Cults target stressed, lonely students

Daily Forty-Niner - Long Beach State University, CA, Vol.7, No 19, September 30, 1999
By Sarah LaVoie

Every student is susceptible to the influence of a high-pressure religious group during particularly stressful or traumatic times, said the keynote speaker of a cult awareness workshop Friday.

People, such as students, who experience high levels of frustration may turn to high-pressure groups offering security, said the keynote speaker, whose name is not being mentioned because he is a former cult member and fears retribution.

The workshop, held in the University Student Union, aimed to give students information on high-pressure religious groups on campus.

The keynote speaker, also a specialist in dealing with cults, advises people to offer unrelenting love to a person involved in a high-pressure group. "Don't dribble information to them [members] -- these people [leaders] are sophisticated at extinguishing questions and will eventually inoculate the member against all dissonant information," he said.

These groups attract students because they offer an overwhelming amount of attention and acceptance to a potential member, as well as opportunities to attend social activities and make new friends, former cult members said. Members of high-pressure groups usually spend all of their time in group-related activities or actively recruiting new members, said another speaker, also a former member of a cult that currently recruits students at Cal State Long Beach.

Characteristics of a cult include a charismatic, living leader; a leader who claims special access to God; members taught to fear the leader; control of outside information, such as separation from family and friends; members being prohibited from interacting with one another in meaningful ways; the leader being hidden from the public; and extreme emphasis on fund-raising. Cult recruiters usually approach individuals who are walking or sitting alone on campus.

The recruiters were instructed "not to go up to a group, and only approach the same sex," said another former member. He would then greet the person, introduce himself, and then invite the person to an activity or Bible study.

"It was always important to get their phone number, and be very vague about the church," he said.

Later the recruiter will constantly call the person to attend a gathering, and once the individual has attended an event recruiters will relentlessly pressure the person to become a member.

Many CSULB students have been approached in this way.

Kinesiology major Stacy Madsen said she was sitting alone outside the Student Union when two girls greeted her, asked her about her notion of God and invited her to a picnic. When she declined their invitation she was questioned about why she was not interested.

Health care administration major Jaimee Harris said she was approached in the bathroom of the University Library.

Dietetics and exercise physiology major Lisa Sterbenz was approached while studying in a nearby Barnes and Noble coffee shop.

Some students said they have been approached numerous times.

Graphic design major Andy Polvorosa has been approached at least two or three times each semester.

Film and electronic arts major Brolin Howe said the same person approached him on two separate occasions. He also saw this person looking to recruit others.

Recruiters already have asked freshman Jennifer Kellog and her friends for their phone numbers at least twice this semester, she said.

Some students were approached even before classes actually began.

"About half of every class had already been approached at S.O.A.R.[Student Orientation, Advising and Registration]," said University Police Sgt. Bonnie Meyers.

Myers said she is concerned because incoming students are exceptionally vulnerable to these coercive influences.

"These groups use fear and intimidation to recruit and sustain members and that is not what this university is here for," said Meyers.

Most of the workshop's organizers said that not all religious organizations on campus use high-pressure techniques and most are legitimate groups offering fellowship to students.

Students approached by a recruiter should ask questions, find out who the recruiters are, and what their groups are about, University Interfaith Center representatives said.

For any concerns or questions one may also speak to someone in the Interfaith Center at (562) 985-7629 or visit the center in USU-103. For more information about cults and other high pressure groups, one may


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