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Wherever you go to college, stay the course, and run with endurance the race set before you.
In the middle of the second semester, Campus Crusade for Christ distributed free copies of Mind Siege, a book by Tim LaHaye and David Noebel. It was a great read while on campus. Mind Siege cataloged a few campus stories that had a familiar ring.
An anguished mother told LaHaye and Noebel of her daughter who was raised in Christian schools and in a Christian home and was taught Christian values and morals. The girl enrolled at the University of Oregon, a school the mother now calls “one of the most liberal universities in the nation.” The girl was overwhelmed by her professors and began to believe their philosophies. She has turned her back on God.
The authors also tell the story of a student at Southern Oregon University who enrolled in calculus, physics, chemistry, and organ classes. The girl made the honor roll first quarter with grades of A in calculus, physics, and organ and a B in chemistry. The University is not permitting the girl to return next year. Why? “She has refused to take the university’s three-quarter, four-unit-per-quarter, total-immersion indoctrination course in the Oregon State Religion,” a religion the father describes as the university’s own brand of “atheistic secular humanism.”
The father says, “The course text opens with a thirteen-page article on rape, including detailed descriptions of actual rapes—which sets the stage for teaching feminism—and goes downhill from there.”
Why is it so tough to get a college education without all the baggage, without all the indoctrination?
I struggled to put many things in perspective my freshman year. Yes, I expected different opinions at college. I expected different viewpoints on topics and I expected professors would passionately share their opinions. But I thought the personal opinions and viewpoints would be relevant to the coursework and that the topics would flow from a syllabus, not an agenda.
I was restless on campus. They say to give yourself two to four weeks to settle in and adjust. I had adjusted. I had adjusted to cafeteria food, dorm life, and a communal bathroom. But I was still uneasy. Maybe I had a slow adjustment curve and needed a little more time. Maybe this place would fit like a good pair of jeans by mid-terms. Or Thanksgiving. Or maybe by December. I sure hoped I settled in before finals week began. Some days it didn’t look too promising.
It was hard to put into words exactly what it was that kept me on edge. I think it could best be described as a campus ethos that was unsettling. There was a mentality and culture that in some ways actually discouraged critical thought. Ideas weren’t dissected as much as swallowed whole without analysis or thought. That surprised me. It caught me off guard.
Besides the ethos, I’m sure I suffered from a naiveté that expected a level playing field. There was a wave of disillusionment that accompanied that hard reality.
It was difficult not to project that disappointment and that disillusionment toward the whole campus or the entire college experience. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for a secular college environment. I thought I had a handle on that “in the world, not of the world” business, but maybe I didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to mix it up. Maybe I was destined to give up my Very Cherry nail polish, strappy sandals, blonde highlights, and join the Amish.
Because of the odd and aggressive mix of teachers I’d drawn, teachers often on the prowl for conservatives and Christians to reprogram and re-educate, there were times I felt absolutely defeated. I knew it wasn’t true, but I remember one day in particular when I felt outnumbered and completely alone. I prayed God would give me perspective. I was walking to class feeling bummed, and I passed an upperclassman whom I knew was a bold Christian. He and I were going to talk about my classes the next day.
A half block later, I passed my faculty-in-residence member who is a Christian. We had been going to the same church. She said hello; I said hello. It wasn’t much, but it was encouragement. God had directed my steps in advance so that I would run into those specific people and be reminded that I was not alone. It was good to be reminded I wasn’t alone, but was that enough?
If I could find a good Christian school to go to, so why go through this? I was more than ready to throw in the towel. Maybe I’d take a white T-shirt and wave it from a stick.
A friend had come into town, and we attended a party for a congressional candidate after the polls had closed on Election Day. After the party, we were walking downtown, and he asked if my difficulties adjusting to college stemmed from being so sheltered at a Christian high school, from being thrown out into the world and being shocked at what was going on. He suggested it would just take time and that I would get used to it.
Did I really want to get used to that? Why would I want to get used to the lack of shame and civility around me? I didn’t want to grow numb and begin thinking that unhealthy was healthy? Getting used to it would mean developing a callousness and desensitization. If we’re desensitized to the degradation around us, we won’t be able to identify it, let alone stand apart from it or help change it. It may sound like I was mad, and at times I’m sure I was. But more than that, I wasn’t as angry at what I saw as I was sad.
There were many days I silently envied my friends on Christian campuses. They were connecting with a wide circle of new people, having fun, and listening to engaging speakers and taking stimulating classes.
Meanwhile, here I was on this secular campus listening to Christianity mocked and ridiculed in the classroom. More and more I found myself agreeing with John Nash, the main character in A Beautiful Mind who never went to class because “class will dull the mind.”
