We are often asked: “How do I survive as a social or political moderate or even a liberal on such a conservative campus?” The meat of this question is a much more general principle we must all confront when we inevitably step out into the real world. That question is, “How do we operate in environments that are hostile to our beliefs?” This is applicable not only on highly conservative campuses, but on highly liberal ones too and, more importantly, workplaces on one end of the ideological pole where we all could end up one day.
How we function ultimately comes down to our attitude. A student–we’ll call him Joey–came to Cedarville with whimsy in his soul. He saw Cedarville as a Christian university with solid academics and a relatively typical campus community. At CU Friday and various escapades across the Cedarville website, there was no mention of strict speech codes, discriminatory dress requirements, or enforced legalistic ideology. He arrived and was soon shocked to realize that he had to watch himself around everyone.
Like many other wide-eyed freshmen, the honeymoon period came to a screeching stop. As he began to study Scripture in a new light, he saw discrepancies between what was taught at Cedarville and what the Bible actually said and was disturbed to see how it played out at the university.
Well, this is my story. I’m Joey (yeah, that’s totally my real name guys…busted) and so I have personal experience on how to survive in an ideologically hostile environment like Cedarville. Here are a few tips I learned along the way that helped me and hopefully they help you too.
1. Choose friends wisely and carefully
It’s important to make friends who are similar to us because there is a bubble of safety apart from the bubble of Cedarville’s campus. It really begins with getting to know people, being cautiously vulnerable, and then finding differences in common. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a lengthier process than being the picture-perfect student engaging in “intentional community,” but the good news is that it is worth it—you will find deeper connections and more authentic friendship with those people. If you do anything against the Cedarville “covenant,” make sure you are very careful and truly trust those you share that information with. I have a lot of people I know that I can tell about anything and they are by far my best friends at CU.
However, as important as it is to make friends with similarities, it is also very beneficial to make friends with differences. Not all of my friends are exactly like me or do all the same un-Cedarville things I do, but I still care about them and get advice from them on things that come up in my life. Asking for advice is not the same as taking it and I have never encountered a situation in my life where hearing multiple perspectives was not beneficial, even if some of those perspectives were wrong.
Also, if you ever need a friend feel free to DM us. We are always down for a conversation! There are real people behind this page who really do care about all of you, so even if you’re in a jam our DMs on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and our email are open.
2. Move off campus
Even more practically, moving off campus can be an incredibly helpful way to remove yourself from a toxic or highly restricted environment if that is where you find yourself. Living off-campus means really no oversight from Cedarville except when you are on campus. If nothing else, it can be a respite.
Now, I should clarify. I personally don’t think being on campus is that bad. However, if you are struggling, finding off-campus housing can be a practical way to take care of yourself.
3. Tolerance goes both ways—make concessions to those with more conservative or liberal beliefs
Belief in true tolerance—valuing the humanity and values of others with differing opinions—goes both ways. It means accepting people who are different just as we expect others to accept us. That goes for people who believe in things that are wrong or even ignorant, too. We’re called to love everyone, not just people we like or agree with, and be constantly open to change even our most hard-set opinions. That’s a lesson that we hope one day is embedded in Cedarville’s culture. I truly believe that sort of cultural shift is what will ultimately lead to change.
4. Remind yourself who you are
Being called a “liberal” can be used as an insult at Cedarville—even if you are really just more liberal than some other people. Don’t let what others think or say get to you because you know who you are. Find a way to remind yourself who you know yourself to be. Take care of yourself and even consider writing yourself notes if that’s what it takes. Calling back to the first tip, hold on to friends who encourage you.
5. Study scripture
When you are holding onto beliefs that are contrary to Cedarville’s, keep reminding yourself of the Scriptures that support them, constantly delve into what the Bible truly has to say, and never stop refining and checking your beliefs.
We hope these few simple tips help you along your way at Cedarville. If you are struggling, remember that this situation is only temporary. If it comes down to it, transferring and taking more time to finish your degree is better than letting your mental health suffer. But if that isn’t the best option for you, or you’re like me and you love your professors but have problems with certain rules and aspects of Cedarville’s culture, hopefully, these tips can help you make the most of your time.
Do you have any tips on making it without being the picture-perfect student? Leave them in the comments!
All Photo Credits: Cedarville University.