5 Insane Realities At My Fundamentalist Christian College
Religious schools are as old as religion itself, and there's nothing wrong with keeping the "God" in education(g). But when college students are sent to live at a Christian school where their every move is monitored, well, there is a certain potential for things to get weird. Pensacola Christian College, for instance, has come under fire for what has been described as a cult-like atmosphere, along with the little matter of not having any accreditation at all.
We spoke to one former student who we'll call "Lilith." She attended PCC and told us ...
There Were Pregnancy Witch Hunts
The most traumatic event in Lilith's tenure at Pensacola Christian College occurred in the spring of her freshman year. She and her boyfriend had sneaked away to enjoy a rare moment of nuzzles, because no physical touching was allowed between genders at all. Well, someone must have seen them in this obscene act of awkward adolescent pecking, because shortly thereafter ...
"I received a call slip in my mailbox ordering me to the dean's office," she says. "I remember that it was really weird, because it came on a Sunday." When she got there, she found a waiting room full of other fallen women. "When I was called into the office," she says, "the dean and one of her assistants were waiting. 'How are you?' they asked. 'How are you feeling?'" She told them she felt fine, and they cut right to the chase. "We're concerned about your health. We're concerned you might be pregnant."
"Have you been visited by any storks lately?"
That seemed unlikely to Lilith, a currently menstruating virgin. "They told me 'People said you've been feeling sick and vomiting in trash cans,'" which was only slightly less confusing, because she had never been that sick the whole time she had been at school. When she explained all of these things, they asked "Would you be OK with taking a pregnancy test to prove your innocence?" That's verbatim what they said, as if pregnancy was a crime.
Lilith had a feeling that not being OK with it wouldn't be OK, so after five hours of being called in and out and asked all kinds of questions presumably with a flashlight in her face, she was marched down to a bathroom to take the (obviously negative) test. This was during a busy time of day, when there were tons of students in the halls, all watching her being trotted out to take her pee of shame.
At least a walk of shame at other schools means you got laid.
Apparently, this kind of thing happened all the time. In fact, Lilith's roommate was called in for the same routine a few weeks later. They just rounded up anyone suspected of Thought Sex and gave them the Room 101 treatment. Well, not just anyone. As far as she could tell, it was just the girls. But we'll have more on that in a moment.
It's Like Being On House Arrest
In theory, it makes sense that a Christian college would continue to enforce biblical law after hours in their dorms. It doesn't do any good to teach good Christian values in class only to have the students spend their evenings in a nude, coke-fueled conga line. But in practice, it means the schools take on an overbearing Big Brother role. We don't want to go nuts and say that Pensacola Christian College was like prison for Lilith, but it does sound a lot like house arrest. Here's the procedure for leaving campus:
"You had a student ID card that you had to scan to sign out, after which you selected from a touchscreen a preapproved list of locations you intended to visit," Lilith says. "Everyone in your party had to scan out and choose the same locations, because you had to travel in groups. If you were anything less than a senior, you had to travel with at least three other girls, depending on where you were going." (Note: Boys could travel in smaller groups, for reasons that are probably in the Old Testament somewhere.)
"It's straight out of Numbers, as in 'you need to number more before you can leave.'"
If she wasn't back by 10 p.m., she would be locked out. Violating any rules could mean getting "campused" -- meaning these legal adults were being threatened with grounding. Students weren't allowed to visit anyone's house, couldn't leave town, and couldn't go anywhere near the local naval base, which included a lot of shops but also a lot of sailors ready to destroy the girls' innocence (it was almost kind of disappointing when, in an outrageous bout of senior rebellion, Lilith visited a vintage clothing store near the base and no one so much as glanced at her innocence).
"Pbbft. We've got a whole box of that no one wants next to the wigs."
She was basically limited to Walmart, the mall, and the local restaurants, with the explicit exception of Hooters (there was a rumor at the time that if students went to Hooters and showed their PCC ID card, they'd get a free t-shirt). She could also go to the beach, but the boys and girls had separate designated beaches that were miles apart, lest anyone be driven wild with lust. After all, how can anyone handle bathing suits when ...
The Dress Code Is Even More Hard Core Than You'd Think
Every girl at the school inevitably ended up wearing the "PCC uniform," which was khaki skirts, blue polo shirts, brown loafers, and always, every day except Saturday, pantyhose. That may seem like a minor irritation, but it often meant a gynecological one -- urinary tract infections became common.
Yet another reason we should just wear pajamas all day, erryday.
That was a small price to pay for chastity, according to the dress code, which came to be known sarcastically as the Book of Barbie after the dean of women. "According to the Book of Barbie verse one, if thouest not wear hose, thouest may recklessly be raped," Lilith recites. "I actually got in trouble once because a shirt I was wearing apparently showed 'cuppage' on my breasts," meaning that it showed that she had breasts. That's how sexless the clothing was so supposed to be. She got so used to wearing potato sacks that when she went home on break, pants felt weird.
