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Student Voices #003: Abandoned

Before we share this story, I must warn you that it is incredibly disturbing but yet incredibly important. Sexual assault is a cancer that grows in darkness and abuse must be exposed so that justice can come to fruition. This young woman experienced something unthinkable. What is more, she experienced something avoidable if it were not for the disregard and lack of compassion exhibited by Cedarville University.

Next time the administration lectures us about the importance of mental health or caring for victims of sexual assault, remember how they handled this situation and how desperate this system must be changed. Remember that Cedarville cast out one of its own and put them in a dangerous position for the sake of public perception. Remember that Cedarville sought no recourse for its wrongdoings but simply doubled down on their disregard.

This story is not shared just to show Cedarville in a bad light. It is to bring to light a deeply broken system and expose the abuse that this student faced. There must be change. It is clear what was wrong in this instance. She should never have been forced to leave. She should have been given shelter at Cedarville before the incident because she had nowhere safe to go.

After the assault occurred, she should have been given shelter because there was nowhere safe to go. She should not have been blamed for the assault she experienced. She should have been believed. Leviticus 25:35-36 holds a command to fear God by providing shelter to those in our community who are in need, a command which is reflected in New Testament teachings to care for those in need.

But fear of God was exchanged for Fear of COVID-19.

Cedarville must be held accountable for this horrific failure and must change its policies and procedures. Share your opinions on how the system should be changed in the comments or through our social media.

To the woman who shared this story, we admire your courage to express the pain you experienced and hope that even in some small way, sharing your story brings you comfort, particularly through the support of students gathering around you as it should have been two years ago. You are of immeasurable worth as a loved child of God and a member of our family.

The Story

Two years. 

Twenty Four Months. 

Seventy Thousand Five Hundred Twenty Hours. 

One Million Fifty-One Thousand Two Hundred Minutes of being a survivor. 

Two years ago today, I was brutally raped. Twice. 

Two weeks before my life would be branded by a vicious attack, Cedarville closed its doors to hide from the pandemic and left thousands of students searching for a place to reside.

We were told to pack some bags and go home, or go anywhere really.

One by one, students went home or were paired off with surrounding churches for respite. Only the “elite few” were allowed to stay on campus. Students who were missionaries or pastor’s kids were given preference. Students who had “ins” with administration or important staff members were conveniently allowed sanctuary in dorms. 

Then, there was me. 

A straight-A honor roll student. A student who volunteered in as many organizations as they could and did their best to meet Cedarville’s idea of a “good Christian young woman.” A young naive twenty-year-old girl with a known heart disability who had recently started dating a Christian young man whose family members attended Cedarville.

I petitioned Cedarville to allow me to stay on campus. I had no resources outside of the University to ensure I would be fed, housed, and in a suitable place to take care of my medical needs. I was denied. They told me to reach out to a church and see if some stranger would take me in disregarding their legal responsibility to allow me the housing I paid for.

I began to look frantically as my days left on campus dwindled quickly. Each unsuccessful second that went by looking for housing pushed me one more second closer to homelessness.

Eight hours from Cedarville, my mother was actively fighting the Coronavirus in the trenches of a hospital ER while my father was trucking many hours to ensure our state was still fed. My siblings hid at home praying for my parent’s safety while doing everything they could to stay healthy themselves. My sister, frail from her weakened heart and deteriorating body, feared for her life as she was given a death sentence if she caught the virus. 

I could not go home.

Cedarville remained open for the elite who were chosen to stay on campus. The ones whom Cedarville thought were worthy of protection. Those students continued to be fed and housed. I found the President of Cedarville, Thomas White, in the cafeteria and shared my fears. He told me to talk to the Dean of Women: Mindy May, a woman who made it clear she did not like me.

On numerous occasions she threatened to kick me off campus If I could not get my heart disability under control. I petitioned to stay again but the answer remained. I had to leave. Cedarville wanted to keep the numbers as low as they could on campus and I was deemed not in need enough to stay.

I packed the essentials and what few possessions I could fit in my parent’s old grey half broken down Prius they had let me borrow at the beginning of the year, and I prepared to leave.

Cedarville’s actions in turning away a student in need were anything but a “student-centered” response.

Just one day before being sent from campus I found an elderly couple to reside with. After about a week, my stay there was complete. They could not house anyone long-term due to the health risks it posed them. I deeply respected that. 

I moved on to stay with a friend for a few days and then was told I needed to go somewhere else. Not out of malice or spite, but simply because each family was doing what they could to keep their family safe. 

Except this time was different. I did not find anywhere to go at the last minute. I was out of options: be homeless or spend time at my boyfriend’s house with his mother. 

Being a young girl with strong morals, I personally opposed to residing in the same house, but I was given a different room upon arrival and assured that his mother would be around. 

Looking back, I can truly say I did everything I could. I stayed in public spaces around him, remained modest, and upheld the values I held dear to my heart. 

But. It. Didn’t. Matter.

One night went by and all seemed well, but the next day his mother went to her work office to sort out some urgent matters. 

My boyfriend, in broad daylight, alone in that country house trapped me. Grabbed me. Heinously defiled me. Bruised me. Cut me. Raped me, destroyed me, and left me. 

I was stuck in that house with nowhere to go. A house I never would have been in if Cedarville let me stay. If Cedarville deemed me valuable. Stuck- on the second floor in broad daylight, only one exit from that house. A long flight of stairs down to the main living room full of dog hair and crusty wallpaper and the man who had stolen everything from me in an instant. 

I hid in that room and cried for hours. Terrified and broken. I sobbed and sobbed and eventually, he came upstairs. He said he was sorry for what he had done and that he would protect me. I could not tell his mom I could not tell anyone. He said he would ruin me if I ruined him. 

Less than 24 hours later he marred me again. 

Worse. Much worse. I begged him to let me go see a friend and assured him I would be back. He trusted me and I fled to the hospital where COVID was in full force.

There was no compassion or close contact. I was stripped, tugged, pulled, photographed, tested, treated, and discharged. They took my clothes, took my hair, took my blood, and took my dignity. They sent me out of the hospital doors wearing a prisoner’s grey jumpsuit broken by the world and turned into a lost scared little girl fearing for her life.

I was referred to a sheriff who took on my case and then I was forced to return to the house I was attacked in to retrieve my few belongings. 

I called my pastor’s wife at the time who said she was so sorry this happened and she told me she would help me.

No compassion could be found at Cedarville. Instead, this student found rejection, disbelief, and silence.

I spent the night alone in my car and the next morning I contacted Cedarville. The one place that could actually keep me safe until I could go home. Their campus dining and residence were still open to the elite few, I knew they could take me in. The only one who could provide me with what I needed during the most vulnerable time in my life. I was hoping I would find respite in a time that NEVER should have occurred if Cedarville had allowed me to stay in the first place, but because I was not the elected elite few and not a shining star in Mindy May’s eyes, she sent me packing.

I spoke to one of Cedarville’s licensed counselors who told me she was so sorry but could not talk to me on the phone because the counseling office was no longer open. She referred me to title 1X who told me to file a police report and turn it into her.

From there I got connected with my campus Pastor’s wife, who also worked as a staff member on Cedarville’s campus; she assured me they would find me safe. She contacted Mindy May personally and with my permission, told Mindy everything that happened. She explained that I needed access to my belongings in my dorm as most of the items I had taken with me were absconded from me and that I needed temporary housing to keep me safe from the man who was threatening to permanently harm me again and to hurt my family. Cedarville was the safest place I could be. I knew Cedarville. In my broken, vulnerable, physical, and mentally shattered state I needed safety.

Cedarville preached God’s love and safety but never gave it. Hypocrites.

My pastor’s wife told Mindy how I had been raped and how I was left with nowhere to go. She made valid all the reasons why I needed to be back on campus and allowed in with the elite few.

Yet Mindy still said no.

The same year of the assault, Dr. Mindy May won “Staff Member of the Year”

She deemed the risk of one more student staying on campus too high to overcome. She told the Cedarville staff member to help me find a residence but that Cedarville did not want to be put at a higher risk for coronavirus so she would not let me return.

In doing so she proved that unless you are a chosen selected valuable few to Cedarville you are disposable. Cedarville offered no protection to me- the disabled. No protection to me the- homeless. No protection to me- the raped. It did not matter because I was disposable. 

The real truth is if Doctor White or Mind May’s imaginary daughter had been in a situation where they would be homeless Cedarville never would have forced them to leave. They would have never gotten hurt and they certainly would have made room for them to return. But I was not valuable enough. 

I was left disregarded and sent to a random stranger’s house. Hoping to goodness my attacker did not find me. Bleeding, sick, and hurt, hiding in a stranger’s house with a stranger’s belongings and trying not to completely lose hope. 

