Flynn: What Happened When a Class Assignment Clashed with My Beliefs

Joanna Flynn describes an experience in a Rowan class when her Christian values were in conflict with a given assignment. Her response to this moral conflict surprised even herself. - Photo via

I am a very literal person. I believe there is a fierce dichotomy between dark and light, that morality is not a scale. There is right, and there is wrong, and there is no space in between.

But life isn’t actually like that. At all. 

As humans, we exist in this in-between, in this continuum. As a follower of Christ, I believe in certain truths established by the Bible, and that they exist for us to live the most fulfilling lives we can. But there are a lot of things not explicitly written down. There are a lot of things that we as individuals get to decide, lines that we get to draw for ourselves, where we have to stand and say, “No, I do not believe this is good or beneficial, and I will not participate.” 

This happened to me in a class during my time at Rowan. I was bummed, because I was really looking forward to this class — one of my favorite professors was teaching it, I had many friends and everyone was engaged and conversational. It was great. 

Until one specific paper was assigned. I looked at the requirements and my heart sank. I couldn’t do it. The paper was asking me to justify something that I morally believed was wrong. My line had been drawn, and now I had to stand upon it. 

That was the tricky part. 

I had a choice to make, and it was one of the hardest ones I have ever made. I had to wrestle with thoughts like “You’re just not strong enough to handle college-level content” and “You’re a quitter.” Oh, and let’s not forget the one that hissed, “You’re just scared and weak and worthless.” Intrusive thoughts love to kick us while we’re down, don’t they? 

When I was younger, I used to imagine a moment when I would have to stand up for my beliefs. I pictured a heroic monologue about my life, about my faith, and about why everyone around me was wrong and needed to listen to me. In these moments, I also pictured myself in a ball gown, pleading desperately with my peers to change their ways. In addition to being literal, I also have a flair for the dramatic.

But when I was actually in a situation where I had to make a choice, somehow standing at my desk and shouting at my classmates and professor about how wrong they were didn’t feel quite right. I realized that I actually cared about these people. I saw them as I saw myself: individuals — each with a unique story, strong convictions, and intrinsic value. I asked myself how I would feel if someone decided to shove their values in my face, tell me everything I believed was wrong, and storm off with their fist in the air. 

I would have some choice words for that person. 

And none of those words would speak to love, kindness, or respect — which are the feelings I want to leave with any and every individual I talk to. So I discarded that idea. I told myself I could sit in class and be quiet. But the truth is, I couldn’t have sat in class and been quiet. I had options: I could have talked to my professor or asked for a different assignment. But in this situation, I knew what the best thing for me would be, and it wasn’t compromising what I believed for a grade. It also wasn’t being a judge for those around me and telling them that what they were doing was wrong. 

So I dropped the class. 

That probably seems really anti-climactic, but that’s what I did. Now, I’m not encouraging anyone reading this to drop a class anytime they disagree with something — not at all. If that were the case, I’d have dropped all my classes, all my friends, and most of my family too. Disagreeing is part of life.

But so is standing up for what you believe in. It just happened to look much different than I expected, and it never looks the same every time. It’s not always the dramatic monologue of “This is why I’m right and you’re wrong.” It’s not always gathering in protests, though it can be. It’s not always dropping a class.

Sometimes, it is quietly deciding within yourself that something is not good or beneficial for you, and removing yourself from the situation. Sometimes it is realizing that your line has been drawn, and not participating in whatever is going on around you. Sometimes it is indeed speaking up, being loud, and making a scene. 

But no matter what it is sometimes, it should always be out of love, kindness, and respect.

For comments/questions about this story, email or tweet @TheWhitOnline.