This Is Not Daycare, Says Christian College with Curfew

This Is Not Daycare, Says Christian College with Curfew April 9, 2018

I recently had reason to read up on Oklahoma Wesleyan College president Everett Piper. My interest was immediately piqued by the title of his 2015 book, Not a Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth

The book’s description is as follows: 

What has happened to the American spirit? We’ve gone from “Give me liberty, or give me death!” to “Take care of me, please.” Our colleges were once bastions of free speech; now they’re bastions of speech codes. Our culture once rewarded independence; now it rewards victimhood. Parents once taught their kids how to fend for themselves; now, any parent who tries may get a visit from the police.

In Not a Day Care, Dr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University and author of the viral essay, “This Is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!,” takes a hard look at what’s happening around the country–including the demand for “safe spaces” and trigger warnings at universities like Yale, Brandeis, and Oberlin–and digs in his heels against the sad and dangerous infantilization of the American spirit.

Such hand-wringing about trigger warnings and censorship is typical fare. But as David R. Wheeler pointed out in the Chronicle of Higher Education in his December 2015 review of Piper’s book:

To put it mildly, then, Oklahoma Wesleyan is behind the curve when it comes to LGBT rights. But what about the more general issue of coddling college students? Can OKWU at least be a refuge for students who don’t want to be treated like little children — that is, like they’re in day care?

Let’s take a look at the student handbook to find out. If you’re a 22-year-old student who enjoys dancing, are you allowed to dance? Maybe, but to avoid any censure, you should make sure it’s ballroom dancing. The 2015-16 handbook states that “patronizing dance clubs” is considered a minor violation of school policy. Why? Because of the “illicit sexual dancing” that happens there, as the handbook so eloquently puts it. In addition to that 19th-century tent-revival-era rule, note the additional implication: The university wants to know what you’re doing off campus as well as on.

Most college students are allowed to leave their rooms whenever they want. You might say it’s one of the hallmarks of life outside day care. And Oklahoma Wesleyan does generously allow you to come and go as you please — during the day. But coming in late after curfew, or “sneaking out at night,” in the handbook’s wording, is another minor violation of school policy.

No dancing. No sneaking out at night. What then, exactly, can you do at this place that’s a university and “not a day care”? A little harmless mischief within the dorm? Say, putting a whoopee cushion on someone’s chair? Shaking someone’s hand with a hand buzzer? What about hiding your roommate’s sock drawer?

Better be careful, you wild and crazy kids. Pranks — even “non-destructive” pranks — are also a minor violation of school policy.

What’s the punishment for such minor violations? They’re “likely to result in mediation to probation” on the first occurrence. You’d better play it safe.

I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of this before.

Wheeler is right—the same conservatives who decry the “coddling” of college students and belittle the idea of “safe spaces” are all about Christian colleges and universities that fire professors who flirt with ideas that are too liberal and bar female students from leaving their dorms with wet hair or in pajamas.

So much for simply being champions of free speech concerned about censorship. So much for proclamations that students will not be prepared to live in the real world after being treated like children. It turns out that the issue isn’t censorship or coddling—it is the type of censorship and the type of coddling.

Rules designed to ensure that students don’t have sex, listen to the wrong kind of music, or dance (see here, here, and here)? Those are ok—they’re about enforcing God’s laws, after all. Rules designed to ensure that LGBTQ students feel comfortable on campus? Those are wrong—they’re about enforcing the world’s broken moral system, after all.

In a sense, Christian colleges and universities represent an extreme implementation of “safe space” ideology—or at least, of conservatives’ caricature of this “safe space” ideology. These schools are not safe for LGBTQ students or women, but for conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, they create spaces where students will confront ideas outside of their bubble only through a Christian lens—a space where norms of behavior are carefully governed and those who violate community norms are expelled.

The argument conservatives make, in some sense, is not that censorship or coddling students is wrong, but that state colleges and universities—which are supposed to be neutral toward religion and politics—are enforcing liberal and progressive beliefs, ideologies, and norms, and sanctioning conservative students. There isn’t time, here, to delve into that question, though my own experiences suggest that state colleges and universities are far more varied and open that conservatives would suggest.

In the end, though, it’s worth remembering that conservatives aren’t against censorship or against enforcing specific community norms or policing speech. At issue is what norms—and what ideology—is enforced.

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