Hurt, marred and stunned by the world, I get a call from Cedarville’s Title 1X who implies I could be the problem. I was asked if there was anything you did wrong? If I possibly tempted him? I was told he should not have done that even if I was butt naked dancing in a strip show, but still, maybe I tempted him. Compassion with twisted ideology. Questions with manipulation and false conceived mercy with guilt. I had done nothing wrong yet I felt I was the one to blame. 

Cedarville, a school that preaches love and acceptance maintains a defiled view of the life of its students. Cedarville, a group that challenges compassion for those in need will trample over you if you are not like them. Cedarville, an institution paid to provide housing and food will take that from you if deemed necessary.

“Cedarville, a school that preaches love and acceptance maintains a defiled view of the life of its students.”

It sickens me to know that the woman who made the decision for the trajectory of my safety and my life during such a vitally vulnerable time still has the ability to make decisions over many girls’ life. She remains the Dean of Women to this day. It sickens me to know I will spend many years in debt trying to pay back the hospital bills that never should have occurred. It sickens me to know that I will spend thousands of dollars and twenty years of my life paying back Cedarville student loans that should no longer be my responsibility. It sickens me to know that a God of love and a God of justice is being presented at Cedarville yet no justice has been brought for what I was forced to endure. 

While I have endured this great tragedy that never should have occurred, I still pray for Cedarville, I pray for their students, and I pray justice will be brought for their failures and what I was forced to endure by their hands. 

Impractical, Immoral, and Illegal: Cedarville’s Dangerous Dress Code

Cedarville University maintains a dress code characterized by archaic principles of “modesty,” a term that is disproportionately applied to women to label them as distractions to men in the academic environment. Cedarville claims to strive for professionalism in its dress code but merely promotes gender stereotypes: men are sex-hungry and women must guard themselves by covering as much of their bodies as possible. Cedarville’s policies are not only a bother to students forced to wear jeans on hot days and struggle to find dresses with straps large enough to cover a good amount of their seductive shoulders, but it finds no basis in Scripture. Instead, it finds its basis in blatant sexism propagated by school administration and enforced by misinformed Resident Assistants (RAs).

Cedarville’s Policies

The rationale for Cedarville’s dress code policy is to encourage servant attitudes toward Christ and others through their dress and appearance. I guess “servant attitudes” go out the window when the personal cautions (PCs, Cedarville’s form of a student write-up) start flowing.

Cedarville’s first rule is undoubtedly pointed at women. “Clothing should not be excessively short or revealing,” the handbook reads. However, no mention is made of men wearing very short shorts or tank tops that expose most of their upper body. Instead, examples are lengths of skirts and dresses, covering up one’s butt if wearing leggings (except if you’re in the gym, which makes zero sense as a distinction), and no low-cut shirts or “immodest” straps, all of which are examples that apply exclusively to women.

Cedarville’s second policy is simply a violation of First Amendment protection of free speech–which is nothing new–by stating that “Clothing should not have slogans that are inconsistent with University values.” This statement is conveniently vague, which is part of why Cedarville was awarded a “Warning” rating by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education last year. It simply gives the university power to interpret and discipline against any slogans it deems to be against its values. It does not only rule out graphics containing vulgarity, nudity, or clearly inappropriate messaging. It goes a step further into the dangerous realm of subjectivity in which Cedarville seemingly loves to reside.

Later, the handbook states, “Shorts, sweatpants, and pajama pants should not be worn to class or chapel.” The shorts policy really only applies during the first few weeks of the fall semester and the last couple of months of the spring semester. However, is the symbolism of wearing pants really more important than students being comfortable during the summer months? Why not allow students to be comfortable as they pursue their education? Cedarville students are not more professional than, for example, OSU students just because they have to wear jeans when it’s 84 degrees outside. This rule seems pointless.

“Clothing should be gender appropriate” is just a bizarre rule to have. I do not know if the rule exists to prevent men from wearing dresses but once again this rule seems to apply exclusively to women. Women are far more likely to dress “masculine” than men are to dress “feminine” because most men’s clothing is basically unisex.

Other rules include wearing shoes in buildings, wearing shirts outside of dorms, and removing hats in classes or chapel. These rules seem fine, except that the hat policy is inconsistently enforced and students find themselves victims of a double standard.

Cedarville’s Enforcement

As impractical as these policies are, Cedarville’s enforcement of the dress code is perhaps even worse. Cedarville’s culture of favoritism extends from administrators protecting those close to them from discipline down to the Resident Assistants (RAs) that they train and grant power to over other students.

RAs do not seem to be well-trained on the dress code requirements–but then again, perhaps they are simply victims of its vagueness and subjectivity. Many RAs abuse their power, but at the same time, they are brainwashed into believing they must confront people with minor dress code violations (or even non-violations that they subjectively deem questionable) or face getting punished themselves by another RA who snitches on their lack of uniformity.

Here are a few examples of dress code enforcement:

One of Cedarville’s softball players was PCed on her way to practice because her softball pants were deemed inappropriate. A girl went to a volleyball game wearing shorts and an oversized sweatshirt that went almost to her knees and was told she needed to change because it gave a bad image that she was not wearing pants. There are dozens of instances of girls wearing baggy shirts or sweatshirts or coats over leggings and still being dress coded.

A girl wore a high-low dress that extended to the knees in the front and the ankles in the back and was told she needed to change–she was late for class but her RA told her “then change quickly.”

After Mission Impossible, a female student was locked out of her room and was walking around campus in leggings–acceptable dress according to the dress code since Mission Impossible involved exercise–but was stopped and told she needed to put on some pants because she “showed too much.”

A girl was wearing shorts–not short shorts, normal length women’s shorts–and was told to change by an RA because they were too revealing.

One female student wrote, “Wore a shirt that had long sleeves, but the shoulders were cut out. Was told I had to change because the straps by my neck weren’t ‘quite two fingers in width.’ Heaven forbid Cedarville men be exposed to my shoulders.”

A girl wore a dress with black leggings underneath. An RA complemented her outfit and then proceeded to say she would have to PC her because her dress had ridden up in the back.

A girl was dress coded in her own hall when the dress code does not apply to residence halls (clearly, based on the amount of people I’ve seen traversing back and forth to the bathroom in their underwear).

A girl went to the gym wearing leggings but knew she was meeting friends immediately after, so she brought a giant coat that covered her completely. She wore it the entire time until she sat down in her seat. Within seconds, an RA approached her and told her she would have to PC her. The student explained that she had come from the gym and brought a coat to cover up, but the RA did not care. Even those who try to follow the rules are punished.

My personal favorite story is that a student wore a beanie in class to cover up her braided hair and because it was winter. An RA chewed her out and tattled to the professor. The professor said, “And? Go sit back down.” Bravo.

Clearly, enforcement makes no sense. Students are not only targeted when they clearly break the dress code but even when they do fall into subjective RA standards. For crying out loud, how can you get PCed when you are wearing Cedarville-authorized sports practice clothes? Based on dozens of stories, the issue often seems to arise when girls look too good in their clothes. RAs seem driven by both jealousy and the sexualization of women. News flash: shoulders, knees, legs, and stomachs are not sexual. Pants that fit well are not sexual. If a girl fills out her pants or shorts, more power to her. We’re really going to punish girls for hitting leg day consistently and/or having good genes?

The answer is yes, we are. Because as much as Christian culture condemns the sexual revolution, there are few institutions that seem more deeply affected by it. Sex has become an object of fear, so anything that could be interpreted to be sexual in any way is an object of fear as well and must be shut down.

All this to say, enforcement is out of control. RAs do not enforce rules correctly or evenly. Women are sexualized while men freely wear shorts, sweatpants, and hats to classes and cutout tank tops that show most of their chest—usually without discipline. But heaven forbid a sliver of a woman’s stomach show. There is a massive double standard when it comes to dress code enforcement of men as opposed to women.

Furthermore, most RAs are absolutely horrible at giving out PCs and have no idea how to handle confrontation from any non-brainwashed student who dares to defy their “authority.” Any disagreement is labeled as disrespectful behavior.

One student received a warning about wearing leggings on campus and the next day wore them, but with a long shirt to cover the back. The RA who warned her told her that her outfit was inappropriate as she was on her way to class. She told the RA her outfit fell within the dress code (which it did) and that she did not have time to give the RA her ID because she would be late for class. The next day, she received a report stating that she had been PCed and was reported as being disrespectful and confrontational for disagreeing with the RA. The RA also approached her friend group to force them to give up her name. The student requested a meeting with the RA and RD to address the situation, figuring maybe the RA had gotten the wrong impression, but the RA refused to have a meeting. After speaking with other students in this RA’s residence hall, the student found that this was a consistent pattern of behavior. Somehow, RAs who consistently cause issues like this continue to maintain their positions of authority.

