Tag Archives: Tales From Fundy U

Epilogue: A Few Suggestions

Pensacola Christian College is not known for listening to advice from former students on how to improve life on campus and even less known for listening to former students who are on their perpetual “black list.” Nevertheless, in the spirit of not only pointing out the wrong but also promoting the right here is my list of suggestions for ways the college could improve life on campus.

1. Love your students.

That’s it. That’s the entire sum of what is lacking at PCC.

If you love your students you won’t provoke them to wrath with petty, unjust, and ever-changing rules.

If you love your students you won’t mislead them with incomplete information, not telling them about the real rules until they’ve already spent their money.

If you love your students you won’t presume them guilty until proven innocent.

If you love your students you’ll get regionally accredited to give your graduates the best possible opportunities.

If you love your students you’ll teach them to be responsible and let them exercise their own soul liberty instead of taking a one-size-fits-none approach to sanctification.

If you love your students you’ll make your priority looking after their safety and well-being instead of first trying to protect your own reputation.

And since love bears all things and believes all things, I hope and believe that someday I will begin to see more true love on PCC campus. It could happen today if you who are in power would only let it.

Act IV: The End of Days

Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the rule enforcement system at Pensacola Christian College is to think back to the Stanford prison experiment of 1971 where students were arbitrarily assigned the roles of “guard” or “prisoner” and then left in a simulated prison scenario. The guards took to their role with relish enforcing rules and inflicting psychological torture on the prisoners, who for their part passively accepted this behavior as if they deserved it.

If you simply replace the word “guard” with “floor leader” and likewise exchange “prisoner” with “student” the results you find at PCC are not identical but some aspects are strikingly similar. Put into certain situations, even people who might otherwise be decent human beings can act with surprising disregard for the well being of others. Power corrupts — especially when an authority figure believes that their abuse of power is actually being done for the good of the abused.

My Senior year I was a “Prayer Leader” in my Coberly dorm room. Allegedly this meant that I was responsible for the spiritual well-being of the 11 other students that made up my prayer group, which met four evenings a week. In other circumstances looking out for somebody’s well being might be checking on the freshmen to make sure they were adjusting well or trying to iron our personal conflicts. At PCC, however, soul care is something more akin to “rat out your roommates if they break the rules.” Due to some of the things I have already written about this week, I was in no mood to be the eyes and ear of the administration in my room and mostly took a “see no evil” approach to whatever shenanigans might be going on in my hall as long as nobody was getting hurt. (I did report a guy for reading the Book of Mormon aloud but that’s a really long story.)

Back in my freshman year my friend Dave had told me that the most important five minutes in your semester is the first time your floor leaders do room check at night. A power hungry, anal retentive floor leader can ruin an entire year at school. Unfortunately, for my last year I had two true believers named Adam and Andy as floor leaders. Both were ensemble members and both held the rule book to hold as much authority as if it had been handed down from Mt. Sinai. I should have known better than to cross them. I should have left it alone. But the last semester of my PCC career I made the nearly fatal mistake of questioning Adam’s authority over a hot pot left on a bathroom sink.

“You can’t have a hotpot in here.” he proclaimed, knowing full well that although that rule was on the books that every guy in every dorm room made Ramen noodles in the bathroom on occasion.

“C’mon, Adam,” I replied, “You know that rule isn’t really enforced.”

“I enforce ALL the rules.” he said stiffly. “They’re all in the book for a reason.”

So of course I proceeded to invoke one of the oldest and most unenforced rules in the college by asking him why we weren’t required to put a 3×5 card on our door each week proclaiming that we had changed our sheets. (Urban legend says that this rule was started back in the early days of the school and directed at one particularly unhygienic student and had almost never been enforced in the last decade). Adam left the room and returned in a few minutes to inform us that our hallway was now the ONLY one on campus that would be following that rule to the letter. The other people on my hallway were less than happy.

I thought the stand-off between myself and the floor leaders might end there. I was very wrong.

It was only a few weeks later that our floor leaders came into our room after lights out (11:00) and took each of my roommates out into the hallway one at a time to be questioned about “contraband” they might have such as video games rated T for Teen, cell phones, and music that didn’t check such as my own Phantom of the Opera CD. Under the scrutiny my freshman roommates confessed that they did indeed have squirreled away some “illegal” items. The floor leaders confiscated them and then lectured me about my responsibilities as a PL. I had failed to report which meant I was guilty too.

The next night around midnight I was rousted out of bed again and this time told that I needed to go see our residence manager, Jordan. I complained that I needed to be up at 5:00 a.m. to go to work but I was told that this was too important to wait. So down we went to the freezing cold of the RM’s office where I sat in a low chair like something out of a bad cop film and was again interrogated about my knowledge of my roommates misdeeds. I quoted Proverbs 26:17 in my defense and told them that what my roommates did was none of my business, that it was between themselves and God. Catch them if you can. Don’t expect me to help.

