Thoughts on Conservative Christian Colleges From a Liberty Graduate

Thoughts on Conservative Christian Colleges From a Liberty Graduate March 27, 2015

samanthaby Samantha Fields cross posted from her blog Defeating The Dragons

There’s a bit of a hubbub happening this week over a certain announcement made during Liberty University’s convocation on Monday. If you don’t travel in the circles who are all abuzz about it, here’s the gist: Ted Cruz is the first Republican to formally announce his candidacy for the 2016 election, and he did it at Liberty, in front of an audience of thousands of college students. That’s not the newsworthy part, though– what has caught everyone’s attention is that this audience was a literally captive one. Liberty students who live in the on-campus dormitories are required to attend convocation (Liberty’s word for “chapel”), or they are fined. And some were not happy about being forced to attend a political rally.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I attended Liberty University for graduate school. In fact, on the whole, I believe my experience was a positive one, although I feel that way with certain caveats. I attended graduate school there, and therefore my experience was vastly different from anyone earning a bachelor’s. The English graduate department is, I believe, filled with highly competent professors and the academic environment is open to discussing anything (although I can only speak for the English department). While, if I had the opportunity to retcon my life I would never attend Pensacola Christian College or Liberty University, I do very much feel that Liberty was an excellent stepping stone in my life. It was good for me for where I was at the time– I was in an environment where my fundamentalist-indoctrinated brain/heart felt safe, but I was encouraged by my professors at every turn to get outside of that box.

However, there are some aspects about being a Liberty graduate that are … difficult. I’ve encountered HR professionals who claim that any resumé with “Liberty University” on it will go straight into the garbage– I’ve been personally turned down for things because of the colleges I have to list on mine. I’ve seriously considered paying for another graduate degree from a more respectable university and just removing PCC or LU from anything professional.

Because that’s the problem. Liberty University just isn’t respectable in most places, and they’re not doing graduates like me any favors when they invite people like Ted Cruz to speak during a mandatory event. It’s still very much Jerry Falwell’s school. I have been yelled at– actually yelled at– for daring to criticize some of Jerry’s more bigoted and hateful statements (like blaming the LGBTQ community for 9/11). I didn’t even say the words “bigoted” and “hateful”– I said they were “ridiculous” and got yelled at. By a professor. Not a professor I ever studied under, but still.

However, this whole situation is not entirely Liberty’s fault. Liberty is a conservative Christian college. It just is, and I don’t have a problem with the existence of conservative Christian higher education. They fill a certain niche desire, and I’m not going to fault conservative Christian parents or students for wanting to find a place that fits their ideology– after all, many people from all walks of life at least partly evaluate colleges and whether or not they want to attend based on questions like “does this institution align with my values?” The prioritization may change depending on the individual, but I know I look at places like the University of Michigan and think I want to go to there because of their reputation for student activism and an anti-military/industrial stance.

What does anger me are people who say things like “if I see a Liberty university graduate’s resumé, I won’t even consider them.” I went to Liberty University, and guess what? I’m a liberal, pro-choice feminist with socialist-considering-Marxism political tendencies. I think the Democratic party isn’t liberal enough. I’m almost of the opinion that capitalism (at least in its current cis-hetero-white-supremacist-patriarchal incarnation) is evil. Most conservative Christians would point at pretty much any thing I think about God, the Bible, and Jesus and start screaming “heretic!” and “burn her!”

I went to Liberty because of the circumstances of my life at the time. I enjoyed my experience there, and I, personally, learned a lot. It’s where I became a feminist, it’s where I started questioning biblical literalism. It’s where I took a class in dystopian literature and realized that books written by non-white dudes are spectacularly awesome. It’s where my Romantic literature professor asked me to read Frankenstein through a post-modern lens. It’s where another professor got so happy he cried when I was the first student he’d ever had to truly get the effect that Derrida had on Christian theology (we can thank fundamentalism for that one. I read Derrida like an Enlightenment-educated person would have in the 60s).

So for every person who mocks and dismisses and belittles anyone who graduates from a conservative Christian college, you can take your ignorance and condescension and shove it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Samantha blogs at Defeating The Dragons and is a member of The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

Read Samantha’s detailed review of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book “Real Marriage”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9  

Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13

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  • jennabobenna

    In all honesty, I don’t remember if you’ve ever mentioned what part of the country you live in, but here in the Midwest, I don’t know that many people knew anything about Liberty before this whole Ted Cruz thing. My mom works in HR and I would be willing to bet she doesn’t know enough about Liberty to dismiss your resume out of hand. That said, I have enjoyed reading about your experiences here and on your blog. You are such a great writer and I hope that any prospective employers would be able to see past your alma mater and recognize that.