At the very least, stop sexualizing women on this campus through discriminatory dress codes and enforcement procedures and figure out how to address real dress code violations appropriately and fairly.

Biblical Teaching on Dress

Cedarville uses two verses to address modesty, both of which only address women. 1 Timothy 2 is part of CU’s Biblical support for its dress code. It says, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

Scripture’s definition of modesty here is ensuring decency and not dressing opulently with excessive adornment to draw attention to yourself.

Clothing has completely changed from what it once was during the time the New Testament was written. Paul says that braided hair or jewelry is inappropriate. Peter agrees. Pants were not even worn by men during Paul’s time, much less by women. Furthermore, styles such as braids or wearing jewelry had very different meanings during that time. Thus, we must read into the spirit and context of the text. In the preceding verses, Paul calls believers to live quiet and peaceful lives as Christ mediates on our behalf. “Therefore,” he writes, men must not draw attention to themselves through disagreement but should live in prayer, quietness, and peace. Likewise, women should not draw attention to themselves by wearing clothes that are indecent or excessive, such as wearing clothes that are incredibly expensive or jewelry that is meant to flaunt their wealth.

Cedarville’s dress code does not follow Biblical teaching. It follows faux man-made doctrines about dress and ties “good behavior” and being a good member of a “Christian Community” to an antiquated dress code that puts all of the responsibility on women to cover themselves up to avoid the apparently untamable perverted eyes of men. It puts the blame on the woman rather than the sinful thoughts of another man. Nothing is immodest or suggestive about leggings, for example. They are the exact same as jeans or a skirt when it comes to modesty. Shoulders are the furthest thing from sexual. What about women’s shoulders specifically is sexual? Men can wear barely-there tank tops in the gym without consequence. For that matter, women can wear leggings and other tight clothing in the gym, but once they exit the building it becomes a problem. This makes absolutely no sense. If this type of dress is acceptable for some people in some places, it is acceptable, full stop. Of course, there are exceptions such as more professional environments, but wearing leggings to a Biology lab is not less appropriate than wearing them to the gym.

While on the subject of Biblical teaching, Proverbs 20:10 says, “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Cedarville needs to eliminate these double standards–these unjust, unequal weights and measures. They are far more unbiblical than a girl exposing her shoulders or wearing pants that accentuate her body made in the image of God.

“The Shame” by Zelal Guzlan

Psychological Effects of Dress Codes

In a study performed by the National Women’s Law Center, they found that dress codes enforce the idea that women are distractions for men which causes women to underperform educationally because they become self-conscious and do not want to stand out.

According to The Atlantic, “Educators and sociologists, too, have argued that dress codes grounded in such logic amplify a broader societal expectation: that women are the ones who need to protect themselves from unwanted attention and that those wearing what could be considered sexy clothing are “asking for” a response.”

At best, dress codes are petty and cause unnecessary discomfort to students in an already difficult social and academic environment. At worst, it perpetuates rape culture which is the idea that sexual assault is inevitable and partially the fault of the person assaulted. Laura Bates, founder of The Everday Sexism Project, wrote for TIME, “When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible. Students are being groomed to perpetuate the rape culture narrative that sits at the very heart of our society’s sexual violence crisis. It matters very much indeed.”

Not only does it send the wrong message about women to men, it sends the wrong message about men to women. Shauna Pomerantz of Brock University said it well: “It’s saying the male response is your fault. Your body is causing negativity…It is [also] offensive to men. It suggests they don’t have the ability to talk to a female student without going wild.”

Over and over it has been shown in studies that dress codes disproportionately affect women (you can google it if you don’t believe me). This objectification leads to psychological effects on women who fear being a “stumbling block” for another male.

Let me make something clear to the women reading this. Wearing clothes that make you comfortable, confident, and contained (you know what I mean, probably don’t wear a bikini to class) is all you should ever have to worry about. A man’s response to your clothing is between him and God. And to the men, you are better than that. If you arrived on campus tomorrow and all girls started wearing leggings or shorts, you would not lose your minds and be consumed by sexual fantasies.

Title IX is a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any school that accepts federal funding, which Cedarville does. It reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

In August of 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that dress codes may not discriminate on the basis of sex according to Title IX. The school in question was an “indirect” recipient of federal funding, much like Cedarville University. The court stated, “The text of Title IX is clear. The statute broadly prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. That sweeping prohibition is followed by a handful of exceptions. Dress codes are not listed among those exceptions.”

In other words, Cedarville may have a dress code as long as it does not constitute sex-based discrimination. However, as we have seen, the dress code is disproportionately applied to women and specifically addresses women in its specifications, not men.

It’s time to speak up against Cedarville’s discriminatory dress code.

The ACLU says, “Dress codes that are targeted at or unevenly enforced against particular groups of students may violate laws prohibiting race and sex discrimination. Dress codes are frequently unevenly enforced against girls for wearing clothing that is considered a “distraction” to boys.”

Cedarville’s dress code is one such example. The dress code clearly targets women over men and therefore constitutes clear discrimination. Not only does it represent women as a distraction to men, but it prohibits free expression by disallowing any messaging inconsistent with university values.

According to the ACLU, “The First Amendment prohibits schools from picking and choosing which views students are allowed to express. All views have to be treated equally, so long as they are not obscene or disruptive. This means that if a school permits items like t-shirts with slogans, buttons, or wristbands, it has to permit them no matter what message they express.”

Of course, Cedarville can argue that it maintains religious exemption which is true to an extent. However, if Cedarville chooses to keep a restriction on free speech, it must be more specific. Its vague nature allows improper enforcement and discriminatory practice.

Based on the court’s recent ruling, Leah Reynolds of TNG Consulting recommends, “Schools should pay careful attention when implementing sex-specific dress codes, as courts may find a violation of Title IX, especially when those codes are based on chivalry, modesty, and other antiquated notions of propriety for girls that are not similarly applied to boys.”

Conclusions

In summary, Cedarville’s dress code is impractical. It forces both men and women to wear clothes that are not comfortable based on antiquated ideas of “professionalism.” Furthermore, the dress code falsely claims to be based on Biblical standards when in actuality it is based on man-made standards of so-called modesty. Finally, the dress code’s uneven application and specification only about female dress standards dangerously ride the line of legality.

What can be done about Cedarville’s harmful dress code?

In the short term, we would encourage students to fill out the “Changing Campus Culture” survey provided by Cedarville’s Title IX office this past Monday and send written complaints to key administrators such as Dr. White, Dr. Wood, Dr. May, and Dean Brad Smith about the discriminatory dress code, particularly if it has affected you or those close to you. Also share this post to raise awareness about this issue.

In the long term, Cedarville University must alter its dress code. It is not merely an inconvenience. It goes deeper to affect the hearts and minds of students for the worse. It is impractical, unbiblical, and illegal. It is time for change, and the only way the change will occur is by students speaking out to the administration. We can complain all we want, but if we want things to be different we need to speak out now, often, and effectively.

Checking the Pulse: Cedarville’s Chapel Experience

Cedarville University sells its chapel experience as the “heartbeat of campus.” In other words, chapel is a staple of the University and a defining feature of its character. Many prospective students and parents helping their children choose a school are drawn to Cedarville by the daily chapel that takes place during the week at the Dixon Ministry Center. Not to mention, conservative Baptist donors’ pockets empty at the thought of daily services at a university that has such diversity of academic programs.

The concept of chapel is not unique to Cedarville. In fact, most if not all Christian colleges and universities have some form of chapel. However, Cedarville is different in that it mandates chapel every single weekday for students with 8 excused and 8 unexcused absences per semester. Beyond these skips lies the possibility of fines and more severe disciplinary action.

Cedarville’s mandatory daily chapel is laced with many issues including poor guest speakers who return over and over and worship songs that seem to repeat over and over, not to mention the mandatory aspect and strict enforcement of arbitrary rules and the often confusing mirroring of the local church experience.

What’s the Big Deal?

Even from a few quick social media posts about chapel, it became clear that criticizing chapel is quite controversial. Many point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with the gathering of believers to worship and hear God’s word preached every day. With this point, I would agree. At a basic level, gathering together in a spirit of worship is commendable—so long as that worship is characterized by quality, does not detract from commitment to the local church, and is firmly planted in truth. The problem is that Cedarville chapel does not meet these standards

Lack of Quality.

