Belief systems should not justify prejudiced rhetoric

Articles are currently circulating claiming the SIUE Art Therapy Counseling program is unwelcoming of Christian views. It’s important to note our small learning community of 33 students is predominately made up of white, cisgender women—with a large portion of students identifying as Christian. As students, we have experienced the freedom to express our beliefs and value systems in the classroom. In fact, we are encouraged to do so in order to become self-aware art therapists. However, a line is crossed when students use their belief systems to justify racist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric. When Christianity is used as a shield for bigotry, one perpetuates the historical abuses that have occurred and continues to cause tremendous harm. Unfortunately, our program has a history and current reality of students who use their beliefs to justify such harmful rhetoric and action, which creates a toxic and harmful learning environment. 

Our program is among the top art therapy programs in the country and aspires to train exemplary and socio-culturally attuned clinicians. The three core faculty members have made a point to weave issues of intersectionality, critical self-reflexivity, and sociocultural awareness into most facets of our learning. Our student handbook states, “Our vision is that art therapy counselors cultivate creative, just, and healthy communities.” (Student Handbook, 2021, p. 3). In our learning environment, there is an expectation to not only understand our social positionality, but to also advocate for and with marginalized individuals, cause no harm, and work toward systemic change. The hope is that our graduates will be “equipped with the skills needed to succeed as culturally engaged professionals and self-reflective agents of change in our rapidly evolving and increasingly globalized world” (Student Handbook, 2021, p. 4). These values are reflected in the art therapy ethical codes as well (AATA principles 7.0-7.7; ATCB codes 1.5.6, 1.5.7).

If individuals cause harm to fellow students, how can we expect them to not cause harm to clients? As art therapists, we hold positions of power within the therapeutic relationship, and cannot allow this power to be used to hurt the people who seek us out for help. If the university expects to create art therapists who “take reasonable steps to ensure that they are sensitive to differences that exist among cultures” (Student Handbook, 2021, p. 8), how can one overlook the harm currently being caused in our learning community by the failure to meet this outcome? We must uphold our ethical standards and hold trainees accountable when these standards are not met. 

To address these concerns, we communally planned an art show and invited community members to engage in the discussion. Now that this conversation has expanded outward, it is necessary to hear our experiences before distorting the issue further. We urge those who have exploited these matters to make a statement that calls for an end to the threats made against members of our community. We invite these individuals to engage in open dialogue with us.


Signed past and present community members,

Aina Rivas, Daisy Yen, Hayley Limbach, Joey Caldwell, Kelly Baker, Prarie Bolschulte, Sadie Tanner-Pobocik, Yolanda Vidal, Abby Frolichstein-Gonzales, Anna Schulz, Bonita Owen, Emily Mancuso, Haven Wright, Kirsten O'Loughlin, Lyd Durr, Megan Moyer, Allyson Burns, Angela Chen, Anna Brough, Anne Geisz, David Brickhouse, Kristene Taylor, Madeline Miana, Marcela Tobar, Noelle Becker, Elizabeth Kessler, Anna Moore, Ariel Swoboda, Cecilia Ramsey-Hebert, Eva Sedjo, Haruka Kawata, Heather Conley, Katie LaCombe, Kayla Grobe, Megan Pieterick, Xueqi Xiao (Shaw), Tamara Eberle, Megan Barron, Renee S. D. Tate, Madeline Brenner, Paige Dirksen, Bailey Pyle, Kula Moore, Erin Dooley, Judy McGrath, Katrina Boogerd, Britni Brand, Kalen Smith, Julie Gant, Natasha Wood, Rani Cozad and Jennifer Bruner

(8) comments

Carly Caldwell

To further clarify, the issue is not people who are Christians, the issue is that some people spout harmful rhetoric and then claim that their religion prevents them from being accountable for racist, homophobic, transphobic words and actions.

There are many Christians who do not use their "beliefs" to cause harm, but some Christians like to claim exemption from responsibility because it's "what I believe". Your beliefs do not shield you from being responsible for the harm you have done to others.

Logan Wyatt

That may be true, but what harmful rhetoric did the individual Christian in this case say? If it’s just saying things that many believe to be incorrect, or saying things that might insult others, that’s not harmful rhetoric, that’s just having an opinion that other people don’t like. If she called for violence, or directly insulted someone, then that might be able to be considered harmful rhetoric, but I don’t see any evidence of that happening, at least not in this article. I also doubt that she called for violence or insulted others or the university would not have immediately dropped its no contact order on being threatened with the legal action. Also, to clarify what I mean by insulted, being insulted/offended by what someone says does not mean that person is insulting you. Now I do think we should avoid causing each other to feel insulted when possible, but especially when talking about controversial subjects that is nearly impossible. For example If someone says “the police ought to be defunded” to someone who strongly supports the police they’ll be insulted, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to say it, and vice-versa.

Haven Wright

Logan, thank you for taking an interest in this article. Many of us would love to tell you the exact words that were said. However, these incidents now have legal counsels involved. For the safety of our program members the exact harmful comments were not revealed here as they would out the students who are most vulnerable. Remember, an initial no contact order was given meaning based on the information they were presented it was deemed serious enough to move forward. In time, maybe more of this story can be shared. In the mean time, I encourage you to visit the comment section on the other part of this story covered in the article.

Logan Wyatt

If a Christian is being hateful, then that is obviously wrong. However, if a discussion is being had about something, say LGBTQ rights or abortion, things about which Christians often have strong beliefs, then that Christian ought not be barred from participating because some might find their beliefs insulting. If you do not want to hear a Christian point of view on a topic, then do not have a discussion of that topic in class. In addition, what this article fails to point out is that there was a project on microaggressions, and one of the things listed as a microaggression was the girl who was issued this no-contact order saying that, and I quote, her "personal beliefs are grounded in the objective truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ". When merely speaking about your beliefs as a Christian is considered a microaggression, I would say that pretty clearly counts as actual aggression, towards Christians. In addition, you can tell that most there was probably nothing said in a hateful or disrespectful way, because if there was the University would not have immediately dropped the no-contact order upon being threatened with legal action, as hate speech is grounds for discipline. Speech that someone else merely dislikes, on the other hand, is not, which is a good thing.

Jeffrey Mefford

Agreed. The statement, "As students, we have experienced the freedom to express our beliefs and value systems in the classroom", which is then used to justify bigotry against a student who acted, allegedly, in concert with her beliefs and value system utterly lacks self-awareness and displays classic hypocrisy.

Jeffrey Mefford

"When Christianity is used as a shield for bigotry, one perpetuates the historical abuses that have occurred and continues to cause tremendous harm." I'm trying to reconcile this with the headline.

Cleetus Yeetus

This article conflating Christianity with: bigotry, xenophobia, racism… seems to make their point.

John Doe

Actually, this is a letter to the editor, not an article.

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