"Mom, why are you dressed like a harlot?!"
There was a Book of Ken, too, but it was much less strict. Boys had to wear collared, button-up shirts and ties before chapel in the morning (though they could take their ties off in the afternoon) and blazers or dinner jackets to dinner. That's it. There appears to have been no concern for their cuppage. If you're noticing a running theme, it's because ...
There Was Open, Rampant Gender Discrimination
Let's go back to the school's spontaneous pregnancy check for a moment. "What makes me the most upset is that no one ever talked to my boyfriend," she says. "He was completely blameless not just in their eyes, but in the eyes of the whole school. It was the entire culture." Women were blamed for everything, even for (as Lilith later found out) being raped. That link is to an account by former student Samantha Field, who was sexually assaulted and then told later that she needed to repent.
You know, for being so assaultable.
But the double standard for men and women wasn't just an unspoken part of the culture -- it was overtly stated in the rules. For instance, women were flat-out not allowed to work certain jobs on campus. This wasn't some abstract wage gap situation, involving invisible forces like social pressure and hiring managers who quietly shuffled her application to the bottom of the pile. They took female applications for landscaping or security jobs and politely handed it right back to them. (A woman? Using hedge clippers? Just as in the final days of Sodom!)
Next she'll want to vote.
And please note that if she wasn't happy with her on-campus job prospects, she couldn't just go out and apply to be waitress. Only men were allowed to work off-campus, which sucked because the pay and hours were usually a lot better. Women could only work approved (usually unpaid) internships, which didn't do much for their pantyhose fund, so they were forced to choose from the slim on-campus offerings.
Even in the seemingly gender-neutral field of broadcasting, which is what Lilith majored in, male genitalia was required just to announce the college basketball games. "I asked and asked and asked, 'Why can't a girl do this?' and they just said, 'They just won't let you.'"
"All those balls and holes ... there's just too much symbolism."
If it sounds like they did kind of a shitty job getting these students ready for the real world, well ...
They Only Prepare You For Life Inside The Christian Bubble
Broadcasting is a difficult field to break into even for people who went to non-crazy schools, but it was especially difficult for Lilith because PCC students were only allowed to do internships with Christian organizations. That didn't help them get a paying job later -- the radio industry is full of heathens, so, "When they play your audition tape and it's nothing but Jesus stuff," she says, "they move on to their other thousands of applicants pretty quickly."
After a while, she bucked up and did what almost all liberal arts students must do eventually -- she started looking for jobs outside of her field. She decided that substitute teaching might be a good stepping stone to figuring out where to go next, but when she applied with the local school district, she hit a completely different snag: Her degree was worthless. Not even just "BA in broadcasting" worthless -- it was as if she'd never gone to college at all.
Except all the tuition money. That part was definitely real.
In all fairness to PCC, Lilith says she and her family knew the college wasn't accredited, and in all fairness to the people they've worked over, PCC is pretty sneaky about it. "When my family visited the school before I graduated high school, my parents asked about it," she says "and our tour guide assured us that the school 'was working' on the situation. That was in 1996." For those of you playing along at home, the school did not seek accreditation until 2011. Before then, they had in fact actively opposed it, fearing that accrediting bodies would start making all sorts of demands about how students are treated. "But they made it sound like it wouldn't be a problem," Lilith says. "Even if they didn't get accredited before we graduated, they told us, their standards of education were so high that it didn't matter. That was true for some fields like, nursing and pre-med, but obviously not for all of them."
"They said my poetry degree would get me into any coffee shop slam, but I can't even slam at Starbucks. Starbucks."
The PCC staff is not unaware of the post-grad situation faced by many of their students, because it's very likely they were once students themselves. They try to keep you there for life, says Lilith, so it's not so much a student body as a hiring pool. But one way or the other, the goal is to make sure you only wind up working at business that has "Christian" in front of its name. "It's ironic because the whole reason I chose a Christian college was because I needed some extra time to grow up, but PCC prevents you from growing up. They teach you to be scared of society. They teach you that every man is a potential rapist, but I really did believe that. If a guy at work touched my shoulder, I would feel like I needed to jump back."
Which leads to an awkward seminars about sexual harassment and appropriate pepper spray use in the office.
It was little things, too -- she was hilariously easily shocked by language, for example. "On my very first day at a classic rock radio station," she says, "a guy came in angry and cursing, and I just stood there frozen." It was completely alien -- and terrifying -- behavior to her. "I really had to work hard to unlearn every fear that was instilled into me," she says. "I have nightmares about being back there, and so does everyone I know who went to PCC. Even now, as a 35-year-old woman, I'm still learning that it's OK to have a glass of wine and I won't go to hell for it."
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things I Learned as a Mormon Polygamist Wife and 5 Hardcore Realities of My Time as a Mormon Missionary .
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