Quality is a vital component of the gathering of believers. Of course, truth must be proclaimed from God’s word, and in doing so, the proclamation must result in more than mere listening. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Unfortunately, this is all Cedarville achieves by mandating daily chapel: 4,000+ hearers of the word, many of whom are deceiving themselves—deceiving themselves by thinking the frequency of worship equates to quality of faith, or by believing chapel acts as a substitute for a local church, or by expecting faith by osmosis, meaning that hearing words sung and preached will magically sanctify their hearts toward Christlikeness.

Why does chapel cultivate a community of “hearers”? Because with repetition comes monotony and with monotony comes apathy. You can only sing “whoah God we love you for setting a fire in our hearts” so many times before it loses its meaning. You can only hear SGA student leaders spout the same shallow catchphrases and try to be relatable so many times before you begin to groan every time you realize it’s an SGA chapel. You can only hear Dannah Gresh yell “Go Girls!” so many times before you begin to question all of your life choices. Or maybe that last one was just me.

The point is that quality attracts quantity: the better the chapel experience, the higher attendance will be. A telling measure of Cedarville’s quality was during its COVID-affected semesters where chapel was optional and could be viewed online. Attendance was mediocre at best and most likely highly disappointing for the administration. But to them, it surely could not be a problem with chapel itself but merely its virtual nature. “Don’t worry,” they told us when they lifted COVID mandates, “chapel is back.” Back, of course, with no changes made to address the clear disinterest that has built over the last several years.

We will not waste time here recounting every single mistake every speaker has made because, frankly, Cedarville should not take the blame for every single off-the-wall comment a speaker makes. The issue really lies with inviting speakers back and strongly endorsing them even after they have made theological blunders (i.e. Dannah Gresh) and with lacking diversity in its choice of speakers. Imagine how much more interesting chapel would be if we heard perspectives from more non-white males and those with different opinions from our own. Now I know that suggesting that has negative connotations and we are not saying there is something wrong with being white or a male, but rather that diversity of thought and opinion is the fuel of the pursuit of truth. Homogeneity—seemingly one of Cedarville’s priorities—is its flat tire.

The quality of chapel must be improved. Cedarville owes that to its students, especially when attendance is mandated under threat of disciplinary action.

Confusion with the Local Church

Chapel far too closely resembles a church. It is identical in every way except for communion, Baptism, and I suppose the official presence of elders and deacons.

We know that we are not to neglect gathering together as one body in our local churches as commanded in Hebrews 10:25. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to pray without ceasing. And Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

However, central to all of these is a personal choice. If someone is forced to gather, their heart is not present in worship. Worship is a personal choice for a personal experience with a body of believers and with God.

The reality is that chapel is too much like church. Worship and a sermon every day numb us to the importance of gathering with a local church. It is the definition of too much of a good thing and many students find themselves burnt out and struggling to motivate themselves to go to church, especially when many churches students favor are 30-45 minutes away from campus.

Inviting speakers with whom we disagree is controversial in secular culture, but as believers, we know that sound reason and a foundation of truth are strengthened by hearing and addressing different opinions

Truth and Tolerance.

Cedarville seems to forget that it is an academic environment, and not an ecclesiological one. Because of this, its principles and goals are different from a local church. Chapel, unlike church, is a place where a variety of viewpoints can be heard and tested by our own foundational faith. We ought to be like the Bereans, listening intently to what is taught and comparing it to what we read in scripture. Cedarville ought to be afraid of such a Berean approach to chapel. Much like the Catholic Church in the 15th and 16th century, which once dominated thought because no uneducated commoners could read the Bible in their own language, many speakers spout errant teaching wrapped in buzz words and catchphrases so they are never checked by impressionable students.

As students, we need to constantly tighten the security of our hearts. Subtle heresies are the most dangerous because they are disguised so well as truth.

You may be wondering how to reconcile a desire for diverse speakers and for the truth to be proclaimed. It may have felt contradictory as we wrote that Cedarville invites back bad teachers and preachers while also writing Cedarville ought to invite speakers from wrong viewpoints. How do we have our cake and eat it too?

First of all, the main issue lies with an endorsement of poor teachers and false doctrine. As far as allowing opinions Cedarville deems to be wrong, the obvious solution is to provide panel discussions with individuals who do not align with what Cedarville believes or even those who are staunchly opposed to Biblical truths. In this way, students are exposed to the “wrong” ideology in a constructive setting where that ideology can be addressed immediately without simply being laughed off. This is how we strengthen our faith, not through shallow teaching and monotony.

Steps for Change

We don’t like to whine about Cedarville without providing practical things that we believe Cedarville should do to fix the problem. There are four main areas of change we believe would not only defibrillate Cedarville’s dying “pulse” but also improve the Cedarville experience as a whole.

1. Decrease the frequency of chapel to 2-3 times per week

Chapel at a Christian university is completely normal and, when done right, can be a huge asset to the community academically and spiritually. But most universities have far less frequent chapels.

At Boyce College, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) Bible college, chapel occurs twice per week throughout the semester. Students are required to accrue 12 chapel credits per semester. That’s a little bit less than once per week. Interestingly, their chapels are usually packed out every time despite the fact that only twelve are mandatory.

Similarly, Union University requires students to attend 14 chapels over the course of the semester and offers chapel twice per week.

Covenant College, a Presbyterian university in Lookout Mountain, GA, allows eight skips per semester while offering chapel three days a week.

Ohio Christian University offers chapel two days a week and allows seven skips per semester.

Liberty University’s version of chapel, “convocation,” occurs twice per week. However, Liberty does maintain a rather strict policy that allows only two skips per semester. But one thing LU gets right is that infrequent chapel gathering allows for better speakers which works to promote huge student attendance, mandatory or not.

Universities that do not have chapel every single day still have vibrant chapel experiences, still meet Bible minor requirements, and still attract students to attend.

Quality attracts quantity. Mandates attract apathy.

2. Remove or alter the chapel mandate

I know what you might be thinking…getting rid of one of the biggest things that sets Cedarville apart?

I would disagree. I think Cedarville has far more to set it apart from other Christian colleges including its academics, community, and some areas of theology and if administrators think mandatory chapel gives them an edge, they’re simply wrong because if CU insists on having chapel every day, students who “want it to be mandatory” can simply go every day. It’s a revolutionary concept, I know, but one I posit would work for the University to still target that niche group of students that want to go every day of the week.

There are a few ways Cedarville could alter its mandate if it does not want to entirely end its requirement. Of course, there is the option to no longer have a mandatory chapel, but that is unlikely and would swing Cedarville too far out of grace with its supporters. However, Cedarville could align more closely with one of the colleges or universities listed above and offer chapel 2-3 times per week and require a certain number of chapels per semester. This allows students to act like adults and work chapel into their busy schedules and not be forced to attend every single day.

3. Vary the chapel style

I’ll say it again for irony’s sake. Monotony breeds apathy. When we get into the habit of coming into the same building to hear the same songs and the same style of speaking, we zone out. Suddenly everyone’s arriving at 10:04 to catch the grace period and leaving at 10:25 for the three consecutive classes they definitely have (understand my sarcasm: there is no way half of the top section has to leave at 10:25). Something needs to change. In addition to changing frequency and attendance policies, the quality of chapel must improve.

Mix up the songs that are sung. Consider allowing students to audition to lead chapel worship. Intermingle worship with teaching. Have chapels that are *gasp* fun. Change things up. Please.

Oh, and for the love of all that is good and right, get rid of or vastly change SGA (Student Government Association) chapel. Everyone hates it except SGA and SGA’s friends. It’s great that we’re giving a college student the chance to play preacher and for the SGA president and VP to get to give overly rehearsed and forced speeches to try to relate to the fellow students they seem so disconnected from, but if chapel were not mandatory it would be slim pickings at an SGA chapel for a reason.

Diversity in all its forms is an asset.

4. Diversify speakers

In true Baptist form, CU’s chapel is dominated by a bunch of white guys. For crying out loud, our president’s name is Dr. Thomas White, which is not his fault but it is still funny. A woman speaking in chapel is barely a biannual occurrence and when they do speak they can’t preach. After all, God doesn’t communicate with or equip women in the same way he does men, right? I think I read that somewhere in the Bible.

In all seriousness, Cedarville must diversify its speakers to enliven a repetitive chapel experience. Black speakers, white speakers, Hispanic speakers, female speakers, male speakers, speakers we disagree with, etc. should all be invited to speak in chapel. Diversity in all its forms is an asset. Why can’t Cedarville’s kingdom diversity initiative seem to make its way from Founder’s Hall to the chapel building?

It’s time for a change–and not only a change in the present. It’s time for Cedarville to seriously consider how it will continuously change chapel. It needs processes and procedures for developing unique experiences and making better connections for speakers to invite.

