comments 4

Out of Your Dorms and Into the Streets

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.

 

4 Comments

  1. Brian

    Speaking of disagreement… 😉

    As a faculty member at Wheaton, I do not find that I am confined to a “narrow, narrow span of ideas.” I think I have wide ranging ideas. And while some students and alumni tell me I’m a crazy anomaly, I don’t buy it. I talk to my colleagues in more intimate ways than most students, and I learn from most, almost constantly.

    Indeed, it is interesting to me that you find yourself disagreeing with “Wheaton” and point out that education should expose you to new thoughts and ideas and now, after 3 1/2 years of Wheaton you have what I presume are some new ideas. I suspect you would say that Wheaton didn’t “give” you those ideas, but I don’t think that’s what institutions do; they don’t “give” you things. They shape you. And I would say that while you may not have found Wheaton easy, perhaps that is part of what makes it good.

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    • Deanna Hunter

      Hmmm, prof.

      What I hear you saying is that your experience of Wheaton isn’t narrowing, so this woman’s can’t be either.

      I, too, subscribe to the “easy ain’t always good” philosophy of life. Some of the hardest gauntlets I’ve run have forced me to become self-sufficient and empathetic in ways I truly value and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. But just because hard experiences prove our mettle doesn’t mean they are necessary or welcome. And being confused and unsettled about the moral implications of Wheaton’s institutional stances…well, no points to Wheaton if this ex-student learned some hard lessons by trying to reconcile her understanding of right and wrong with some alarming choices by the powers-that-be.

      Her ambivalence about her Wheaton experience is an eerie echo of my own time there twenty years ago, when science professors who believed in evolution were being ferreted out and an LGBTQ witch hunt encouraged friends to turn on friends. Ugly stuff. Your response – the way you call into question Hayley’s experiences and her interpretation of them – also gives me flashbacks to my interaction with certain Wheaton professors.

      I feel sad that this woman’s assessment of her time as a student is being belittled. What I would love to see from you and any professor is an attempt to hear and empathize with what the students are saying when they state they aren’t happy with their time at Wheaton. Then talk about how much you are enjoying your time there and how it is fulfilling your needs.

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  2. Stephen

    I’d imagine whether one’s professors seem hindered or not depends in part on the department. I completed my undergrad in philosophy and found that liberating. When I started taking graduate classes is when I began seeing the constraint not only on what answers were “right” but even what questions were permitted.

    That quibble aside, thank you for articulating this. I found myself swimming upstream against administration from my first to my final semester over necessary disability accommodations.

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  3. WWheaton

    Hayley,
    Welcome to post undergrad life. It will continue to stretch you. Be open. Set boundaries. Find allies.

    Like

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