In a way, I knew what I was getting myself into by going to Shorter. Everything about the 76 mile trek from Atlanta to Floyd county screams, “Turn around!! No, seriously! …why the fuck are you driving up here?” The further you get from urban life and Democrats, the lower the clouds dip down in the sky. Driving on highway 411, staring at endless horse farms and fields didn’t feel relaxing to me. It felt foreboding.
Shorter’s campus did little to reassure me that doom was not impending. The first time I stepped foot on “The Hill,” I walked up the stairs from the parking lot to see its Sunken Garden. The pit of brambles and decaying bushes should have been converted to a barbeque pit when the Georgia Baptist Convention pulled its funding due to a disagreement earlier that year. Turning the pit into anything else would have worked. Instead it remained there – a reminder to all that Shorter as an educational institution was helpless without the monetary support of The Church.
I don’t have enough pictures of the school, so I’ve made you a map. It’s not to scale and somewhat inaccurate… but when I think of Shorter, this is what I rememeber.
The main campus I’ve mapped out above was set on the top of a hill. I’ll mention other buildings later, but I think you get the gist. There was one road on campus that led you up the hill and then in a big loop around this main area. Over the next two and a half years I’d walk and drive that loop countless times doing everything from praying to getting high and laughing about how scary speed bumps were to drive over. The one drive that sticks out in my mind the most was the victory lap we took in Austin’s SUV the moment I received my acceptance letter from Berklee and knew that I would be leaving Shorter for good.
What this map doesn’t show is how weird Shorter was in 2004. There’s so much to explain, but I want to point out a couple of highlights.
1.) The Taxidermy Room. Oh yes, it’s true… there was a room filled with taxidermy on campus. The story (not sure about accuracy) is that one of the biggest donors to the school had a penchant for hunting rare animals and spent a good deal of his fortune having his trophies preserved. When he died, he donated the collection to the school, and despite the creepiness factor, they didn’t feel right about not honoring the last wishes of one who’d given them so much. They piled the taxidermy in a room adjacent the student center and the smell of formaldehyde and the overall terrifying nature of the (mostly) endangered creatures quickly scared the students away from hanging out in what was once their common room.
The taxidermy arrived sometime in the 80s, but remained in that same room throughout my stay at the school. I’ve heard it’s the reason they had to make a new student union.
2.) Fitton Student Union. The new student union had everything a Southern Baptist school could ever need. It had a giant staircase reminiscent of the staircases used for prom photos that the school used to photograph every sorority, fraternity and young Republicans group on campus. There was also a mini-chapel used for Rush, a game room, a coffee shop and an anti-alcohol and drug advisory box.
You think I’m kidding about that last part, but I’m not.
In our FUCKING student’s center, there was a glass case devoted to reminding us about the perils of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Right above the box was the composite photo of my future sorority. You can’t see it from this picture, but the labels on these bottles had phrases like ‘Sin 69’ and ‘Lung Death XXX.’
3.) Cooper Courtyard/ Mud Pit.
We arrived at Shorter in the fall of 2004, and little to our knowledge the school was in the midst of a tooth-and-nail battle with the Georgia Baptist Convention. The convention was upset about the liberal teachers at the school, the fact that our pre-med department taught evolution (a course necessary to become an accredited university) and that some of the key faculty were (GASP!!) Methodists.
The college wouldn’t risk its accreditation by suspending education involving the theory of evolution, and the GBC wouldn’t allow for sinful thought to prevail at one of its sponsees. The Convention pulled its funding, and as the school entered a heated legal battle with the Convention, we moved our Bibles and mini-fridges onto campus.
Without knowing it, we entered Shorter at a critical time.