Closing Thoughts

Chapel is not all bad. It has its benefits, such as proclaiming truth and encouraging godly living. The problem is that it lacks finesse and technique. Cedarville is like a basketball player that can only dribble well but knows nothing about strategy or how to shoot the ball. They are working on the wrong area. Instead of mandating chapel, attract students to chapel. Instead of fearing differing opinions, present and confront them Biblically. Instead of detracting from local church worship, provide chapel as a means of spiritual nourishment that is an asset to students rather than a burden.

It’s time for Cedarville to objectively check its pulse and change its chapel experience.

Defined by One Mistake: What One Student’s Dismissal Revealed about Cedarville’s Disciplinary Process

This article is written about an anonymous student’s experience with Cedarville’s disciplinary process relating to alcohol use and posession. The individual requested their name to be omitted, so we will be calling them “Hudson” for the duration of this article. If you know who this article is about, please respect their privacy and do not share their real name or any additional details.

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.

The Incident

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.”

Cedar-12 is always on the prowl, don’t worry. They’ll never leave a student unbothered in their car in a parking lot.

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.

The Response

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.

@ the Cedarville Soccer Team

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?

The Implications

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.

“‘Tis not due process, ’tis dumb process.”
-Thomas Jefferson, probably

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.

Cedarville’s alcohol policy is outdated and impractical, but it probably won’t change anytime soon

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.

We’ve definitely never been to one of these before.

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.

Or not.

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.

Our Recommendation

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.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Vote on alcohol, circa 2145 A.D. at best

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.

OP-ED: In light of disturbing divorce rates in the church, Christians must reexamine their outdated teachings on relationships

This op-ed was submitted by an anonymous student at Cedarville University who shared their unique perspective on marriage and divorce as someone who has experienced both. They argue that the problem does not lie with “secularism,” but with wrong teaching and toxic dating cultures, such as the one at Cedarville.

Here is a confession: I was married. Without sharing too many details, soon after we got married everything suddenly changed. At first, I dismissed it as simply the standard difficulties of the first year or two of marriage, but as the months went on, it became clear that these problems extended far deeper. Sadly, our marriage eventually came to an end.

This tragic end to what I thought was a forever, covenant relationship spurred me to study the teachings of the Bible and the church on divorce. I will admit, my views may be biased based on my experience, but at the same time, I have an inside look at this oft-veiled aspect of the Christian life.

When we hear “divorce” or “dissolution” in the church environment, it is often attributed to a lack of spirituality or a shortcoming of faith, especially if infidelity is not the reason for the separation. However, the teachings on dating, marriage, and divorce propagated by the evangelical church hold an alarming portion of the blame.

Christians must adopt a balanced approach to relationships that allows reasonable safeguards and encourages marriage covenants defined by both longevity and mutual enjoyment of the marriage.

What do we believe?

According to sociologist Bradley Wright of the University of Connecticut, Christians who attend church regularly have a divorce rate of 38%. This rate is alarmingly close to the secular divorce rate, which begs the question: Why? In a church setting where divorce is frowned upon, divorce rates should be much lower than those in a secular culture defined by casual sex and lax views on marriage and divorce. Why are the rates so similar?

As I grew up in the evangelical church, the topic of divorce was always a hot-button issue and considered a non-negotiable sin, apart from instances of sexual immorality. Focus on the Family says, “many Christians see nothing wrong with divorce, at least in their own particular situation. But the Bible clearly addresses marriage and divorce.”

Across the spectrum of denominations, Christian cliques, and innumerable “convictions,” divorce is approached as something that must never be considered in marriage.

I distinctly remember in one of my youth group classes in high school, a married couple told the class that even if one or the other cheated in the marriage, they would try to reconcile. While this is great in theory, it ignores significant trust issues that surface due to instances of infidelity.

Outside of the church and other Biblical organizations, divorce is viewed as little more than an inconvenience. Professor’s House magazine describes divorce as a way to improve your life, get out of uncomfortable situations, and escape toxic interactions.

Both the Biblical and the secular approaches to ending a marriage can be incredibly dangerous. For example, far too many believers are committed to their marriages at the expense of their physical safety. Many pastors have advocated for their members to remain in abusive marriages rather than pursue the unspeakable measure of divorce.

On the other hand, the idea of “casual marriage,” where marriage is simply a legal agreement between two partners that can be ended when it becomes inconvenient, can be incredibly dangerous because the marriage is characterized by an underlying uneasiness—a mutual understanding that “if you mess up, I can end this any time I want.” Both approaches are extreme perspectives on how to approach marriage and the unfortunate reality of divorce.

Beyond the innate fear of divorce that riddles evangelical circles, the promulgation of purity culture—the idea that all or most physical intimacy or attractiveness should be saved for marriage—has caused irreparable harm to the Biblical community and negatively affected Christian perspectives on divorce.

Even at Cedarville University, the inclusion of a dress code that targets women disproportionately to men places the blame of sexual impurity on the clothing choices of women rather than the eye-movement choices of men.

The problem with the purity approach to relationships is that it turns marriage, sex, or really intimacy of any kind into a sort of mystical thing we are all supposed to do rather than a normal, common, shared experience. It is placed on a pedestal above all other life goals as the “pinnacle” achievement of the Christian life. While marriage is of course a wonderful experience, it is not the be-all-end-all of our existence.

Another key issue with purity culture is that it limits any and all sexual expression to the confines of marriage. While there are certainly positive things to be said both practically and theologically for saving sex until marriage, the Bible really does not speak on other forms of physical affection. In fact, the Bible really only presents premarital sex as a threat to sexual purity, not necessarily as sexual purity itself.

The key verse used to define premarital sex as sin is 1 Corinthians 7:2: “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” So … to avoid the temptation to engage in sexual immorality, we should get married? That doesn’t really make much sense. But that begs the question, where is sexual immorality defined as premarital sex?

As a matter of fact, in this passage, Paul corrects the Corinthian church’s view that abstinence from all sexual contact, even within marriage, makes one “purer.” He is telling them that sexuality is a good—and potent—form of loving expression. And let’s remind ourselves that this is the same chapter where Paul encourages men to be single forever because of its advantages to ministry, which, while certainly valid, is not a widely encouraged lifestyle within the church. It seems to me that this chapter has simply been cherry-picked by theologians.

Another verse, 1 Corinthians 6:16, is used to argue against premarital sex. It says, “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.” However, this verse specifically addresses prostitution, which is and has always been an incredibly dark and abuse-ridden industry.

From my research, any other verse used to contend for abstinence specifically addresses prostitution, adultery, incest, and other forms of clear sexual immorality. I’m not necessarily encouraging premarital sex and certainly not promoting casual sex, but as I read theological opinions about premarital sex, I came away with these serious questions. Sex within marriage is certainly the best-case scenario and is an incredibly important part of a marriage covenant. But is it possible that it is not the only allowable form of sexual expression?

“The double standard at Cedarville that baffles me is that they push students to date, marry, and procreate as soon as possible, but when people want to do date-y, married, or even procreate-y things they get in trouble. Just something to think about.”
-Editor, CI

A practical issue with sexual abstinence until marriage is that Christians are driven to marry young in order to be able to have sex without any guilt. Virginity is held as a pinnacle of purity and pride which, if nothing else, raises it on an unnecessary pedestal that all too often borders on sexual idolatry.

Getting married too young, for the wrong reasons, and having unreasonable expectations for how amazing being married will be can all be catalysts for unhappy marriages and divorce. This rush to get married also leaves fewer opportunities to find major red flags that should suggest ending a relationship before marriage.

Beyond the scourge of purity culture, those who are forced to consider divorce are often terribly mistreated by the church. In addition to the shame, rumors, and judgment that begins to flow freely when you reveal you have been divorced, at John MacArthur’s church, you cannot even become a member if you have been divorced for a reason they determine to be “unbiblical.” The thing is, what about a past divorce disqualifies you from worshiping God with a community of believers? The answer, of course, is nothing.

What should we believe?

Believers at all levels must adjust their view of divorce in all its forms. Instead of viewing it as a dirty, sinful cop-out from difficulty or as an easy, convenient, selfish transition to a “better life,” the church must shift gears toward a far more balanced approach.

Specific to Cedarville, stop telling students they need to date and get married/have kids as soon as possible. There is no set timeline for when you have to find someone. The “ring by spring” culture is no joke, even though it is sold as one–it is very real and incredibly toxic.

Find a relationship when you are in a good place to do so and when you find someone with whom you have a genuine connection and that is in a good place too. But in the meantime, don’t avoid making friends or having fun because you’re waiting for that person to show up. We will never get these years of our lives back, so we should live life to the fullest and have some fun along the way.

