Samford University’s Director of Greek Life inadvertently sparked traumatic relapses for some students on Monday, Nov. 6 while sharing his testimony at Samford’s semesterly Greek Speak event. Typically, the event is used as a warning for the Greek chapters at Samford against the dangers of hazing, and advocates for the proper care of students’ mental health.
Clint Coulter, Samford’s newest director of Greek Life, was the main speaker at this semester’s event, which was required for all Greek-affiliated students to attend. However, he did not have an anti-hazing story to share. Instead, he chose to share his personal testimony, which included graphic depictions of how a younger Coulter planned to harm himself and ultimately, end his own life.
Students were seen leaving the Wright Center that night in tears. Some wrote emails to Samford’s Offices of Spiritual Life and Greek Life immediately afterwards expressing their discomfort with how the heaviness of the topic was handled. Some had to be talked down from harmful tendencies they were tempted to pursue after being forced to sit through Coulter’s testimony.
The most common complaint among students was the lack of proper warning from both the Office of Spiritual Life and the Office of Greek Life prior to attending the event. The only words slightly resembling a warning were the ones shared by campus pastor Bobby Gatlin about 20 minutes into Coulter’s testimony.
“So buckle your seatbelt if you need to, because I want you to stop talking and listen, and I want you to be prepared for part of this story that I think really can mean something to us,” said Gatlin.
Obviously, this lackadaisical warning and failure to approach the topic with care did not sit well with students in attendance.
“Had I been given proper trigger warnings and the option to leave, I would have shuffled out of my row and left the auditorium,” shared Caroline Ingraham, a sophomore member of Alpha Omicron Pi.
Unfortunately, Coulter’s intricate description of how he planned to harm himself sent a number of students spiraling into harmful mindsets after the event was over.
“Details can create ideas,” said Ingraham
Some Greek-affiliated students also expressed confusion at the choice of message for this event. Greek Speak was open for all to attend – Greek and independent alike – since it has now been promoted to convo-credit status. But the main point of this event has always been to educate Greek Life members here at Samford University. However, the message didn’t connect with the students it was targeted to.
Sophomore member of Alpha Omicron Pi Lola Casey was confused by the intention behind the message and how it was supposed to pertain to Greek Life at Samford.
“I do not understand why that message was necessary. Yes, it is good to know that we are not alone but that does not pertain to Greek Life alone,” shared Casey.
Even for students that weren’t as intensely affected by Coulter’s words, the consensus was that the students who attended the event would have benefited from a fair and proper trigger warning beforehand.
Alpha Tau Omega member John Porterfield understood the motivation behind Coulter’s shared testimony, but felt the students’ personal backgrouns should have been considered more.
“We should always strive to be vulnerable about our stories and share the many things our Savior has done for us, while also keeping in mind the backgrounds that audience members bring into the auditorium as well,” said Porterfield.
Coulter received many questions from students about whether he feels he should’ve provided a trigger warning prioi to the event.
“I also think, you know, there’s a sense of reality of like, unfortunately, this is the real world,” Coulter said.
Coulter’s testimony, while well-intentioned, took hold in the minds of students in a dangerous way that night.
“Bobby and Clint had no control over what part of their conversation stays in the mind of each student,” said Ingraham.
The Offices of Greek Life and Spiritual Life began to send out their responses to students’ emails on Wednesday, Nov. 8, most of which invited students to meet in-person with staff at either office to further discuss their concerns and questions.
In a statement to the Crimson, the Office of Greek Life wrote, “The intent for Greek Speak was for students to recognize that through trials in life, it’s important to not only turn to God, but also to lean on one another. We also wanted to highlight the availability of campus resources, like Samford Cares.”
The Office of Greek Life offered the following statement for any students concerned about the event: “If any student has expressed concerns about Greek Speak, the Offices of Greek Life, Spiritual Life, or Samford Cares would be more than happy to meet with students to talk through those concerns.”