Or: What’s A Clever Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?
Here, people of Earth, is why I attended Cedarville University.
When I was fourteen years old, I sat in class at my fundamentalist Christian high school and watched a recruitment video that showed Cedarville students having fun. They were laughing. They dressed kind of like normal people. They seemed happy.
And I was not happy. Most of my teachers had attended Pensacola Christian, Bob Jones or Tennessee Temple. Perhaps you can imagine the resulting school environment. And even so, I still preferred it to being homeschooled.
But shortly after I watched that recruitment video, the school expelled me. The letter they sent my parents characterized me as a ‘disturbing influence.’ They didn’t explain why, but an explanation would have been helpful. At the time of my expulsion, I had a spotless disciplinary record, belonged to the National Honor Society, and had won award after award in academic and fine arts competitions.
I’ve identified two possible reasons for my expulsion.
First, the onset of adolescent depression. The schools my teachers attended treat psychiatric disorders as manifestations of sin, not illnesses to be treated. Consequently, my depression was considered evidence that I was out of fellowship with God, or worse, that I wasn’t even saved at all. Remarkably, my family’s pastor–a Bob Jones grad himself–defended me, and tried to convince the school to rescind the decision. They refused.
Which leaves the second option. The school had encountered major financial difficulties. And I was a scholarship student. So was my brother, who was also expelled. In his case, they claimed it was due to academic failure; however, he wasn’t failing his classes and the only mark on his record was an after-school detention for playing paper football in class. Such a rebel. Later, an alumni told me that the school had a habit of expelling scholarship students whenever it started to lose money.
So my school expelled me for being depressed, or they expelled me for being poor, or both. Whatever the truth might be, their actions weren’t exactly Christlike. My depression deepened, and I began to struggle with my faith.
Enter Cedarville, again. The university has touring ministry teams that it sends to churches and Christian schools. These teams specialize in music and drama, and they’re considered a recruitment tool for the school–an effective tool, in my case. My church hosted one of these teams, so I finally met these fabled semi-normal students in person.
And they were nice to me. They talked to me. They sat next to me when the kids in my youth group ignored me. They remembered my name. They didn’t seem bothered by my sad attempts to dress like a punk rocker.
I devoured their kindness like a starving child who’d been tossed a scrap of bread.
So I added Cedarville to my list of college options. Keep in mind, too, that although my parents supported my desire to go to college, they’d made it clear they couldn’t afford to pay for it. I knew before my first day of high school that I’d have to get scholarships. And I worked devastatingly hard. I worked so hard my parents actually told me to stop doing so much homework because they were afraid I’d make myself sick.
After my expulsion from Christian school, I entered public high school and hit the ground running. I took all the honors classes I thought I could ace. During my senior year, I decided to take a Governor’s School class. That meant getting up at 5:30 am, every day, to take an extra college-level class before the school day even started. I went from my Governor’s School class to AP Government to music to law class to college. That’s right. I spent half my day taking upper level English courses at a local private college.
Cedarville gave me a full ride. I earned its Leadership Scholarship, its Presidential Scholarship, and a tuition waiver in addition to federal grants. Clearly, I thought, this is God’s will. I’d finally have a chance to talk about my faith in a rigorous academic environment, with truly Christlike people.
So I went to Cedarville University. If you read my blog regularly, you know what happened next.
Why Does Any Of That Matter?
I’m telling you all this because I’m tired of hearing that truly intelligent students don’t seek to attend places like Cedarville. I’m tired of hearing that employers shouldn’t consider graduates like me. That mindset effectively penalizes a person for being raised in Christian fundamentalism.
Although my story certainly isn’t definitive of all Christian college graduates, it’s not exactly unique, either. Don’t reduce us to caricatures for decisions we made as teenagers. You have to understand even though I’d spent some time in public high school, I’d attended a high school in the Appalachian foothills. I still knew nothing but a dogmatically conservative approach to Christianity.
If I’d chosen a different Christian college, my story might be different. It’s unfair to judge all religiously-affiliated schools by Cedarville, or by unaccredited institutions like Bob Jones and Pensacola Christian. Many feature more diverse campus environments with stellar academic programs. It’s not all young earth creationism and fundamentalist gender roles. If the only reason you object to a Christian college grad’s employment is the fact they attended a religious school, then you are a deeply and unfairly biased individual.
Even those of us who did attend more conservative institutions should be judged on our own merits. It’s true that I learned young earth creationism. It’s also true that I majored in international studies, not science, and that my major courses were taught by a qualified academic who also possessed twenty-five years experience in the foreign service. My philosophy course was taught by a serious scholar who exposed me to the work of Bertrand Russell and fostered class discussions that proved incredibly vital to my intellectual development.
Even my Bible courses were, for the most part, also taught by scholars with degrees from institutions like the University of St. Andrews. My religion and culture professor required us to attend at least one service at a non-Christian house of worship–to learn about another culture, not to proselytize. My sociology professor taught me about white privilege, encouraged my feminism, and remains a friend to this day. I even had the opportunity to study abroad in the UK, which would later inspire me to return there for my graduate studies.
I had a complex and emotionally trying time at Cedarville. Many of my classes were indeed terrible; while some of my Bible classes were thorough, one of them consisted of filling in charts related to the End Times. Most of my classmates were either actively hateful or so apathetic they couldn’t be convinced to care about social justice or critical inquiry. But there were exceptions. Beautiful, brilliant exceptions. And you need to understand that.
Stories are always more complicated than they seem on the surface.