  • Julia Childress

    I spent over 30 years as a human resources director, and I have to admit that when I saw certain Christian colleges on a resume, it would give me pause. However, it would have been very foolish to toss the resume on that basis, alone. A resume should answer one question: how well will this candidate meet the employer’s needs? If the Christian-college grad answers that question well, re: work experience, professional organizations, professional development, volunteer work, etc., then he/she may be a viable candidate. The problem that I saw with so many resumes is that they focus on stuff that has no meaning to the employer. The sorority/fraternity, that they like to read, that their A+ senior thesis was written on some topic that has nothing to do with the job, that they worked on some political candidate’s campaign (unless it’s for a political job), what church they attend. Young/inexperienced Christians tend to write resumes that show what a terrific person they are rather than what a terrific employee they might become. (I live and work in an area with two large evangelical institutions of higher learning, so I have seen a lot of resumes from those schools). Also, a cover letter should always accompany the resume. That gives the candidate the chance to highlight relevant experience and proven abilities (e.g. good public speaker, excellent problem-solver, Word expert, etc.) and does not have to include the name of the college (“I have a B.A. in English and I have published two magazine articles”). The cover letter gives the employer a chance to get to know you and form a favorable opinion before seeing your college or employment details.

  • KarenOfRocks

    Some people will always judge you partly on the school(s) you attended for your higher education. I once worked for a manager who got all excited when we had an interviewee with a BS degree from a top-tier university, despite the fact that there was a huge learning curve for newcomers in my field; the reality was the Joe from Podunk U. was likely to turn out to be every bit as successful as Jane from Ivy League School. My own experience later as a manager taught me that work history (or GPA and study history for new grads) mattered, not the school itself. For people with work history, school was absolutely irrelevant. But as far as I know, my ex-manager is still out there and still giving hiring preference for the wrong reason.

    For some of the judge-by-school people, Liberty University is going to be a red flag. It’s associated with Falwell. It’s associated with the bumbling idiots who ran the Attorney General’s office under Dubya. Now it’s associated with Cruz.

    It cuts both ways. The school and department where I got my MS degree gave an MS to a prominent creationist. That was years ago, but professors still wince when the subject comes up; it’s considered a bad mark for the school. (We pity the poor institution that granted his PhD.)

    As other writers pointed out, one can write a resume to minimize the impact of something like this. But sometimes personal history comes with unwanted excess baggage.

  • Astrin Ymris

    If even students at Liberty University aren’t receptive to Cruz’s candidacy, he has no chance of winning the 2016 election.

    However, Ted was probably trying to avoid the humiliation he suffered when he addressed the International Association of Professional Firefighters with Tea Party ideology.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/12/1370453/-Watch-Sen-Ted-Cruz-bomb-on-stage-because-it-s-funny

  • teaisbetterthanthis

    I knew a lot of people who went to Liberty — some were happy to play the game, but a significant number started chafing and straining against it all. Ideology, practice, all of it. Sometimes because they’d been given option of Liberty or nothing. So I would give someone the benefit of the doubt before assuming that graduating from Liberty (or Bob Jones, or wherever) meant they were 100% on board with everything. Just like I won’t assume that someone with a degree from, say, an agriculture-focused state school didn’t have the same quality degree as someone from a prestigious university or assume that several years at a community college means someone is less “academic”.

    I take people as themselves. Environment is only so influential and isn’t the only facet of someone’s personality or values.

  • Catherine

    “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”

  • Mel

    I wonder how much the field in which job was posted mattered as well. For a liberal arts background, I don’t know how far off a Liberty or Pensicola Christian College student would be in terms of writing and analytical thinking.

    For a science-based position, though, a hiring director may be understandably cautious. We have a very conservative Baptist college near where I live and teach that has produced public school teachers who were unwilling (and often unable) to teach evolution accurately according to the State Benchmarks and Guidelines for high school Biology courses.
    This doesn’t mean that students from that college are discarded out of hand; we just ask all potential hires to describe how they would teach an evolution unit to be sure that the candidate can teach this topic.
    On the other hand, the other three religious colleges (and 4 state colleges) in the area have excellent, thorough education programs with active alumni in teaching. These graduates do have a bit of an advantage simply because teaching jobs often have SO many applicants that knowing someone in the district is needed for the resume to make it out of the pile of 150+ applicants.

  • Rebecca Horne

    I always wonder whether people toss my resume when they see Messiah College on it. Messiah is much less conservative than Liberty, but it’s also less well-known, so I have an easy time imagining somebody glancing at it and thinking it’s a diploma mill.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Honestly, I have to question your morality if you’re fine with a place that promotes lies and bigotry and parents who purposely send their kids to such a place to keep them indoctrinated.

  • Astrin Ymris

    I didn’t get that Samantha was acting as an apologist for Liberty University as she was griping about HR departments who refused to even consider candidates with LSU on their resume. As some posters have pointed out, for some kids Liberty is the only college their parents will agree to that grants academically-recognized degrees.

