Cedarville University has one of the strictest alcohol policies of any university. While many secular universities have “insurance” policies to help underage students get out of alcohol charges, Cedarville prohibits the possession and consumption of alcohol regardless of age, location, or enrollment status. In other words, whether or not you are 21+, whether classes are currently in session or you are on a break, whether you are on or off-campus, and whether you are a student at any level, you cannot drink or even go to places where alcohol is “the main feature.”
Cedarville’s disciplinary response to a violation of this policy is remarkably vague. “Violations of these guidelines may result in dismissal,” the handbook reads. But where does the University draw the line of dismissal? It would seem Cedarville itself does not even know, as we will see in this story of a student who by all accounts was a stand-out Cedarville student who was dismissed after their first alcohol offense.
The frightening reality is that this student’s disciplinary process revealed that the handbook seems to exist merely as a way of silencing students who Cedarville Student Life may deem a threat to the University’s reputation or an inconvenience that is not worth expending time, money, or effort. If you are influential enough or bring the school enough money, the handbook does not apply as strongly to you. But if you just are one student in a sea of 4,500 others–even with excellent academics and community involvement–the handbook will be used to its fullest extent.
Hudson was in his last year at Cedarville University. In addition to being involved in major-specific activities and org activities, he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and the International Justice Mission.
Hudson was well-liked among students. In fact, although we never met, I had heard from many of my friends what a good guy he was which is something I don’t usually hear–typically I hear from my friends about people they don’t like.
But on October 9, 2021, things took a turn in Hudson’s life at Cedarville. He and his friend drank on Cedarville’s campus and decided to ride their bikes around the lake. A noise complaint was made to Campus Security, and Hudson and his friend were stopped and confronted about the smell of alcohol on their breath. The two admitted that they had been drinking and granted Campus Security permission to search one student’s dorm, where they found 28 against-covenant items, only 4 of which were Hudson’s.
According to the Campus Security report,
“When Campus Security arrived to investigate [a noise complaint], they discovered that two of the individuals [redacted] and [Hudson] had the smell of alcohol on their breath, were slurring their words, and had difficulty standing up without support. When they were first confronted by CS, [redacted] and [Hudson] denied that they had been drinking any alcohol. However, after further questioning, they began to be more truthful. They eventually acknowledged that they had drank multiple drinks in a residence hall.”
Later in the report, it notes that “[redacted] and [Hudson] acknowledged ownership of the alcohol.” It failed to specify how much of the alcohol was owned by who, which we’ll come back around to later.
Hudson was understandably shaken by the experience and was faced with the possibility that he might be expelled from Cedarville University. In the car with the security officer who drove him home, he asked if they thought he would be kicked out. The officer said he was probably fine because he had no previous record. Two days later, on Monday the 11th, he met with the dean of student life Brad Smith.
What stood out about his meeting with Brad Smith was that both Hudson and his friend were “charged” as if they were the same person. Although 24 of the 28 items found were his friend’s, Hudson was never granted permission to be adjudicated separately throughout the entire process. After the meeting, Dean Smith said that they were most likely dismissed but the final call would be through Mindy May.
We all know how the Mindy May story ends. Hudson was dismissed.
As a student, Hudson was committed to Cedarville and had a lot of friends who supported him throughout this process. He was deeply involved in the campus community and his fellow org members advocated for his membership not to be terminated.
But Student Life’s response did not align with the love and support Hudson felt from the rest of campus. When the appeal process began, he sat before a student council chosen by SGA along with faculty. Some of the students tried to ask questions about him as a person, but for the most part, all questions regarded this singular incident–and the incident as a whole, not just his involvement. After the council concluded, Hudson waited for their deliberation. Twenty minutes later he was officially dismissed.
As he waited, he had heard laughter from the room where they discussed their decision.
The official decision called for “Immediate Dismissal for violation of CU alcohol possession.” Graciously, it states that “[Hudson] may reapply to CU for the Fall 2022 semester” conditional on “a positive letter of recommendation from a counselor with whom [he] has shared the details of this event, as well as his acknowledgment that he has struggled with alcoholism” after “a number of sessions” as well as “A positive letter of recommendation from a pastor of the local church where [Hudson] attends and with whom he has shared his struggles with alcohol.”
This is laughable and so typical of hyper-conservative Christian organizations to address a one-time sin as a lifestyle issue. Hudson was supposed to get counseling for alcoholism. Let me restate. For alcoholism. Why? He drank one time. This is not a struggle with alcohol. This is drinking one time. It is absolutely absurd for the University to make these claims as grounds for dismissal.
I wish I could be there when Hudson transfers to another university and they ask cautiously, “Can you tell us about this administrative dismissal?” and Hudson says, “Yes, I drank one time when I was 21” followed by howling laughter from any sane school administrator. They’d probably congratulate him for being the only student who got in trouble for drinking when of-age EVER at that school.