The “ring by spring” culture is no joke, even though it is sold as one–it is very real and incredibly toxic.

In Genesis 2:24, we are told that God’s original design for marriage is that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” and the two shall not be separated. However, sin corrupted God’s perfect plan, and now we are left with broken marriages riddled with emotional, physical, and verbal abuse.

While situations of abuse are certainly cause for divorce, other circumstances, such as the physical or emotional absence of a spouse with no chance of reconciliation, should also be considered as causes for divorce. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”

In my situation, I fought for my marriage. I suggested counseling, tried to talk things out, and reached out to others for advice. In the end, my former spouse shot down all methods of reconciliation, and I was left with the incredibly difficult realization that dissolving our marriage was the only way forward. Believers must avoid treating people like me as if we are dirty or tainted because of our experiences.

Instead, the Biblical community of the global church must change its approach to recognize the heartbreaking reality of abuse, infidelity, and abandonment within marriages and accept victims of such circumstances with open arms. Most importantly, the church should shift its focus to reconsider the false and damaging doctrines that have fueled high divorce rates within the Christian community for decades.

Obviously, people who fail their spouse and never apologize or reconcile are wrong, and they must repent of that sinful approach to their marriage. But disturbing church policies exist, such as MacArthur’s church, which prohibits membership for someone who has been divorced and has not been reconciled to their spouse. What kind of message does this send to the world: that churches cast out and reject genuine believers who have faced incredibly difficult circumstances?

Such policies tell believers or potential believers that some sins are unforgivable, and they must live with shame for the rest of their lives. Stop rejecting divorced believers. Start accepting them and the unique experiences and perspectives they bring to the Biblical community.

Love God. Love others, especially those who are broken.

Surviving CU

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.

On De-essentializing Gender Roles

Below is an essay written by an anonymous Cedarville student. She does an excellent job of expressing her view of womanhood and egalitarianism with support from logic, ethics, and Scripture. She rightly points out how important it is for women to come to an understanding of their purpose, especially in an environment that twists it as Cedarville does. We hope you enjoy her writing as much as we did! -CI staff

I’m afraid to write this essay, but I want to write this essay, not to defend my opinion, to highlight women at the depreciation of men, to interpret Scripture wrongly or, worse, to make my commentary about Scripture higher than the written word itself, but to allow men and women to hear me wrestle with societal and Christian concerns over manhood and womanhood. I want my heart, my desire not to denounce anyone who has a different understanding of gender expression than me, to be felt on these pages, and yet, I want to challenge the people I feel like denouncing through my pursuit to destroy the essentialization of manhood and womanhood.

I never considered that my very womanness could limit my ability to follow God’s calling in my life until I arrived at Cedarville University’s campus in the Fall of 2018. I confess that I, a student at a complementarian-oriented Baptist university, come from a Vineyard church, with an egalitarian doctrine that regards Christian ministry through service and evangelism instead of authority and headship, freeing men and women to preach, work, and or stay in the home as they follow God’s calling for their lives. So I didn’t understand how large the gender role foe in Christianity was until what one of my Bible professors said my freshman year, something I wrote in the margins of my class notes, kept churning in my mind, begging me to critically juxtapose his words with Scripture. This Bible professor said that men are leaders, lovers, providers, and protectors and that women are honorable and honoring, nurtured and nurturing.

If I was more confrontational, I would tell him that the very verbiage of his description gives men more agency as the nouns he uses to describe men are active, present tense, and while he gives women two identifying nouns that are also active, present tense, his use of honorable makes the supporting adjective sound like a woman’s supporting role, and his use of nurtured, a past tense verb, objectifies women as something that needs taken care of, by men, as the providers.

My Bible professor’s comment relates well to traditional gender role expressions in American society, but his description is historically limited.  Nancy Pearcey talks about how men and women worked together before the Industrial Revolution, with home-front businesses, defying modern gender stereotypes.  When the Industrial Revolution pulled men away from their homes, from their wives and children, to work long days in noisy factories, men assumed a new role as the main provider for their families.  Women were excluded from the public sphere as they had to remain in their homes, the private sphere, in order to take care of their families, while men were away.  Real men became breadwinners.  Real women became housewives.  This separate spheres’ concept highlights how so much of gender expression may be culturally-constructed rather than biblically-based, but Nancy Pearcey’s dogma primarily emphasizes how society’s essentialization of manhood and womanhood restricts women, leaving me to mull over what men have done and continue to do to limit what women can or can’t do instead of encouraging me to value the image of God in men around me.  

Perhaps my Bible professor would agree that the gender roles he described could be attributes for all men and women. I think of how Jacob honored Rachel, how Jesus honored the woman at the well, how Isaac nurtured Jacob, how Gauis nurtured Paul, how Deborah led the Israelites, how Phoebe led the church in Cenchreae, how Michal protected David, how Rahab protected the Israelites, how Ruth loved Boaz, and how Joanna and Mary Magdalene provided funding for Jesus’ ministry. And while I don’t want to believe that my Bible professor would ignore those examples or claim that men or women in the Old Testament or Apostolic Age may have had more unique roles, his clear distinctions between men and women force gender into narrow categories, determined more by societal stereotypes than biblical authority.

Maybe part of the problem with his description is that men are told how to be leaders and lovers and protectors and providers in a certain way, making interactions with women in their lives who may act as leaders and lovers and protectors and providers in the ways that they have been taught to act make men uncomfortable and intimidated, as if non-gender bound women threaten their identity as men. I wonder what the world would be like if Christian men and women noticed how the Bible does not essentialize biblical manhood and womanhood, how they would no longer feel constrained by an apparent gender role or threatened when that identity is attacked.

Maybe the classist example James uses to condemn the distinctions men and women have made among themselves in chapter 2 applies to gender as he claims that God chooses the poor in the world, those who are oppressed and beaten down and socially inferior, as the ones who can be rich in faith and heirs of His kingdom.  And maybe women have been especially oppressed, beaten down, and socially inferior throughout history.  But what if women’s gender expression restriction isn’t new?  After Adam and Eve ruined the possibility of living in complete harmony with each other and God by doing the very thing God told them not to do, God cursed the serpent because he deceived Eve, and He cursed the ground because Adam disobeyed Him, but while He tells Eve that her labor pain will increase and that her husband will rule over her despite the fact that her desire will be contrary to his, God does not preface His explanation of the consequences of sin to her as a curse.  God does not blame Eve for taking on a leadership role in the garden by offering Adam a piece of fruit, and He does not blame her for being deceived by the serpent, like he blames Adam, for his intentional, undeceived disobedience.  Instead, He tells Eve that her unintended sin has negative, long lasting consequences for womankind.  

Complementarians interpret God’s assertion in Genesis 3:16 that “he [Adam and husbands and men] shall rule over you [Eve and wives and women]” as a prescriptive command of God, but I don’t believe that God would create an unfair and unequal establishment for how men and women should interact, based upon men’s supposed role to rule over women. Egalitarians believe that God’s assertion is a description of the consequence of sin, the sin-broken relationship between Adam and Eve, husbands and wives, men and women. I understand that both complementarians and egalitarians agree that men and women are equal, that they are just as valued by God, but complementarian men who act as if their manhood allows them to have more authority over women distorts the very equality they preach and defaces the image of God in men and women. And yet egalitarian women who subdue men, who teach in a domineering manner, like Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 2:12, similarly tarnish God’s image as their motivation for equality becomes an effort to avenge their oppression rather than to promote peace between themselves and men. The helper God created for Adam was a complementary partner, not a subordinate servant, made from the same material as Adam’s body rather than from the ground, highlighting Eve’s complete embodiment of and participation in Adam’s humanity and God’s design for men and women, mutual equals, to work together as they follow God.

And so I, like Catherine Booth asserts in Female Ministry: Or, Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel in 1859, still don’t understand why a woman’s voice is stifled in church if men and women are meant to use their unique gifts and talents to glorify God and further His kingdom.  I hear my aunt tell her daughter not to run, to close her legs, and to act like a lady, but watching my apostolic cousin grow up without being allowed to wear short sleeves, without being allowed to wear pants, without being allowed to wear jewelry, without being allowed to put on makeup, all in the name of Christianity, hurts.  Entire religious denominations set standards for men and women based on their interpretations of 1 Timothy 2, hindering women from freedom of expression, outside of gendered constraints.  Although my aunt at least interprets 1 Timothy 3 consistently, yet dangerously literally, I wonder how complementarians might embrace women in leadership if they interpreted 1 Timothy 3:12 like 1 Timothy 3:9-10, in context, as culturally relative and therefore, not a prescriptive command for all women at all times.  