    Nowhere does she say that LSU graduates must be hired regardless, just that they should be granted an interview like other candidates whose credentials meet the listed job requirements. It is possible for toxic homophobes and misogynists to come from other schools. Think of Elliot Rodger.

  • brbr2424

    I found that a little harsh also. It has to be frustrating, no doubt. It didn’t help the alumni reputation that George Bush hired most of the law school graduating class. On one of the atheist sites a Liberty graduate deconverted when his son a Liberty student came out as an open atheist. It’s a case of #NotAllLibertyGraduates.

  • Catherine

    I’m in the PNW and I’d heard plenty about Liberty. Jerry Falwell is kind of universally infamous.

  • Astrin Ymris

    So basically your beef is that Samantha– in talking to other survivors of spiritual abuse– vented her anger and frustration in unladylike language?

  • B.A.

    Ditto!

  • Very well said. You’ve touched on something I’ve noticed is only getting worse. There is a certain liberal faction online which is just as vicious as the far right – if they discover you are a Christian. Samantha, I shudder to think what you’ve gone through. I don’t think it’s going to get any better for awhile, either way.

  • Astrin Ymris

    But it’s not legitimate: Graduates of Liberty may have fairly liberal attitudes, and graduates of secular colleges may turn out to be bigots. Thus any HR director needs to screen all candidates carefully anyway to make sure they can work and play well with others in a diverse workplace.

    I agree that the “take and shove it” language isn’t conducive to changing anyone’s mind, but I can understand it as venting frustration “inside the tent”. You might argue that nothing posted on the internet is guaranteed to stay inside the tent, and it would be wiser to avoid such language. Or that “This is a really good article that a lot of HR personnel should read, but you should lose the crude insult before posting it to a wider audience.”

    But howls of frustration have their occasional place, too. If a black woman was expressing similar frustration at having resumés with ghetto-fabulous names trashed unconsidered, would you have tut-tutted her for not being more understanding of HR department workers who don’t have time to screen out all the drug addicts?

    Yes, I know that’s not a completely fair analogy. But it’s not completely unfair, either.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Well, that’s just it– LSU advertises its bigotry to its intended clients: Homeschooling parents who want a “real” college degree for their offspring but want to keep them from exposure to “secular values”. For their students, it’s usually a matter of “beggers can’t be choosers”.

    I get that you’re hurt because since you work in HR you were “hit” by her insult– and that’s a legitimate gripe. But it would be better if you just said that, rather than
    trying to justify your past actions at the same time.

  • Guest

    While I’m certain good and talented people to come out of Liberty, I’m with the employers who look askance at the resumes of LU Alumi. Your writing record since, certainly speaks well of you. Liberty is a university that has allowed their ideology to so permeate their curriculum that their students are not taught science, not taught history, and has, in the worst of cases, railroaded any cultural or political differences off of their campus. It is not a university, it is a protracted Baptist camp meeting. (I am myself a graduate of a strongly Christian but more theologically moderate college and am an atheist now). Choices have consequences.

  • SpontOrder

    While I’m certain good and talented people do come out of Liberty, I’m
    with the employers who look askance at the resumes of LU Alumni. Your
    writing record since, certainly speaks well of you. Liberty is a
    university that has allowed their ideology to so permeate their
    curriculum that their students are not taught science, not taught
    history, and has, in the worst of cases, railroaded any cultural or
    political differences off of their campus. It is not a university, it
    is a protracted Baptist camp meeting. (I am myself a graduate of a
    strongly Christian but more theologically moderate college and am an
    atheist now). Choices have consequences.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Re: “…I have never worked in HR actually, which is probably why I didn’t say that I did…”

    Sorry, I got the impression from something you posted that you were or had. My bad!

    Re: “…I’m also sorry for attempting to defend people who have been accused of ignorance and can’t speak for themselves here…”

    Samantha’s comment actually did no tangible harm to any HR employees. At worst, it may have given ghosting HR workers who read it hurt feelings… IF they had been responsible for pre-screening job applicants by their alma maters in the first place, that is.

    Graduates of LSU who had their resumés tossed in the trash by HR employees did suffer economic harm, just as any candidates who had their applications summarily rejected because of prejudice. I’m baffled that you equate “indignation” with “extended unemployment” on the scale of wrongs suffered.

    Re: “… it’s a small world, is what I live by and I am careful with what I say. HR uses the Internet too…”

    This is a fair point. So why didn’t you just say that, rather than scold Samantha for bringing up the injustice of HR employees pre-screening resumés according to their ideological beliefs? Don’t we both agree that it would be wrong for fundgelical HR workers to toss out resumés which contain what they view as red flags for liberal attitudes?