High School seniors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, invited to attend a college and career fair, instead found themselves attending a religious indoctrination session.
Enticed by a flyer that promised “free food”, “fun and games”, “college fair” and “special guest”, many signed up.
How it played out was rather different.
What Actually Happened at this “College and career fair”?
Briefly, here is what happened:
- Upon arrival students were separated by gender (which caused no end of turmoil for transgender students who then faced outright abuse when they refused to conform to a specific gender).
- They were also forced to register to vote in order to obtain the promoted free food
- The girls were forced to listen to speakers share disturbing stories of rape, suicide, and abstinence. This was mandatory, any attempt to exit was blocked. Students were later found in the bathroom weeping.
- Girls were also advised to simply forgive those that rape them.
This “Day of Hope” event was so bad that there is now an official “Day of Nope” website where some of these harrowing experiences can be registered as evidence for a potential lawsuit.
Detailed Account by One Student
Alexis Budyach, one student who attended, has a long detailed description of what actually happened posted on facebook as a warning …
Today’s ”Day of Hope” field trip was a horrible experience. It was not advertised as a religious event, but rather a college fair. The majority of students chose to attend this field trip on the promise of free food and the opportunity to skip class, however the majority of students were not only disappointed by this event, but traumatized as well. I attended this college fair as someone who plans on applying to colleges soon, so I was disappointed once I saw what the event actually was.
In the beginning of the event, there were games happening such as rap battles and singing competitions, harmless fun. After a few long introductions and attempts to hype up the crowd, the boys were asked to stand. I, at first, thought that they would do some sort of “boys, if you’ve done ___, sit down” type of thing to further engage the audience. Instead, they asked the boys to leave the room. As a genderfluid person, I don’t identify as either a boy or a girl, so this was a troubling situation for me. However, due to the nature of this program being in a church, I immediately assumed that I would be discriminated against if I went with the boys, so I stayed sitting down and kept my mouth shut. Then, as the girls were all alone, the host introduced three women meant to “guide us on our journey in being young queens.”
The first woman that spoke was a pastor, who emphasized the idea of not trying to fit in with everyone else and be yourself. One of the examples she used for this was how she had kept her virginity through high school and college. After she announced this proudly, she expected an applause. She mentioned how everyone knew her as “the good Christian girl” and that she was proud of it. She also said that during 9/11, everyone looked at her because they knew she would pray for them. Although the idea of being yourself is great, it is sorely lost in the unwanted virginity allusion and constant references to religious trains of thought.
The second woman was involved in the education sector in some way. She gave an anecdote about how a guy she met on a dating app ended up attempting to kill her by strangling her. She said that she had kept this relationship a secret, so if he had ended up succeeding in killing her, no one would know. She used this to ultimately make the argument that if something needs to be kept secret, then it shouldn’t be happening at all. She also emphasized that if she had waited for the man god meant for her, then it wouldn’t had happened. She uses this to essentially shame the concept of “dating around” and took a soulmate-esque approach on the situation. In addition, she explained that she had forgiven her ex boyfriend for his attempted murder, even if he wasn’t sorry. Again, there could possibly be a valuable message, however it’s lost in the traumatic storytelling and religious imagery.
The third speaker had a phD and was a nurse. With this information, I expected some sort of a health related speech, however, this was the most traumatizing of all. She gave an extremely detailed description of the morning that she had found her son’s body after he had hung himself. I will not give the full description on facebook, but it was so descriptive to the point that I felt like I was there with her and could imagine her house around her. She explained that this happened because her son was bullied. She used this story to say that people these days are too mean to each other and we need to stick together. For the third time, a possibly useful message hidden behind an extremely traumatizing account of a day that we had no warning or idea that we were going to learn about.
After the girls were released, we were informed that we had to register to vote in order to receive the “free” food advertised on the flyer. Yes, voting is very important, however when registration is required for food on a 100° F day at around noon is when there’s an issue. At this point was when the “college fair” occurred. There were about 6 tables of various colleges set up. They had candy, pens, brochures, the usual college recruitment set up. The boys were then brought outside while the girls waited in lines to receive voter registration, drank out of plastic water bottles out of an ice chest, or attempted to find shade under anything they could.
After the boys were gone for no longer than 20 minutes (compared to the girls’ 40 minutes), everyone was combined again into the church. They then had a guest speaker, Donk, who gave the most fantastical story one could imagine. He started by saying at the age of 9 he was shot in the stomach and saw his intestines fall into his hands. Then, he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair from the ages of 11-13 (not sure what happened from 9-11). One day, according to him, he was with his grandma who was snoring very loudly and he started to wiggle his toes and wasn’t paralyzed anymore. Then, he started “messing with the wrong crowd” and ended up in prison with a life sentence + 90 years on two counts of armed robbery and a murder. He said how he was sad in jail and tried to kill himself with a bedsheet (which he demonstrated with a prop sheet he had on stage), but somehow he changed his mindset and got out of jail.
At the end of everything, the host made the audience make a choice. He said “If you want to eat, pizza is right outside those doors for you. If you choose change, if you want to get better, come towards the stage towards me.” At this point we had not eaten and frankly, I was done being traumatized, so I left the building.
This is solely what I witnessed at the day of hope with no other sides of the story. I had heard from multiple sources that when the boys went in for their 20 minutes they only did push-up contests and games. I heard from a few people that for the people that chose hope rather than pizza, another story was given about when Donk tried to attempt suicide by jumping in front of a train but the train magically stopped in front of him.
Regardless of how one may feel about religion and field trips, this experience was traumatizing. The entire situation should not have happened in the first place and the only “hope” I have gained from this experience is the hope that no one will ever have to go through it again.
School System Rebuttal
Faced with a barrage of complaints, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system issued a statement …
… defending the event as “an elevation of a traditional college and career fair.” The statement also defended the school district’s partnership with the local nonprofit that put on the event, 29:11 Mentoring Families, saying the group is providing “additional support services for students in our district.”
The Media, who have extensively looked into this, make it rather clear that this justification is utter bullcrap.
Daily Beast (Sep 24): Students Say They Were ‘Duped’ Into Attending Twisted Religious Event
Byline: They thought they were attending a college fair. Then things took a dark turn as girls were allegedly separated and “advised to forgive men who rape and assault them.”
The Guardian (Sep 25): Louisiana school turned ‘college fair’ into transphobic church event, students say
... an egregious erasure of the separation of church and state that some once thought was central to the US’s identity…
Baton Rouge Advocate (Sep 21): Parents, students complain East Baton Rouge schools field trip was more like church service
The group organising this, 29:11Academy, have one primary goal – religious indoctrination. Everything they do is focused on converting anybody they can reach to their specific variation of fundamentalist Christianity. Everything else they do plays second fiddle to that primary goal.
If you partner with an outside group to provide “educational support”, and that group has a very specific religious agenda, then please do not be shocked if they then pursue that agenda vigorously.
Students were lied to about what the event was really all about.
Some students also experienced intolerance and bullying. Others endured emotional trauma.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system has a duty of care for those under their supervision. They utterly failed at that.
What happened was not simply unethical, it was illegal.