The Double Standard
Of course, possession or use of alcohol is prohibited at Cedarville University, but it is by no means a zero-tolerance policy. In the section that addresses alcohol, the handbook says, “Violations of these guidelines may result in dismissal.” (p. 16, emphasis added) This is an incredibly vague statement and could apply to any violation of the handbook. A more specific section of the handbook is possession of firearms, which states that disciplinary action up to dismissal is possible and includes fines and specific regulations regarding what is allowable on campus. The disciplinary process for alcohol use and possession is not made clear, and even after his dismissal, Hudson discovered a final level of appeal on his own without being made aware by the University, which was a direct appeal to the Presidential Cabinet.
No statement is made that its alcohol policy is “zero-tolerance” meaning automatic dismissal. If you ask me, I think I know why. For students like Hudson, he contributed greatly to the culture of Cedarville through his service and commitment to community. But when the entire soccer team got busted at a 21st birthday party, they got off scot-free. “But Cedarville Interpreter, they got put on probation.” Wow! That means absolutely nothing! That means no drinking if they’d get caught, or maybe holding off until probation is over.
My question is what is the difference between Hudson and the soccer team? Ah, the soccer team is viewed as an asset by the administration. They make Cedarville marketable to incoming students because “We’re a real school with real sports!” They also bring money to the school through sponsorships and funding. Because of this, they get off with a slap on the wrist while Hudson is dismissed, treated like a nameless face on a Campus Security report.
I know personally of multiple individuals who have been caught with alcohol who were not dismissed. The difference? They had connections at the school.
Cedarville’s double standard in this area–as in so many other areas of disciplinary action–is sickening.
If you disagree, consider this: if Dr. White’s own child were attending the University and got busted for alcohol, would a gracious redemption plan suddenly come onto the table?
There were three things that stood out about Hudson’s dismissal, which he outlined very well in his final appeal to the Presidential Cabinet. Firstly, his case was adjudicated together with his friend who was charged for criminal offenses. He writes:
As we can see in the first page of the CU Campus Safety report, my charge was described as “NON-CRIMINAL INCIDENT : RESIDENT LIFE ISSUE/VIOLATION”, versus the other individual I was caught with [redacted] “ORC CRIMINAL : 2925 : 14 DRUG PARAPHERNALIA OFFENSES”. Due to the difference in nature of our charges, I requested on multiple occasions our cases be judged separately yet despite my greatest efforts, this apparently was not done. At every stage, from start to finish, our cases were presented as one in the same. Even the dismissal papers we both received were almost identical, with the only difference being the addition of “substance abuse” to [redacted]’s form.
This is incredibly malfeasant on the part of the Cedarville administration. To judge two separate cases as one simply because they were associated is misguided at best and unjust at worst–I, personally, call it an injustice. This sends the message to students that if they are even in the room with someone who has made bad decisions, they could be held liable as if they were that person. So don’t visit anyone’s dorms or apartments–if you get in trouble and then you’re there when they get busted for weed it might as well be yours.
This is absurd.
Second, there was no attempt by Cedarville administrators to bring Hudson back into the community. Instead, he was treated like a dirty sinner who needed to be gotten rid of. In his appeal, he writes:
There was no effort to attempt to bring me back to the community. From start to finish, the solution seemed to be an effort remove me from the community for the betterment of the Cedarville Campus. While I can see this reaction being understandable for repeated patterns of disobedience or lack of a desire to change, I did not exhibit either of those. I find this approach to be inconstant [sic] with 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and Matthew 18:15-17.
While I recognize Cedarville is not the church, I nevertheless wonder why I am treated so much more harshly than the sinner of Matthew 18:15. I feel rather than having my misconduct declared to me and offered an opportunity to be restored to the community, I have been treated as the sinner in verse 17 “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
The actual community of Cedarville came behind Hudson during this difficult time. According to him, he received little judgment from his friends and colleagues. Ah, but from the administration, there was no holistic consideration of who he was as a person. Instead, he was defined totally and completely by one incident and given no chance for redemption.
Such swift dismissal is ironic coming from a University administration who designed a redemption plan to hire a sexual predator a few years ago.
Third and finally, Cedarville’s appeal process was not fully explained to Hudson. This is not due process.
Hudson writes in the appeal:
Upon the completion of the appeal, I was never offered this second level of appeal. We were brought before the appeal board who decided to uphold Dean Smith’s decision and then to Dean Smith’s office where he explained to us that dismissal was upheld and we were to start the process of leaving Cedarville immediately. Only after reviewing the “Appeal and Hearing Board Process” document did I realize I was entitled to this second level of appeal. I don’t believe there was any ill will in not advising me of this right, but one would hope future students would be accurately apprised of their rights under the policy.