The residence manager and floorleaders were not amused. They were even less amused when suggested that if they thought I was a bad Prayer Leader to simply remove my title and put me in a different room. That would have taken me off my current hall and out of Adam and Andy’s reach so none of them liked that suggestion much either. After a few more minutes of lecturing me, Jordan finally told me to go back to my room.

I walked back through the hallway with adrenaline singing in my ears. I knew how encounters like this could escalate, even with no evidence of wrongdoing just on one person’s say-so. Once you were marked as a “bad egg” it was only a matter of time before they found some way to expel you instead of letting you graduate. The next day I gathered up every conceivable thing that I owned that might be construed as breaking even an imaginary rule and move it to an off-campus location. It was the smart move. A week later I got another sleep-depriving middle-of-the-night call down to the RM’s office and this time they were loaded for bear.

“We have a witness,” said Jordan in his most melodramatic tones, “who tells us that you have contraband in your room.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Who is this person?”

“We can’t tell you that,” he spluttered, “but they’re somebody who is in a position to know.”

I shrugged. “If you can’t tell me who the person is then I can’t possibly hope to explain what they might think I have. But I’ll tell you what,if it helps you can go search my room. I’ll show you everything I own.”

Jordan’s eyes narrowed. I could tell he didn’t like it that I didn’t seem rattled. The whole point of this exercise was to get me feeling guilty so I’d start confessing.

“The person who turned you in also said that you’ve moved your stuff out of the room,” he said.

I had to smile. The entire scenario was so ludicrous. Me in my pajamas in the middle of the night being sweated out under the bright lights by a man who was only a year or two older than I was. And all of this over my potential ownership of something as inane as a Billy Joel CD or a video game. I could even have been expelled outright for owning a movie rated G.

Then suddenly I thought about the four years of my life I had given to the college. Two summers of 4 a.m. shifts in the warehouse, the heat of weeks of camp as a counselor, and months spent working lonely nights in the IT department away from my friends. And that was not even to mention hundreds of hours of classes, and thousands of dollars earned with my blood and sweat. All that might be lost because a few petty people had let power go to their heads. Suddenly I wasn’t smiling anymore.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I repeated over and over. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

Finally, reluctantly, they let me stumble back to bed in the wee hours of the morning. I lay awake in the darkness willing myself to go to sleep, knowing that I would be up for work in a few short hours but when I finally managed to calm down enough to drift off, the nightmares started. In my dreams I could hear them at the door. They were coming back to get me again. This time they were taking me to the deans office to be shadowed then expelled. Four wasted years. Public shame. My life would be over.

That dream was my constant companion through the restless nights in the months that followed. Fear was my constant companion both awake and asleep. For some reason they never came back. Perhaps they never intended to do anything beyond terrorizing me a little, some misguided attempt to “scare me straight.” Maybe they just knew they couldn’t trump up enough proof to really go through with their threats. I’ll probably never know. What I do know is that through the whole incident I never received a demerit. I never was removed as PL or officially reprimanded in any way.

By the time graduation day dawned I felt numb inside. I had ironically been invited to speak a brief promotional message about my time at PCC during the convocation. I turned it down. I stood in line in my cap and gown fighting the subconscious thought that someone from the Dean’s office might be coming through the door at any minute to pull me out of line. To tell me that they had made a mistake in letting me graduate.

I walked across the stage mechanically. Took my diploma. Sat in my seat. I should have been excited and joyful, I should have been ready to dance an sing about the accomplishment of graduating from college and starting the rest of my life. Instead I just felt tired and empty. It took a long, long time before I felt anything else.

It was only in the last few years that I began to wonder what had happened to my tormentors from those last terrible weeks of school. And so I went to look. I was chagrined to learn that Jordan the Residence Manager is now a youth pastor at a fundamentalist church in Texas. But the real shocker was when I learned that Adam the floor leader is now the admissions director at the very college we attended. Verily, he has his reward.

Mine is not the only story like this. I would not be surprised if this very week some other recent graduate sits at home knowing that they should be happy but only feeling the exhaustion of being a prisoner in the four year Standford experiment at Pensacola Christian College. If you are that student then I want you to know that you are not alone. Come sit and tell us your story too. We have been there. We understand.

Intermission: People

From the stories so far one might come away with the impression that every waking moment at PCC is filled with some fresh new horror being foisted upon the students. That isn’t exactly true. Horror is scheduled from 3:30-4:00 on alternating Thursdays. Please wear afternoon class dress for this event.