When friends asked how I liked school during my freshman year, I could hardly bring myself to feign a benign answer. I loathed school. But I didn’t say that; I’d say it was fine and change the subject.
A friend of the family asked me how college was going. I told her about all the indoctrination and politically correct nonsense happening in the classroom. She nodded sympathetically and said, “My son had that problem when he went to college, but then he figured out how to play the game. You just have to learn to give them what they want.”
Give them what they want? When pigs fly.
There were times I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for a secular school. Maybe I had made a terrible mistake. But I’d done my homework. I’d visited a half dozen colleges and ranked them with a point system on criteria such as location, size, majors available, scholarship monies, academic environment, and H.Q. (hottie quotient, how cute the guys were); I narrowed my options down to two schools. It was between this secular private school with the program of study I could finish in four years, a program that often takes five or six at other schools, and a high-profile Christian college known as the ivy-league of the evangelicals.
The private secular school, like so many others, prided itself on high entrance requirements, diversity, and attention to the individual student. The school came with a very hefty price tag, but it also came with generous scholarship money. As far as ideology, the school was considered by most to be moderate.
I went back and forth on the Christian school vs. non-Christian school arguments. A lot of my Christian friends fell in line with the thinking of James Dobson. Dobson points out that many of today’s universities, once the moral and intellectual trendsetters for society, have now included relativism and excluded God. Dobson says, “For this reason, it’s essential that Christian parents and students consider a university’s spiritual climate as well as its academic offerings. While it’s possible for young people to hold on to—and even share—their faith on a secular campus, they should be aware of the diverse and erroneous viewpoints they’re likely to encounter in their classes and social interaction. Since the college years are a pivotal time for personal growth, students may find that a Christian college helps them establish a worldview rooted in their faith and provides training that will assist them in understanding and defending their beliefs.”
Dobson makes a valid point—a point I was learning first hand. But there is also the viewpoint that when you attend a Christian college you are insulating yourself from the real world. The critics contend that far from being salt and light, you become part of a holy huddle. It was an argument I wrestled with many times. Sometimes I argued in favor of the Christian college, and other times I convinced myself the place for me was a secular school. To this day I can argue either side of the argument with equal degrees of passion.
Then there’s the matter of practicality. Private colleges are more expensive. Also, many small Christian schools do not offer degrees or programs of study that the larger universities do.
After much thought, I had decided to follow the program of study at the secular school and looked forward to mixing it up on a secular campus. I didn’t have any idea how tough “mixing it up” could be. At times, I was not only disgusted by the environment, I was disgusted by myself.
I found myself tempted to get down on their level. I wanted to practice tolerance the way they practiced tolerance—only tolerate people who thought like me—and shred everybody else. I wanted to return some of the pain they’d delivered to me. I knew I couldn’t respond this way.
Struggling with my reaction to circumstances around me, I shared my thoughts in an email with one of my friends at a Christian school. I asked him what he would say to a professor who was blatantly anti-Christian. My friend responded: “I’d simply tell him, ‘Say hello to Lucifer on your way down to the barbeque.’” Funny, but not a big help. While he was joking, it made me wish he were here, and a few of my other friends as well because they are excellent debaters. They’re smart, assertive and can be aggressive when need be. They have the intellectual and debate skills it takes to survive on a secular campus . . . but they chose to go to Christian colleges.
Clearly, I could not tell my professor to say hello to Lucifer on the way down to the barbeque. I knew what I had to do. Be polite and kind. Maintain a loving spirit. Keep my voice calm. Not lose my temper. Use the soft answer that turns away wrath. Love my enemies. Pray for those who persecute me.
First semester freshman year was the worst. Some significant changes came with the second semester. I had a humanities professor that restored some of my faith in education. She taught the classics, and her class was tough. It was demanding, challenging, and thought-provoking. We read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, which revolves around the Old Testament story of Abraham’s answering God’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac. Surprisingly, we didn’t spend class arguing the existence of God or the validity of the Bible, but took Kierkegaard’s literature for what it was. We examined it and analyzed it without beating faith to a bloody pulp. Instead, the conclusion was one of high regard for faith.
The class offered a heavy reading schedule of worthy books and a steep learning curve. Maybe that experience wouldn’t be the last. Maybe there were more pockets of academic integrity.
As I mentioned before, I also had a philosophy professor who was staunchly liberal, but who was also civil. That class, too, was a welcome breath of fresh air. The science classes continued on track, conducted in a professional manner and sticking to subject matters of chemistry and biology. The classes have been tough, challenging, and invigorating and the profs outstanding.
