The once-pristine images of evangelical colleges are being tarnished by scandals involving the mishandling of sex-related on-campus crimes, drawing negative attention to a culture that prides itself on purity and Bible-based principles.
Media reports of female students raped by their male peers have cast a dark shadow over prim and proper campuses where morality lessons are emphasized over organic chemistry. On these campuses, dormitories, classes and even elevators are segregated by sex, according to recent exposés by The New Republic and Vice.
Patrick Henry College, an elite evangelical college known as “God’s Harvard” founded in 2000, exemplifies how Christian colleges differ from state universities, which are stereotypically more relaxed and party-oriented.
“Dress code is business casual during the week,” The New Republic reported in February about PHC’s campus guidelines. “Daily chapel is mandatory. Drinking, smoking, gambling, and dancing (outside of dance classes) aren’t allowed on campus — only wholesome, school-sanctioned hijinks, like the tradition of tossing newly engaged young men in the central retention pond known as Lake Bob: a ‘Bobtism.’”
“All new PHC students recite a daily acknowledgment that the devil exists and ‘Jesus Christ literally will come to earth again in the Second Advent,’” it continued.
According to The New Republic piece, PHC’s squeaky-clean image was muddied when a student named Claire Spear was raped.
The school is seen as “a training ground for the religious right and a pipeline to conservative jobs in Washington. The Bush-era White House had about as many interns from PHC as Georgetown, the journalist Hanna Rosin wrote in her 2007 book, God’s Harvard. Students in the school’s Strategic Intelligence Program can graduate with security clearances from their summer internships, making PHC a feeder school for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, various branches of the military, and intelligence contractors,” The New Republic noted.
After she was raped, Spear went to the dean. “It felt like I was just talking to a brick wall,” The New Republic quoted Spear.
The school’s administration told her they couldn’t do anything because nothing could be proven. Even security guards, who saw Spear get dumped out of a car on campus in the middle of the night, weren’t summoned for their testimony.
College administrators were more concerned about issues related to underage drinking in Spear’s case, but never contacted local law enforcement authorities for an independent investigation,The New Republic stated. Spear argued that the school didn’t take her claim seriously.
The incident gets to the heart of why schools like PCH choose to mute issues related to campus sex crimes. Maintaining the image of a good, moral Christian campus means also blotting out any events that could potentially tarnish that image.
At Pensacola Christian College in 2009, a student named Samantha Field was raped, Vice reported. She kept quiet until others noticed something was wrong with her. After running through a gauntlet of administrative questions, she began seeing a school counselor and told her about the rape. The counselor’s response was not what Field had hoped for.
“I started to tell her that my boyfriend had made me do things that I didn’t want to do, but she interrupted me and asked what I needed to repent of, and told me that I needed to forgive him, because otherwise I would have bitterness in my heart,” Field said, according to the Vice story. “I was trying to tell her that my boyfriend had raped me, and her reaction was to tell me that I needed to repent for my sins and not worry about my rapist’s sins.”
Field currently maintains a blog where she writes about her “ongoing journey in overcoming a fundamentalist indoctrination.”
The Vice story further cited mismanagement of rape cases at Bob Jones University, possibly one of the most well-known Christian colleges. The problem at BJU was so serious that officials had to hire an outside firm to investigate the issue two separate times.
“Even though the Catholic Church has been home to the most high-profile pedophilia scandals, Evangelical churches, schools, and missionary groups have proven to be similarly susceptible to sexual and physical abuse, and equally adept at shielding perpetrators from punishment,” according to the Vice story.