I do have some good memories from PCC — most of which involve one of two things: friends and music…

I would be remiss if on this 10th anniversary of graduation I didn’t take some time to remember the people at college who made life bearable. Of course there was my wife who for the brief time she was there saw my air general gloom as the perfect challenge for her perpetual cheer. But there were also summer work friends. Computer Science classmates. Roommates who introduced me to the wonders of tie checks, dumpster diving, comic books, Ramen noodles, gummy bear dioramas and Sunday afternoon drives to Alabama “just because.”

One roommate in particular deserves special recognition. Dave Tesone bounded into my life my freshman year of college, a big burly Italian from California who just couldn’t ever seem to take PCC (or anything else) very seriously. His good cheer and general amusement at the uptight machinations of the college helped teach me some very valuable survival skills for the rest of my time there. Sadly, Dave died in a tragic car accident only a few short years after transferring away from PCC. He is missed. May he rest in peace until we meet again in a far better place where there is never a light’s out.

There is another person who helped keep my sanity during my tenure and deserves a mention. Miss Bradford (now Mrs. Cole) graciously allowed a skinny not-quite-tenor who barely read music to join her Symphonic choir and then later (even after a disastrous audition with laryngitis) the Chamber choir. I don’t know how one person managed to have a will and graciousness strong enough to make a classroom a haven from the outside pressures that surrounded us but somehow she managed it. Week after week we would stand in that practice room and sing Ave Verum Corpus and for a few brief moments the stress and cares would simply slip away, dissolved in ancient beauty. It was not church or chapel but a choir director that saved my soul in those dark years.

So many friends. So many laughing faces both of those still loved and those only dimly remembered. I was blessed to meet some of humanity at their very best in that unlikely place. These were never the people in power nor were they good because PCC had mandated that they must be. They were often kind in spite of rules that would have constrained them to be otherwise. Often in such places acts of kindness must necessarily be acts of loving rebellion.

Of course, near the end I also experienced some of the worst of what people have to offer. But that’s a story for tomorrow…

Soliloquy: Another Alumni Recollects

I asked my friend John to share a memory for this week. What he sent me follows…

It was the pinnacle of a preacher boy’s training. No, not New Testament Greek, or even the bizarrely garish spectacle of the yearly “preaching contest.” It was Marriage and Family class – where we finally got to learn how to hold a family together amidst the constant drain of The Ministry. And also, we all secretly hoped, talk a little about sex. So far we had learned that “Men are like microwaves and women are like conventional ovens.” I finished the last scratches of my doodle. It was a three dimensional picture of a slightly rumpled box, its flaps open, with the word “Think” sitting outside of it, also rendered in three dimensions. A few minutes earlier a female student had asked a question that the teacher had apparently considered very stupid. He must have, because his response was, “No, you bimbo…” before launching off into an Approved Narrative regarding the topic. And in that moment, I caught a glimpse of a spirit that infected the entire campus like a spiritual canker, a spirit so contradictory to Galatians five that it shook me to the core. I had seen a ghost – an evil spirit that wore khakis and a blazer and a saccharine smile and called
women created in the image of God bimbos.

My mind drifted back to all the pain and suffering I had seen women go through. There were little things – like dates tearing up after being told to return to their room and change. Not because changing was so difficult, but because of the shame associated and the opportunity for gossip and to be labeled a slut. Or a bimbo. There were the separate elevators, as if two young adults couldn’t possibly ride together in an elevator in the library without spontaneously copulating. I thought about the girls who were forced to surrender their friendship because they were caught sleeping in the same bed – surely a sign of being lesbian, because even two women can’t sleep in the same bed without being filled with irrepressible sexual urge.

But there were bigger things that belied a seriously sick approach to gender and sexuality. I remembered the girl who gave birth in a stairwell at school. I hadn’t known her very well, but my heart ached for a young woman who was so afraid of admitting that she had pre-marital sex that she would risk the health of herself and her baby. I wondered how many times she had been called a bimbo. I wondered how this same fundamentalist culture could scream so loudly about the evils of abortion and then put a girl in a position where the precious gift in her womb would be better off hidden, better off delivered in a dusty, hot stairwell. Maybe better off aborted. I wondered where the love was in a system that called itself Christian and called its women bimbos. And I thought about the double standard.

When I first arrived on campus, I had a secret fear. I feared going to a “Christian” college. I feared that I would be around people who were good. I was afraid that such people would reveal the lie of my superficial morality and polished dress- code. When I met my roommates, I was filled with almost instant relief. They were upper classmen, and while they suffered from the same superiority complex as I did, they were unabashedly pagan. They joked about going out of state to purchase pornography. They joked about clogging the shower drain through frequent masturbation, and argued over whether it was polite to masturbate in the shower or not. We had a newer dorm and didn’t have to share a bathroom with anyone, so it brought a new dynamic to the conversation.