I’ve spent the last four years trying to understand the impact of my freshman Bible professor’s off-hand comment about gender. I’ve spent the last few weeks writing this essay in disarray, scouring the library and the internet for examples of great Christian women who can shock complementarian men, reading various interpretations of controversial biblical passages regarding gender roles, reflecting upon my own church’s thriving men’s ministry and head female pastor, researching how gender expression has changed, and synthesizing reviews for books like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and Captivating and Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Men Only and For Women Only, attempts to essentialize biblical manhood and womanhood, but most of my notes didn’t make it into this essay. I could keep writing about this subject because I believe that the church’s theology on gender is incomplete, more reliant upon culture than God’s word. But any theology, any man-made interpretation, even my own essentialization of manhood and womanhood through my desire to de-essentialize gender roles, is affected by sin and can never perfectly explain God’s perfect intent. But as I keep striving after God’s will for my life, I will not allow what society or Christian culture or my freshman Bible professor says about my femininity to prevent me from being who He has called me to be.

No Reasonable Expectation of Free Speech Rights: FIRE gives Cedarville “WARNING” Rating

This past spring, we reached out to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in order to request an evaluation of Cedarville University’s free speech policies and procedures. We did this in order to supplement our article on free speech and provide a more quantitative evaluation from an unbiased third party. Unfortunately, FIRE was bogged down by a plethora of requests and we did not receive their rating until a few days ago. Their review of Cedarville’s policies are scathing to say the least.

The Background

(To read the review, skip to “The Review” below) In their own words, “The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and the public about the threats to these rights on our campuses, and provides the means to preserve them. FIRE was founded in 1999 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate after the overwhelming response to their 1998 book The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America’s Campuses.”

FIRE has a long history of defending the free speech rights of students at numerous public colleges and Universities. In 2015, the advocacy organization helped students win a lawsuit against Ohio University, forcing the University to revise its free speech policies. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff responded, “For too long, universities have engaged in censorship with little or no fear of repercussions. FIRE is bringing that era to an end.”

FIRE wins a case against Ohio University censorship

This organization had won 51 cases against public colleges and universities in 2021 as of June. We mention the fact that these are public colleges and universities because FIRE is concerned with constitutional violations, and only public institutions funded by the federal government are bound to constitutional requirements for freedom of speech. Private institutions are allowed to prioritize other values over freedom of speech. However, as many of us learned from our parents, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. With that said, below is FIRE’s review of Cedarville University’s free speech, performed by Ryan Ansloan, a Program Officer of Policy Reform at FIRE.

The Review

As a private university, Cedarville is not bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Further, provisions in the university’s student handbook—known as The Cedarville Experience—make clear that the university places other values above free expression.

Consequently, it does not seem that a student at Cedarville would have a reasonable expectation that her First Amendment rights are protected. When a private institution clearly and consistently identifies a certain set of values that it holds above free speech, FIRE awards the school a “warning” rating based on these statements (examples of warning schools in our database include Brigham Young University and Pepperdine University). I will provide a few emblematic (though by no means exhaustive) examples below.

In The Cedarville Experience’s “Public Demonstrations, Solicitations, and Distributions” section, the university notes the following:

Cedarville University will permit only those demonstrations, solicitations, or distributions that, in the judgment of the University administration, are orderly and peaceful. Demonstrations will be restricted to members of the University community. In addition, the University will restrict demonstrations, solicitations, or distributions to those that support views that are consistent with Scripture and with the mission of Cedarville University. Demonstrations, solicitations, or distributions that, in the opinion of the University, involve advocacy of unscriptural positions, are disorderly, or that interrupt or disrupt the primary teaching, research, service, ministry, and/or administrative functions of the University, or any other activity or proceeding on campus that is generally accepted as a legitimate University function, are prohibited. Students wishing to organize a demonstration, make solicitations, or distribute materials must secure permission in advance from Student Life Programs.

This policy clearly demonstrates that Cedarville does not intend to protect the free expression of its students. While the government may—consistent with the First Amendment—enact reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on demonstrations to prevent disruption, it may not bar those who disagree with it from speaking outright.

The idea that the government may not silence its dissenters is a bedrock principle of freedom of speech. In a case called West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), the Supreme Court famously wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”

In prohibiting all public demonstrations that disagree with the university’s interpretation of the Bible, Cedarville’s policy offends basic First Amendment principles. This policy would not be constitutional at a public university.

The Cedarville Experience also contains more pointed prohibitions on speech. In its “Commitment to Purity” section, the handbook prohibits “public advocacy for the position that sex outside of a biblically defined marriage is morally acceptable” and states that “[s]tudents are prohibited from posting or sharing sexually provocative material.”

Both of these restrictions undoubtedly place the value of sexual purity above the value of free expression. As discussed above, the government infringes upon an individual’s First Amendment rights when it attempts to prohibit her from expressing an opinion—even when the government disagrees with that opinion. A public university could not ban students from expressing more sex-positive viewpoints.

Further, public universities may not outright ban or punish “indecent” expression. This principle derives from the Supreme Court case of Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (1973), in which the Court wrote that “the mere dissemination of ideas—no matter how offensive to good taste—on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency.’”

Cedarville’s policy extends even further than the policy ruled unconstitutional in Papish, as it threatens to punish students for their off-campus expression as well. Cedarville’s blanket ban on “sharing sexually provocative material” would, therefore, be unconstitutional at a public college.

The Cedarville Experience contains many more provisions that would be unconstitutional were it a public institution—the “Position on Sign Gifts and Speaking in Tongues,” “Respect for Others,” “Alcohol and Illegal and Harmful Substances,” and “Dance” sections of the handbook, for instance, all curtail students’ free speech rights. With this in mind, it seems unlikely that Cedarville students have any reasonable expectation of free speech rights while attending the university.

[In response to a follow-up email:] I think it is very fair to say that if Cedarville were a public institution and was rated in our Spotlight database, they would receive an overall Red Light rating for maintaining several policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech. Because Cedarville is a private institution, it is able to prioritize other values above freedom of speech. But if these policies were in place at a public institution, they would be unconstitutional and earn red light ratings.

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Analysis

FIRE’s review really speaks for itself. Of course, as a private Christian university, Cedarville has the right to prioritize certain values over free speech or free expression. However, Cedarville limits freedom expression to an extreme, including limiting student activity and speech off campus and even over breaks. Cedarville ought to ask itself: is enforcing your personal values, whether Biblical or not, on students and staff in all times at all places worth limiting student expression and inhibiting academic rigor? Are your extrabiblical doctrines really worth the control you are able to exercise over students?

To me, the clear answer is no. Excessive punishment for minor offensives detracts from the importance of larger offenses. The result of such micropunishment is students being kicked out for driving a friend to buy cigarettes but students not being kicked out for committing sexual assault. The result is students being dismissed for admitting their sexual orientation but faculty being hired with a history of sexual voyeurism (but it was only twice, so it wasn’t a big deal, right?).

The principles of our nation–which Cedarville claims to strongly support–were created in response to tyranny and supression of dissenting opinions. The kingdom of England controlled miniscule aspects of life (including religious expression) which spurred colonists to rebel and ultimately form the United States (yes, it’s more nuanced than that but that’s a very broad overview). The problem is that Cedarville is in a position with the power of a tyrant (of course, on a vastly smaller scale). Students’ only saving grace is Cedarville’s adherence to Biblical principles keeping them in line, but when this adherance becomes subjective rather than objective, students find themselves in an academic theocracy where they ought to have no expectation that their rights to free speech will be protected. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” The same is true for any establishment.

“When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
-Thomas Jefferson

An argument can be made that Cedarville should prioritize its values over free speech in certain areas. However, is it not rather dismissive of God’s sanctifying power to force students to attend chapel every day and obtain a Bible minor with every degree and then feel the need to enforce every single minor or even questionable doctrine on students at all times? I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but in all saeriousness, shouldn’t the University’s policies stop at the point of creating an environment that cultivates a Biblical lifestyle rather than forcing it on students every second of every day? Frankly, Cedarville’s system eliminates free will and does not promote an authentic Biblical environment. God gave us free will precisely so that we would willingly serve him, not because we are forced or because we are robots who don’t have a choice. But at Cedarville, drink a beer and kiss those three years of straight A’s goodbye…and good luck transferring to any other university. How is this Biblical?

FUNDRAISER: Ohio Association of Foodbanks

Several months ago, we asked our followers on Instagram if they would be interested in merchandise, and the majority said yes. But we didn’t want to just drop a merchandise line to make profit for ourselves (because what would we even use it for?). We wanted it to have meaning and purpose.

