the current sexual harassment scandal on campus took so long to be dealt with, and would it have been dealt with if it had not been made public? Be open minded to having discussions; start the discussions.
My cry today is for current and former students to lift your voices and demand change in the current administration.
My cry today is for current and former faculty/ staff to lift your voices and demand change in the current administration.
My cry today is for Rome to lift its voice and demand change in the current administration.
We must rise together to fight for the Shorter we remember and cherish.
Shorter holds a special place in my heart, and is a part of my identity. I will continue to fight for her, continue to hope for change, and continue to pray that we see her restored.
Rachel Rogers, ’04, ’10, was part of the Shorter University faculty/staff from 2008-2013 and now resides in Atlanta.