In addition, I kept reflecting on a dose of encouragement that came from a faculty member and mentor in the health sciences just days before the Christmas break. He and I had exchanged some emails in which I rather expressed my frustration with the struggles I faced being a conservative and Christian on a secular campus. I didn’t know if he was a Christian, but I knew he lives in the real world, is in touch with reality, and conducts himself like a professional. I know he is fair and honest and respects genuine diversity of opinion. We were going over my schedule for second semester and knowing my frustrations, he encouraged me to stay. He encouraged me to look at my education in terms of more than getting a degree, but in terms of being a student who could make a difference.
Now that more time has passed since I began taking notes that would become the first chapter of this book, I’m at the end of my third year and have gained more perspective. My hope is that this book would do that for you—help you know what to expect. It made a big difference knowing what was ahead.
I was invited to be part of the freshman outreach team with Campus Crusade the summer preceding my sophomore year. Our team had a lot of work to do before classes even started. We were involved with the freshman right from the get go, literally waiting at the curb to help them move in the first day. We manned survey tables and tried to strike up conversations with the freshmen. For those that marked on their survey that they were interested in Christianity, Campus Crusade, or Bible studies, we arranged for them to be contacted personally. One of the most successful events we planned was a freshman overnight. We went on a scavenger hunt, then two sophomores shared their testimonies and we split into discussion groups. Afterward there were games late into the night and worship time. Everyone had a fun time, and freshmen were able to make connections with other freshman.
Having known how hard it is to be a freshman, I really had a burden to reach out to the new class of freshmen. Over the summer I put together little welcoming bags, not even knowing whom I would give them to. The bags included things to make their stay easier, such as an anti-stress mask, chalk for chalk-talk, a free ice-cream coupon, Post-its, and pens. Because I was involved with the freshman, I had unique opportunities to help them connect with each other. I was able to connect a girl that was having problems with her Wiccan roommate with another Christian girl in need of a roommate switch. They pulled off the switch and are much happier now.
In addition to reaching out to freshman, I was involved with bringing a new organization to the campus. I am Vice President of Veritas. Veritas is Latin for truth. We want to present truth, Biblical truth, in a way that will get Christians and non-Christians alike to think about the deep issues of life. We bring in a speaker once a month to address topics such as postmodernism, the authenticity of the Bible, worldview, Islam, homosexuality, and evolution.
The founding process of this group started the summer after my freshman year when a few people thought the campus needed to do more to meet the needs of mature Christians and simultaneously reach out to non-Christians. What better way than to teach topics from a lecture format and then openly allow people to disagree, ask questions, and debate.
We had to get this organization approved by the Student Government Association at the beginning of the year. I was responsible for making a three-minute presentation along with the President of Veritas, answering some questions, and then leaving the room while they voted. One of the founding members of Veritas is also a part of the Student Government Association, so he stayed in the room to defend Veritas if the need arose. He told me that the first person to speak up objected to making Veritas an official organization. He was worried and thought he was going to have to jump in right away, but he didn’t have to. Person after person spoke in favor of allowing us to be official. The vote passed almost unanimously. After all, we will be bringing diversity of thought to campus, and aren’t we all in favor of diversity?
Although my second year saw improvements over the first year, some things didn’t change. Christianity was still not tolerated in many classrooms. The English professor I had was still going after Christians. In my Islam class (a required core course), the professor insists that Jesus Christ did not think He was God. In a class titled “The Bible,” students were required to read a book that went on and on about the Bible not being true or reliable. Many Christian students take that class, friends, who were excited at the prospect of taking a class about Christianity. But instead of the class strengthening their faith, many have been left with unanswered questions and lingering doubts.
Some people have told me that the second year would go better because I’ll “learn to play by their rules.” Sure, that’s one way to make it easier, but not if you want to sleep at night with a clean conscience. For me, second year was easier because I wasn’t in as many antagonistic classes; I was in more science classes where we stick to B cells and T cells. My third year has been all medical classes, so it’s gone even better. There’s not as much wiggle room for indoctrination and subjectivity in the hard sciences as there is in the soft sciences.
Even though I’m not in the faith-challenging courses right now, many of my friends are. They are still speaking up. I know the thoughts that cross their minds, wondering if it’s the right time to say something, the right thing to say, whether speaking up will cost them a grade or cause them to be labeled. Most of us have those fears. But the difference between those who make a difference and those who sit silently on the sidelines is not whether you feel the fear, but what you do with the fear.
May God guide you in your college decision. Wherever you go, stay the course, and run with endurance the race set before you.