Ohio State faculty battle high-pressure cults with new brochure

The Lantern (Ohio State Univ.)/October 12, 2005
By Jesus Chavez III

College students recently delivered from the womb of adolescence have often found themselves prey for obsessive and potentially dangerous organizations.

A council of concerned Ohio State faculty members inspired by this vulnerability initiated the drafting of a brochure titled "Protect Yourself from High Pressure Groups."

Matthew Couch, assistant director of the Ohio Union and a council member, said colleagues at other universities having developed a similar brochure prompted this effort in 2002.

"We thought the message would be relevant and helpful for our students too," Couch said.

Dr. Louise Douce, director of Counseling and Consultation Services and also a council member, said the diverse membership of the council included faculty from Student Affairs, the Student Advocacy Center, Counseling and Consultation Services, Housing and Residence Halls, the Student Wellness Center and the University Interfaith Association.

"A group of us got together to talk about what we mean by a cult, what constitutes a cult and what kind of advice can we give," Douce said.

The brochure has been in circulation since 2003 offering assistance to students who may encounter cults on campus.

According to the brochure, there a several organized and informal organizations that use high-pressure recruiting tactics. The flyer helps to identify possible high-pressure organizations with a lists of characteristics of its nature and affect.

Douce said there are two groups that can qualify as a high-pressure group: religious and financial.

"We went with the concept of high-pressure group because they are not always religion-based, there are some that are financial-based. They can be any group that wants to essentially gain control of who you are and what you do and how you operate," Douce said. "Students should recognize the signs of when any group tries to severely limit your contact with other people, or requires you devote all of your time or revere another human being - that's a mistake."

Douce said college campuses tend to be popular targets for high-pressure groups.

"College can be very lonely; sometimes you feel isolated and everybody else is having fun and everybody else is connected and your not. And so when a a group comes with this emotional intensity and emotional intimacy it just sucks you right in," Douce said. "The pressure, the loneliness and the process of solidifying your value system are what makes students good targets."

A cult on campus is not without precedent. Two years ago OSU saw the activity of a cult. Douce said during the formative period of the council and soon after receiving information and resources from other campuses and from cult experts, they received a phone call from a worried mother.

"She was concerned her son was being pulled into what she thought was a cult," Douce said.

Couch said there was some concern at the time about the controversial International Churches of Christ being on campus.

"They had been banned from several campuses, including the University of Cincinnati, which was one of the institutions whose literature on high pressure groups we ... borrowed from," Couch said.

According to the RightCyberUp Web site, a site dedicated to recovery from the International Church of Christ, they contain all the destructive cult characteristics: authoritarian power structure, totalitarian in control of behavior, double set of ethics, self-appointed leaders claiming a special mission, promotion of physical and/or psychological isolation, deception in recruitment and/or fundraising and the use of thought reform/mind control techniques.

Couch said it is difficult to qualify the legitimacy of the presence or threat of high-pressure groups on the OSU campus because their is no news or communication of their activities.

"Because of that, I don't think there is any reason why Ohio State students should be particularly alarmed about the potential presence of these organizations," Couch said. "I would recommend to any college student on any campus that they research an organization before committing to it and that they become knowledgeable about the tactics of high-pressure groups."

Douce said there is no evidence an International Churches of Christ organization is on campus but that they change there name frequently because they get banned from campuses.

According to the International Churches of Christ Web site, as of this year they have 515 congregations world-wide with a total membership of 105,507. The state of Ohio has five of these churches, including one in Columbus called the Columbus Church of Christ. No address or phone number is give for this congregation, but the Web site said they meet for Sunday service in Grandview.

Also on the Web site, the International Churches of Christ are described as " ... a family of Christian churches whose members are committed to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the Bible. [Their] goal since 1994 has been to plant a church in every nation with a city of at least 100,000 people by the end of the year 2000. That goal was met in July 2000."

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