HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Talitha” is a pseudonym.
I came to Patrick Henry College as a girl with big dreams and a go-getter attitude. Maybe my dreams were too big, but I was prepared to work hard to get where I wanted to be. After surviving a life of poverty, I realized that nothing comes free in life. During my high school years, I never knew if I was going to have food on the table the next day. My experiences with being low-income motivated me to do well in life — both for me as well as for the people I loved and left behind to attend school.
It was ironic, then, when I stepped on campus and people automatically labeled me: “Oh… that rich girl.”
At first I was flattered that people thought my thrift-store business casual wardrobe was akin to designer fashion. But I soon realized it wasn’t about my clothes at all. Sure, they judged me by the color of my hair and the fact that I wore high heels. But eventually it became clear it was more about my attitude than anything. I was too assertive. I raised my hand in class when I had something to say. I ran for student senate. I actually talked during senate meetings. I attended all sorts of club meetings. I helped run several clubs, in fact.
I did these things because, for me, this was a second chance at life. I had an opportunity to be a part of something regardless of my financial status. Through good grades and test scores, a crap ton of volunteer hours, and demonstrated dedication to several part-time jobs, I was able to attend PHC alongside the sons and daughters of millionaires. I was thrilled to get the educational opportunity of those in the top bracket. I dove in head first, because I was so grateful to be a part of the campus community. I wanted to make the most of my time there.
But apparently, people (especially boys) didn’t like that.
Be involved in the community, but not too involved, otherwise by default you’ll be smeared by people envious of your success.
Something PHC people don’t realize is that the moment you say something bad about someone behind their back, it’s as if you’ve said it to that person’s face. The gossip travels so quickly that it’s bound to get back to the person you smeared. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “hey, guess what so-and-so said about you?” and “oh, you wouldn’t believe how she talked about you.” “Guess what he said about you during coffee??” I lived with the rumors every day, and I was called atrocious things by people who said they were my friends. They thought I didn’t know, but the echo of the rumor mill ensured that I heard the same things they did.
I was called vain, a flirt, a suck up, a fake, a slut, bulimic, insecure, too ambitious, and disingenuous.
There finally came a point where I couldn’t believe they were “just rumors.” Something about them had to be true, right? Even though sometimes — when I walked into a room — I could see people look at me and start to whisper, I just tried to push on. Success never comes easy.
I couldn’t keep my head up, though. Despite all my efforts. I began living constantly terrified of what people thought of me. Without realizing it, I allowed the rumors to isolate me. People didn’t understand me, because I didn’t let a lot of people in. Although I looked okay, I had a wall up — and instead of getting to know me, people were quick to make accusations and judgments.
The next year wasn’t much better.
Because my professors recognized that I yearned for more responsibility, and gave it to me. I was put in charge of numerous projects and clubs, but with that, a level of authority my peers were unwilling to accept. I had “Christian” classmates calling me a “bitch” because they didn’t want me in a position over them. I had close friends call me “unapproachable”, one going so far as to personally smear me to professors so they could get the position they wanted. It was unbelievable, and I was deeply wounded.
I struggled severely with depression the entire year. But my classmates were too busy resenting my work-ethic that they didn’t notice.
Everything I did, someone questioned my motives, or called me a name. It got to the point that I could barely ask a question in class, without someone rolling their eyes at me or looking at me strangely. Every day, I wanted to crawl in a hole, and disappear. No one came to me to ask if the rumors were true. I felt completely isolated and alone.
RAs, tasked with enforcing dress-code, seemed to take a special liking to me. I would get dress coded at least once a day, and I lived in fear of “sending the wrong message” that I was a rebel. I wanted acceptance, but I began realizing that it would never happen at this place.
There comes a time when success in school isn’t enough to get you through the day. It’s not worth losing friendships over. It’s not worth the pain of people’s jealousy. At the point where I spent three days in bed, not getting up to eat or do anything, I realized I was done trying.
Congratulations, PHC, you broke my spirit.
The girl who was once confident, secure in herself, and goal-oriented is now confused, shaken up, and alone. She feels like the world is against her, simply because she wanted to make something of herself and make the world a better place for those who come from similar backgrounds of poverty and abuse.