As the teacher droned on about how women were the downfall of many a minister, I thought about how so many of the men I knew in school were just as psychologically screwed up as the women – just as hurt, just as confused, just as sexually stunted and repressed. But, they weren’t called names. I thought about the serial daters on campus being humorously – and a bit adoringly – referred to as “man whores”, usually with a wistful sigh and hint of jealousy. I thought about a double standard that allowed men to think of women as sexual objects and sources of damnation and ruin. I thought about a culture that thought it was ok to call a female student bimbo, or a classmate a slut because she wore a fitted top, but would never use such shaming on men.

I sighed a little too loudly, drawing an irritated glance from the teacher and causing the dozing fellow in front of me to stir and wipe the spittle from his mouth. Then I hastily scratched four words beneath my drawing that would because the mantra for my short time left. “Not in this place.”

Act III: Keeping Up Appearances (No Matter The Cost)

Pensacola Christian College loves to talk about its high standards and the way it strives for excellence. What they don’t highlight so much is that excellence is a blood sport that often puts students at risk. It seems that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some legs.

It was early in my Junior year when the girl who I would later marry collapsed in her dorm room in terrible pain, unable to even stand. Her roommates carried to bed, hopeful that she’d feel better in the morning. The next day they contacted the on-campus clinic and were informed that their only option was  painful trek across campus to be seen by the nurse in order to get permission to stay in her room instead of attending classes. (It only takes missing six unauthorized classes to get expelled at that bastion of education so just staying in her room and hoping for the best wasn’t an option.)

Even though her roommates asked for help, explaining that Cassie was unable to sit up in the wheelchair the clinic told them to use all they were told is “That’s all we have. You’ll just have to manage.”  A slow trip down to the lobby with her propped in the wheelchair revealed even more bad news: there was no wheelchair access to the dorm. The only option was a small wooden ramp still propped up for students who were moving in heavy luggage at the start of the semester that hadn’t yet been removed. As carefully as they could, they attempted to navigate down to the sidewalk but the chair slipped, dumping Cassie onto the ground. Students, these rules are here for your protection.

After several hours of waiting in the clinic under the ever-suspicious eyes of the staff who’s main job is apparently to discourage people from skipping class, an ambulance showed up to take her to the nearby hospital where she was misdiagnosed with a pinched nerve. A representative from the dean’s office went with her and talked to the doctors on her behalf without any kind of written HIPAA authorization. She was then summarily given pain killers and whisked back to campus to her fifth floor room in Dixon tower to recuperate.

The horror didn’t end there. One night during her convalescence there was a fire drill.  Cassie was still on the 5th floor of the dorm, even though the Residence Manager and the Dean’s office knew that she could barely walk let alone descend and re-climb stairs. Her roommates were literally forced to carry her. Of course PCC isn’t known for really caring much about fire safety anyway. For years the rule has remained on the books that all female students must be in “proper” attire before they leave their rooms for a fire drill. If you happen to be sleeping in pajama pants, you must take the time to put on a skirt before you try to escape the flames. If you should perish then at least you’ll know you died for the cause of not tempting the fire fighters to lust after you.

Finally, after trying to tough it out and even trying to go back to class, my future wife had taken all she could bear. She told the dean’s office that she was leaving and they cut up her ID card, the final act of withdrawing from the college. However, since Pensacola airport is far from a major hub, her flight home was to leave at 7:00 a.m., meaning she would need to leave the college by 6:00, well before the gates opened. A good friend of ours petitioned the dean’s office to let him drive Cassie to the airport and help her with her bags. He was twenty-three years old and therefore was allowed to go off-campus with non-student girls — of which my wife was now one.  The dean’s office refused his request to help.

Rather than risk the college’s precious testimony by having a Christian guy help his injured friend to the airport, Cassie was instead forced to take a cab driven by a total stranger who left her on the airport curb without a way to carry her luggage. The college must keep up its appearances no matter what the risk to you. You don’t matter. They do.

After a few weeks of being home my wife received a letter from the college. It should have been a note of apology or a letter expressing regret at how badly they had managed her entire situation. Instead it was a bill for the remaining weeks of the semester since she had crossed the six-week threshold by a few days.  Apparently the only thing even more important than appearances at PCC is getting paid.

Keep the rules. Raise the standard. Strive for excellence. If you’re too broken in body or spirit to manage that then we simply don’t want your kind around here. How can a place that both holds and demonstrates such beliefs be Christian?