I am a recent alumna of Wheaton College. By recent, I mean a week, tops. It’s fresh enough that some of my clothes still smell like The Stupe from my finals week study sessions, but it’s somehow still long enough ago that it feels like it never quite happened at all.
I graduated a semester early. When people asked me what it’s like to graduate from Wheaton, the first word that comes to mind is “relief.” Not because I don’t have tests anymore, or because I narrowly passed Microeconomics, but rather because the thought of being at Wheaton for any longer was so exhausting that I couldn’t entertain the idea of it.
I know that I am not the only person to feel this way, but it also sounds a bit unreasonable, like I couldn’t stand languishing in the prison of my privileged liberal arts education any longer. Poor me. But it’s something more than that: a particular kind of tiredness that comes from three and a half years of living in contradictions and passivity.
Let me explain a bit. My time at Wheaton has been riddled with contradiction: I felt compelled to live in the city but remained grounded in the suburbs. I wholeheartedly believe that women should be leaders of all kinds, but I attended a church that refused to ordain women. I believe in equal rights for LGBTQ individuals, yet I signed a contract disavowing their very existence. I take birth control and believe that it should be free and abundant, but I attend an institution that is suing the government over IUDs religious freedom.
There are so, so many times that attending Wheaton has meant being obligated to say “yes” to that which I feel strongly convicted to say “no.” Because of my frustrations, I did something that I regret: nothing. While I was supposed to be transforming into “a whole and effective Christian,” I instead became an ineffective member of my own community.
While I take full responsibility for my actions, I also acknowledge that this is a problem ingrained in Wheaton on an institutional level. To borrow a term from a brilliant alum, Wheaton suffers from a “cult of kindness.” Disagreement at this college is like a police raid on an underground bunker in East Texas: it breaks up the cult. But like that police raid, disagreement is also necessarily freeing.
There is no reason that being “whole and effective” means being a carbon copy. Yet due to the narrow, narrow, boundaries that Wheaton places on the span of ideas that students and faculty can hold, it often feels this way. Is not the intent of education for students to explore new ideas, discover new truths, and form their worldviews?
But when disagreement arises, rather than having a thoughtful conversation, it’s as if Wheaton says, “I would agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” It is parental. It is demeaning. It is arrogant. It underscores a deep lack of trust in its student body and faculty members.
I leave Wheaton just as it is entering into a particularly poignant disagreement of which any student who uses the Internet is likely aware. To those many students I am leaving behind, I challenge you to be active in your faith and unafraid to disagree with Wheaton. I am aware that being graduated for a week hardly qualifies me to spout wisdom to the younger generation. But I urge you to not make the same mistake of passivity that I did. The cult may be mandatory, but maintaining it is optional. Get out of your dorms and into the streets.