On a campus that encourages excellence, I am, to this day, shocked at the hate people get when they succeed. The name calling is like they’re still in high school.
To the students of PHC: You, and your small comments and judgments, could be pushing someone deeper into depression every day. The person you see as an object of gossip also has feelings. The person who looks successful is actually torn apart inside because of your mean words.
I guess I was an easy one to pick on, but I hope no one else has to go through this. As I return to PHC this fall, I’m still wrestling with isolation and depression. I have panic attacks thinking about returning and I worry about what dramas await when I walk through the doors into my first class of the year. I will not be participating in the clubs, events, and senate that I have in years past. I’m withdrawing, but not altogether. I am crushed, but I’m not a quitter.
I need a semester to heal.
Wow, Talitha, I’m so sorry you’ve been treated this way. I’m glad you’re taking time to heal but also not quitting. Brave woman!
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The world is not against you! Christians are against you. I love you and hope you get everything you want.
Why not transfer to a different school? This place sounds like it’s been fricking horrible for you.
Probably because it is exceedingly difficult to transfer non-accredited credits to an accredited school. Probably because she can’t afford to go elsewhere.
This sounds too familiar. The gossip mill at PHC is fiercer than anything else I’ve encountered, helped along by “wing chapel” confessions to RAs who immediately tell their friends and “prayers” which turn into ways to air others’ troubles. You’ve lasted a lot longer than I did, and I hope you can find at least a few friends you can trust to talk to–I know there are still some good people there.
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Good for you for being who God created you to be! This experience will even make you stronger! This is how life is so often sweetie – you succeed and others push you down. I am not sure why you are returning – but keep your head up and smile and treat every one with extreme kindness.
I have more often felt alone in a group of Christians- because of who I am. I will not be fake and I will not be pushed down. You soar! There are people watching that want to soar too. http://banbossy.com/
PHC needs to be taking responsibility for this culture of bullying. I don’t care if they openly condone it or not. By dress coding/punishing you when you are hurting no one, and allowing this type of behavior to go unpunished, they are enabling it.
Have you considered trying to force them to do something about it? Calling names is abuse, and they should have anti-harassment policies (my guess is they don’t though). It might cause you more backlash, so it might not be a good idea. But making a complaint about the abusive and bullying behavior not being stopped (which is far more unchristian than any dress code violation) is well within your rights, as it seems pretty severe. It wouldn’t be legal in any secular workplace. I know that might not be safe for you to do though, since you still have two years left it sounds like.
No matter what, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, at the hands of hypocrites who are jealous they are not as hard working or independent as you. I’ve seen this happen a lot in cultures like PHC, and I think it’s doubly hurtful when it comes from people claiming to “love” others. I hope you find a way to make your time there happier, whether by focusing on the future after PHC or making friends outside of PHC.
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I am really sorry that people have treated you this way. It’s unfair, and unkind, and sounds terribly isolating. I wish I could do something to help.
I do encourage you to look into therapy, if you haven’t already. I was also depressed while I was at PHC, and didn’t look for professional help until years later. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that I had depression, it was an illness, and I needed help. There may be therapists/counselors in your area who would be covered by insurance. If insurance doesn’t cover it, some counselors see patients on a sliding scale (based on income and what people can afford to pay).
I know it won’t fix the toxic campus culture which led to your depression in the first place …. but counseling could do a lot to help you get through this difficult time. Also, maybe you can connect to some people outside of PHC, who might be less judgmental/better friends? You might be able to find some good people through meetup.com, or something like that.
Anyway, I really hope this year is better for you. And thank you for sharing your story.
Amen to this.
Talitha, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry for what you have had to go through at PHC. I experienced some of the malice and slander you did, and I hope you realize there are a lot of people going through exactly what you are. But like you, they put up a good face too.
I admire your spirit. You’re a fighter, but I know how hard it is to fight alone. Thank you for writing such an honest account that I’m sure many will be encouraged by. I also hope that you find someone or something to encourage you. Keep on keeping on. I hope that in some way, you will reap something good from your time at PHC.