Back to School

Our local university started classes this week.  After spending nearly 20 years in campus ministry, I still tend to think of September as the start of the year, rather than January.  So it seems timely to make a few comments about going back to school.

Our local independent weekly paper highlighted the culture of partying and rape that college campuses in general – and this university in particular – are becoming more and more associated.  This is nothing new in some respects.  When I started undergraduate work at Arizona State University, it was widely touted as the top party school in the nation.  For a commuter student without a background in partying, this didn’t make much difference.  I knew that there were apparently a lot of people doing things that I wasn’t involved with.

For students living on campus the pressures and opportunities are a lot higher.  The article does frankly a half-hearted effort to highlight the problem, while pinning the problem squarely on men.

I’ll be clear about this – there is never an excuse for rape.  There is no excuse for this sort of behavior.  But I boggle at the naive way that feminist or post-feminist culture insists on seeing the issue.  I find it ironic that feminist/post-feminist culture still defers to men as the solution for this, since they are apparently the sole problem.  That strikes me as monumentally disempowering to women.

The article states that discussion about the role that women play in this issue is stunted, precisely because nobody wants to give a guy an excuse, something that they could legitimately excuse their behavior with.  I can see that and agree with it to a certain point.  But it means that we can’t really address issues that contribute to a culture of sexual violence or even just sexual excess.

We have a young woman who is moving down to attend this university for her freshman year.  Her pastor did a good job of connecting with me in advance, which enabled me to communicate with the girl in advance and arrange a ride for her to church this coming Sunday.  I pray that she’ll plug in and will have a new church family where she is known and loved during her time here.

Not all kids have this though.  And even for those that do, the peer pressure that says that drinking to excess is normal and healthy, even when it leaves you completely incapacitated, can be irresistible.

So keep in touch with your college kids.  Ask them if they’re going to church, if they have a Christian community where they are hearing God’s Word and being welcomed and incorporated into the family of Christ.   Ask them specifically where they are going, and then follow up with the pastor to find out if he (or she, possibly) has met them.  Stay involved.  You can’t protect them forever and always, but you can remain part of their lives, and part of their lives is knowing what they might face when they go to college.  Some of those things might include:

  • Excessive drinking as a normal part of social interactions
  • Drinking to the point of incoherency, while wandering in and out of the dorm rooms and homes and apartments of people they don’t know, other than that their friend knows this guy who knows this guy who lives here
  • This is not a safe environment

Agreed – boys and men are never excused in forcing themselves on girls and women, regardless of the situation.  But the reality is that this happens, and girls and women need to keep this in mind in order to help keep themselves safe until such a time that all sinful impulses are eliminated from humanity through better education.

I’d suggest you not hold your breath for that day.

Obviously not all kids are going to do these things and we need to be careful not to paint all college youth with the same brush.  But we need to be aware as well.

Well, one might respond, my child goes to a Christian college or university.  This isn’t an issue for them.

Maybe.

I think you could probably find quite a few graduates of Christian colleges who will attest to a lively party culture, if a more discrete one.  Remember that just because an institution has a Christian name or affiliation, doesn’t mean that it is seeking to actively foster a Christian environment on campus.

And, as something else to lose sleep over, remember that Christian colleges and universities may be forced to choose between following the beliefs of their faith, or maintaining coveted accreditation.  That’s right, accreditation bodies are now examining Christian schools and challenging them when their codes of conduct seem to stretch too far (meaning they embody Christian principles and Biblical teachings).  At risk is accreditation by regional and national accrediting bodies that have become symbols of a quality education.  Get accredited, and your school benefits from the prestige.  Fail to get accredited, and your institution begins to look more and more like a third-rate diploma mill.  Federal funding may be put at risk, which might preclude students from obtaining financial aid – kinda important given how costly college is.

Hopefully Christian schools and universities can remain strong and united in their resistance against pressure to modify, dilute, or eliminate codes of conduct that are in line with Biblical teaching but not in line with cultural teaching.  But just like with partying at college, the peer pressure to conform to expectations will be immense.  Hopefully schools will help set a good example for the students they purport to be shaping and educating.

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2 Responses to “Back to School”

  1. sarahsjoys Says:

    I know someone who was raped at a very small, conservative, Christian university. It’s everywhere. :(

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Wherever there are people, there will be sin. Even in churches and Christian schools. A tragedy that surely requires the great grace & forgiveness of our God for any of us to have hope!

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