Crystal Clear: The Life and Times of Crystal Harrington
Amid Bethel University’s meadow of tall, blonde, preppy types, freshman Crystal Harrington sticks out like a dandelion in a field of freshly mowed grass — even if she’s only just this side of 5 feet tall. Tattooed and pierced with an edgy, dark pixie-cut and a fearless demeanor, Crystal is an unabashed contradiction to what’s perceived as the typical Bethel student, and the incongruity doesn’t end with looks.
Still, Crystal goes forth boldly; holding her chin high and her gaze to the future. She’s mastered a practice that most people who stand out loathe; the art of shamelessly and consciously putting her dissimilarities on display. In an interview, Crystal divulged with an assured and assuring smile, “At this point, I’m pretty much an open book.”
Add that to a lengthy list of identifiers, with a plethora of other almost-contradictions. All at once, Crystal is a runner and an artist, an eating-disorder-survivor and a student, a lesbian and a Christian. She’s got the scars and stories of a survivor, and the passion, faith and self-awareness of a warrior. She’s a Bethel student, with gages, tattoos and an unconventional haircut.
But, with a student body not known for fostering contradictions in looks or personality, Bethel may seem an unorthodox choice for Crystal in her collegiate pursuits. It was a decision she herself never anticipated.
It took a combination of several unanswered Vespers invites and a guilty conscience to finally get Crystal onto Bethel’s campus. But as soon as the first notes of praise began echoing through Benson Great Hall, Crystal found herself, “moved by the music and how much I connected and everything.”
She reflected, “I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t 100 percent commit to a college and then I went to Vespers and was like ‘Ok God. You’ve got me. I will go to Bethel.’”
Fast-forward to present-day and in some ways Crystal is every student. A psychology major, she’s worried about finals, asserting in third-person “Crystal doesn’t get F’s on tests.”
But, like everything else that comprises Crystal Harrington, the opposing force of a happy-go-lucky, free spirit balances her studious tendencies. Her room-mate Hannah Manion elaborated, “Crystal is care-free and easy-going and — whatever the nice word for sarcastic is… witty!”
But early last October, Crystal wasn’t so carefree. She was failing her classes, struggling to find a place in her new college community, and regressing back into patterns of an eating disorder.
After years of suffering through a lonely, mediocre high school experience, anticipating the adventures and freedom of college, part of Crystal felt like leaving her dream for treatment was too big a sacrifice.
But in the end, life at Bethel wasn’t sustainable for Crystal yet.
So she left, with fear and regret but also with hope at rediscovering a better version of herself. It took months of commitment, but Crystal was back at Bethel by February 2015 to start second semester afresh, not without a degree of uncertainty.
“The hardest thing was to transition from treatment to school,” Crystal confessed.
A tattoo on her wrist reading beloved serves as a constant reminder of the healing scars her illness left behind. It reminds Crystal that she is a child of God, as the B swoops into a Jesus fish and the D doubles as the universal recovery symbol. It’s meaning lends Crystal comfort in times of stress, depression and vulnerability.
Crystal says the Bethel environment, as well, proves “a healthy spot to focus on faith more and get through stressful situations.”
A case example occurred when a month ago Crystal announced via Facebook that she was in a relationship with a girl she had met in treatment, effectively coming out to her whole world, including the Bethel community.
“At first I was unsure of how people would react. I worried that people would be close-minded,” said Crystal.
And for good reason. A 2014 experiment in the Journal of Research on Christian Education found that conservative Christian college students hold significantly more negative views on homosexuality than do their small liberal arts college counterparts.
Not to mention news coverage, such as a 2011 article by Erik Eckholm at the New York Times entitled Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity. Eckholm highlights simultaneously the assumed hostility of religious communities toward homosexuals, and the inevitable conflict that ensues for gay students with religious conviction throughout life.
But despite the data, the news and her worries Crystal said, “I didn’t really care because I have confidence in who I am. I know who my God is and where I stand in that.”
She said it came down to, “I really like her and I don’t want this to be a secret and I don’t need to be ashamed.” And so far, when it comes to the people who matter most like family and friends, Crystal has felt no pressure to hide her true identity.
Another way Bethel provides stress relief to recovering Crystal is by offering a beautiful backdrop to develop new skills and passions.
This proves essential because Crystal collects hobbies like elderly single women collect cats. From drawing to running to mastering the ukulele and the long-board, Crystal hasn’t found an activity she didn’t want to take home with her.
Long-distance running, however, is perhaps dearest to Crystal’s heart. Allured by the awe and respect obtained by marathon-running friends, Crystal laced up her sneakers and signed up for her first half-marathon about a year and a half ago. The high it gave her foreshadowed a love of pace keeping, and birthed a dream to someday run an ultra-marathon.
But on the more immediate horizon, Crystal will be employed as a Christian camp counselor this summer. She hopes to grow the faith that’s healed her scars and fortified the composite contradictions and complexities of her identity.
She hopes also to play Oceans by Hillsong United on the ukulele for her campers. It’s the perfect song for Crystal, who with faith continues to conquer the seemingly insurmountable. One can almost envision her strumming along as she sings, “And I will call upon your name / And keep my eyes above the waves / When oceans rise / My soul will rest in your embrace / For I am yours and you are mine.”