In 2011, I graduated from Cedarville University, one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the United States. By the time I graduated, I’d left the church and the Republican party and embarked on a life outside the Evangelical subculture. The space between this intentional exile and the fundamentalism of my younger days is occupied by doctrinal witch hunts, religious abuse and the censorship of alternative perspectives. Cedarville’s dedication to the politicization of Christianity is responsible for shutting down our student newspaper: trustees complained that its content was too liberal and therefore did not reflect the ‘Cedarville view.’ Our chapter of College Democrats is now mysteriously unable to find a faculty sponsor. During my years at Cedarville, I served as an officer in College Democrats and although we were able to locate a sponsor at that time, we were forced to justify every event we held and received funds from student government later than any other organization on campus.
As an individual, I was interrogated by staff about my desire to intern with a progressive organization. My social media accounts were constantly monitored. I received hate mail from classmates and got told by a professor that it would better for me to shut up during his class. I got called a feminazi by male students. I was accused of apostasy, and of corrupting my fellow classmates with my political views. The humiliation culminated in 2010, when I survived an attempted rape at the hands of the son of a high ranking member of staff. I didn’t report the assault for many reasons. Fear, yes. But I also knew I couldn’t face my classmates’ reactions. I’d been through enough and I’d reached the limits of what I could psychologically tolerate.
Throughout these experiences, I relied on the grace and compassion exhibited by several members of faculty and staff. They saw my anger and pain and treated me with kindness. They did not judge me for my doubts, or for my eventual rejection of Christianity. And they dared to teach alternative views. They respected their students enough to introduce them to the great ideas and the associated movements that shaped the development of human history. They taught students about white privilege, feminism and critiques of capitalism. And this may seem rather unremarkable to anyone located outside Evangelical discourse, but I assure you that for those of us who grew up speaking it as a mother tongue that these are radical acts. These members of faculty developed my mind and protected my spirit.
Now they too have become targets of Cedarville’s determination to rid itself of moderate voices. Over the past several months, the administration of Cedarville University has fired Dr. Michael Pahl for ideological reasons and dissolved its philosophy department not long after its faculty publicly announced their refusal to vote for the Republican presidential ticket. It also announced the sudden resignation of its Vice President for Student Life, Dr. Carl Ruby. Dr. Ruby attended Cedarville and has worked at the university for 25 years. Students were informed of his resignation via email and Ruby’s last day at the university is tomorrow (Jan. 16th). The resignation follows a Christianity Today article about Cedarville’s unofficial GLBT/allied support group, Cedarville Out, which quotes Ruby speaking positively of his friendship with the group’s founder.
Because of these recent events, previous controversies and my own experiences as a Cedarville student, I believe that the administration of Cedarville University intends to rid itself of moderate influences and establish itself as an exclusively conservative institution. Faculty, staff and students have become mere collateral damage. So I would like to use my tiny media platform to bring attention to this attack on academic freedom. My defence of Cedarville’s philosophy department is one of 86 entries from concerned students, alumni and academics. We’re organizing protests to demand transparency from the university. And we’re not alone. Cedarville University joins several Christian colleges and seminaries engaged in campaigns against members of faculty and staff perceived to hold liberal political and theological views.
If you’re concerned about academic freedom, religious fundamentalism, or the culture of abuse enabled by a lack of transparency at Christian colleges and universities, please call attention to the crisis at Cedarville. Share this blog post or link to the Our CU Protest web page. If you’re a Cedarville student or alumnus, email the trustees. Ask questions and demand answers. Sign our petition. Fight for the university you deserve.
It’s too late for me to benefit from a healthy campus culture that promotes transparency, respects ideological differences and values intellectual enquiry. I will, however, do whatever I can to ensure that such a culture is born and thrives on Cedarville’s campus, and I urge you to join your voice with mine.