Because of this, we decided to donate all proceeds directly to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The money never passes through our hands, and we make absolutely no profit from these shirts.

In addition to our merchandise, you can donate directly to the OAF through our gofundme page: https://gofund.me/dcdba034

With that said, below are links to our three merchandise designs available in a variety of colors.

Design #1

Inspired by the most recent chapel series, this highly requested design plays off of the “Know Jesus, Know Joy” design of Cedarville t shirts. It comes in two shades of blue complete with yellow logo and lettering to help you blend this design in at Cedarville.

Buy this design at: https://www.bonfire.com/cedarvilleinterpeter/

Design #2

Design #2 features our logo in the top left, and the back is a design that speaks to individuality: it says “nonconformist“ with 15 identical dots and 1 unique dot. Going with the crowd and conforming to legalistic rules stands against our values. We, and each of our supporters, are considered nonconformists by the University. So let’s wear that name with pride!

Buy this design at: https://www.bonfire.com/cedarville-interpreter-oaf-fundraiser-2/

Design #3

Our personal favorite, design #3 again features our logo on the front within two eclipsing circles. This speaks to the common ground we all share with our fellow students and even with the administration. The back has a graphic of a barcode with the UPC 1887 2021, which are the years Cedarville was founded and of course this year. The barcode is meant to represent the priceless value of openness, dialogue, and understanding. This shirt makes a statement: “you can’t censor us,” a reminder that when we allow openness and free speech ourselves, we forge a community of free expression around us.

Buy this design at: https://www.bonfire.com/cedarville-interpreter-oaf-fundraiser-3/

Cedarville’s COVID-19 Response: In Review

At the onset of COVID-19, colleges and universities across the nation began to close down en masse. It was a nightmare for those who were not prepared and a nightmare for students who had to adapt to a learning style many had never experienced and few had enjoyed in the past. But Cedarville University pressed on, and after closing down the school they began to conduct classes fully online. Of course, the logistics of getting used to Zoom (a software program few even knew of or used before the pandemic) was incredibly difficult. Professors who were used to making personal connections with their students found it difficult to connect with a camera (or a $1,000 “Owl” system) and professors who relied on their white boards had to find new and unique ways to get their points across. White boards are nearly impossible to see over Zoom, especially if the connection wavers even a little bit. Zoom classes were so difficult that several Communications students studied the impacts of virtual learning on professors and students for their capstone project. According to a student in the program, they found a definite disconnect between students and professors caused by the virtual learning environment.

However, one of the most appealing features of Cedarville University is its faculty-to-student ratio. The abundance of faculty and the relatively small size of the student body mean that professors are able to make deeper, more personal connections with their students and focus on individual growth alongside academic success. This carried over into the workings of online classes for the most part, with a few exceptions (professors who were incapable of adapting to technology or new styles of teaching). The Cedarville administration undoubtedly heard the outcry from students and faculty alike, prompting policies meant to bring the school back in-person starting in Fall of 2020. Graduation was put off, many campus projects delayed, and hundreds of thousands of dollars refunded (and, therefore, unavailable for the approved budget). Professors began to wonder whether they would receive their yearly pay raises, especially after a year of being tested to the limits. Cedarville decided to put off building projects (and, unfortunately, continue to raise tuition) in order to make these pay raises possible. There is no doubt that the faculty deserved an increase in pay, especially given the circumstances.

Cedarville developed innovations such as contactless package pickup. And only like two packages have been accidentally stolen so far!

Over the summer, the administration became embroiled in scandal with the firing of Dr. Moore (and the almost-firing of Dr. White, along with the resignation of two board memebrs). This was a perfect storm: financial whiz Dr. White, who had brought the school out of a time of financial difficulty, was out of commission pending investigation. This was terrible timing. Luckily, the school managed to survive (although, I suspect, is still recovering considering the substantial delays on the new Business building next to the Stevens Student Center). In the Fall, students were invited back to campus relatively late, with policies being posted just a few weeks before students were set to move in.

Bad timing.

Cedarville’s COVID-19 policies and procedures were rather confusing, but essentially in line with the rest of the country. Masks were not required in residences such as dorms (which is consistent with Constitutional guidance on college dorms being considered private living areas to a certain degree) but were required in all other buildings. Masks were not required while sitting down to eat with friends, but were required while sitting socially distanced in a class. Like I said, the policies were rather confusing and contradictory, but Cedarville really didn’t have a choice. Cedarville couldn’t do nothing about the pandemic and risk a breakout of disease on campus, but it also couldn’t lock down the campus and expect students to comply or to consider returning to CU worth the difficulty. Cedarville did their best to appease both sides by appealing to safety as well as providing respite from COVID restrictions for those who resisted pandemic regulations.

Of course, compromise is not always a win-win, and both sides certainly voiced their complaints. Some students felt policies were far too restrictive (and many simply boycotted restrictions by not wearing a mask) and others felt policies were not restrictive enough or not well-enforced. We performed polls on our Instagram page asking whether students approved of Cedarville’s COVID policies and opinions were very much split between those who approved, those who disapproved due to strictness, and those who disapproved due to lack of strictness. Enforcement also–like practically every rule at Cedarville–had to do with who you knew. RAs told couples masks were required in dorms and made it a point to PC people they didn’t know to show off for their friends (true story).

Beyond these problems, University staff members reported instances of Cedarville denying its staff flexibility. One staff member requested flexibility to take care of a terminally ill relative by working remotely but was denied. Another staff member whose family member passed away from COVID felt that Cedarville’s attitude toward the pandemic was apathetic, especially after Dr. White had a minor case. These stories are often overlooked by those of us who were not directly affected by COVID. Many of us watched COVID from distance while individuals such as these felt direct affects of Cedarville’s policies on the lives of their families.

As classes resumed in the fall, some professors remained online, others took a hybrid approach, and still others embraced returning to a (somewhat) traditional classroom environment. Cedarville’s quarantine and isolation policy took a substantial toll on learning, especially during the fall semester. You were in the same room with someone who coughed? BOOM. Quarantine. You have a cough? BOOM. Isolation. This uprooting of students from their dorms and classrooms made education a serious challenge. Isolation in the decrepid Faith Hall across the street from Founder’s was probably not the best option (perhaps isolation in the dorm room to maintain some level of normalcy and comfort would be better) but Cedarville had to work with what they had and overall did a good job of preventing widespread infection.

That feeling when when he takes off his mask and his face is just as cute as his eyes. *squeals in ring by spring*

Cedarville began to slowly ease up on restrictions as chapel moved from outside to the field house back to the DMC. There was no longer any question that dorms were mask-free spaces, unless by personal choice. Many campus buildings began to ease up restriction of mask-wearing (except if there was a spike in cases, then suddenly enforcement went back into full swing). The number of cases ebbed and flowed, but remained relatively low. In fact, they remained remarkably low for a university where dorms are breeding grounds for disease. Some theorize based on a few cases that Cedarville limited its COVID infection numbers by shipping of sick students to their homes to keep numbers low. Others say COVID was not as infectious as previously thought. But somewhere in between the infectious nature of the disease, Cedarville’s potential underscoring of cases, and the policies put in place lies a fundamental truth: on the whole, Cedarville did a good job of keeping infections low. Yes, academics certainly suffered (although the pass-fail option for students saved many a GPA) and personal connections were lost. Graduates lost the opportunity to walk until the following Spring. We all felt out of shape after walking up the BTS stairs with a mask on and being out of breath. We all lived in a degree of fear for over a year. But Cedarville University did what they needed to do: they minimized infections while maximizing academic opportunity as much as possible.

Getting back to normal.

Cedarville, like many organizations across America and the world, learned many lessons along the way, many of which are likely to carry over into the future. The virtual environment did not substantially decrease productivity for many jobs and in fact improved many people’s quality of work. Students became more adaptable and more conscious of their personal hygiene and health decisions. Not to mention, everyone got a Ph.D. in immunology and was a subject-matter expert on an incredibly complicated virus and its vaccines (that was sarcasm, but we did all learn more about viruses and disease than we ever wanted to). The future looks rather bright at Cedarville now, with all restrictions lifted and life finally getting back to normal.

Of course, we can’t get too comfortable. Washing hands, sanitizing, keeping things clean, not allowing ecosystems to develop in the water bottles that roll under your bunk bed, all of these are practices we should continue to prevent the spread of any disease. Furthermore, you may have heard the old dad joke when you have a headache: “Well I’ll just stomp on your foot. That’ll fix it!” It’s true. Pain overwhelms lesser pain. In the same way, the problem of COVID can overwhelm other problems that were not as immediate, such as the theological direction of the University. Remain vigilant and let your voice be heard now that it’s not muffled by a mask.