I would agree with Hudson that there was probably no ill will in this situation, but when it comes to the most important disciplinary proceedings at a University, leadership is neglectful if they do not know about and inform students of all levels of the appeals process. Based on past situations, Cedarville loves to sweep issues under the rug and do away with anyone who exhibits imperfect behavior or does not fit their mold, so it does not reflect well on a University that already has this reputation to also withhold the details of its disciplinary process from students facing dismissal.
Even during the disciplinary process facing dismissal, Hudson continued to invest in the University. He went to his classes, saved seats for his friends in chapel, and contributed to the campus community. But it didn’t matter. Drinking alcohol once is so vile a sin that students must be immediately removed–unless they’re good at kicking soccer balls into goals I guess.
Reshaping the Policy
As someone who went through this broken disciplinary process, Hudson had two recommendations if Cedarville chooses not to change its alcohol policy. First, distinguish between underage and of-age students. If a student is underage and is caught drinking, they have violated the law and Cedarville is within its rights to discipline the student.
However, students who are of age should not receive the same level of discipline. Hudson pointed out that he did not, “want future students to misunderstand the goal of that policy or Cedarville’s effort to create a safe campus by assuming drinking is a greater sin that is harder to be redeemed from.”
I honestly don’t understand Cedarville’s deep fear of alcohol, but their policy clearly sends the wrong message to students about what is right and wrong, especially by showing no distinction between underage students and those who are over 21.
Hudson’s second recommendation is to clearly define whether or not the policy is zero-tolerance. He said,
“This immediate dismissal approach is inconsistent with the central themes of the overall discipline policy: progressive sanctions and restoration. There was nothing about my case that indicated any progressive punishment. And, rather than restoring me–for my good and the good of the university–I was punished by taking away my chance to graduate with my class. This sanction is far more severe than the offense.”
Zero-tolerance policies should be listed as just that: zero-tolerance. The policy states that dismissal is possible, but not the only recourse. You cannot convince me that Cedarville had just cause to dismiss Hudson more so than its soccer players. On the whole, he was a golden child of the University. His volunteer experience alone as well as the community that surrounded him with faced with dismissal demonstrates that.
But did he know the right people? Did he play the right sport? No, but he did dare to drink one time and be there when someone else got busted for drug paraphernalia.
Where was the redemption plan the University touted a couple years ago? Where was the love and acceptance Cedarville claims to foster? Where was the excellence in effort to holistically view Hudson as a person and seek his reconciliation? Where was the integrity in conduct to explain the appeals process to him? Cedarville may defend its actions by saying they are fostering a godly community. Love for God, they might say, comes first. I have one thing to say in response.
Love for God will never come at the expense of love for others.
It never ever will, because God loves his creation and pursues them constantly, even when they make wrong decisions or fall into the trap of sin. But Hudson was not treated with love, he was treated ignorantly and wrongly. Still, he holds absolutely no ill will toward the University or the administrators that dismissed him. He is a better person than I because I am frankly upset for him. Cedarville needs more people who are committed to its community at such a high level and give of themselves not only at Cedarville but in its surrounding community.
We recommend that Cedarville University change its alcohol policy to prohibit alcohol on all University property but allow alcohol use off-campus, at least over breaks, for of-age students. Underage students should not be permitted to drink, but Cedarville should not seek to do the government’s job by regulating students over breaks. That is serious overreach from a private institution like Cedarville University and constitutes an invasion of privacy.
In our first article, we argued against Cedarville’s archaic policy and wrote:
God does not write off enjoying anything unless it is harmful to our bodies or hurts others, neither of which are true about alcohol. Cedarville ought to take this Biblical message to heart and change their policies to allow responsible use of alcohol. Unfortunately, that will probably never happen for one simple reason: Cedarville is so concerned with their image that they are more willing to treat their students like children than follow actual Biblical principles.
That is still the sad reality. Cedarville will likely never change until the entire Southern Baptist Convention does, many affiliates of which just stopped prohibiting interracial dating a couple decades ago. So buckle up: it may not happen in our lifetime…or our kids’ lifetimes.
Saving face, it seems, is always Cedarville’s first priority and they get away with it because the face they save is that of a godly, Biblical university with high moral standards for its students. But what higher morality is there than Scripture, and how dare they claim their standards are superior to those God himself created?
It is time for a change at Cedarville. No student deserves to go through what Hudson did, treated like a criminal in a place he loved and called home. He pleaded in his appeal: “Please get to know me as a sinner saved by grace who has made a mistake rather than a case that needs to be removed from Cedarville.”
Cedarville University did not listen.