Flyers issued to raise awareness

University of Puget Sound/March 2, 2002
By Josephine Eckert

In an effort to make students aware of their right to ask questions, discuss issues and make well-informed decisions, the University of Puget Sound Dean of Students Office and the Center for Spirituality and Justice placed table tent flyers on the tables in the Wheelock Student Center Feb. 21. The flyers are meant to educate students about the tactics that cult-like organizations use to limit basic freedoms to which everyone is entitled.

Such tactics include: being asked to join religious study groups and then pressured into becoming more involved in activities; being deprived of sleep by persons or groups; being pressured to drop out of classes or cut work hours to spend more time with the group; being told by someone else whom to be friends with, what to do, and to cut ties with family; being intimidated by the threat of not being accepted or "saved" for challenging the group's beliefs; and being required to give money to the group without knowing where it goes.

The flyers were produced in response to concerns about the International Church of Christ (ICC), a religious cult that is making its presence known in the Tacoma area and on other surrounding college campuses such as Pacific Lutheran University and Pierce Community College.

"We received information that lead us to be concerned that students may have been being approached by members of organizations that use the kind of tactics described on the flyers," Dean of Students Kris Bartanen said. "It seemed most appropriate simply to make people aware of the kinds of freedom of choice that they have."

The presence of organizations such as the ICC is not a major phenomenon, but the University thought there was enough information present to produce concern and therefore felt it was important to say something, according to Bartanan.

Such organizations have been present on college campuses in a number of different cities nationwide.

"It is not unique to Tacoma, not unique to Puget Sound, but it's worrisome to the extent that people may get locked into things without full understanding of what an organization involves," Bartanen said.

She explained that cults are common on college campuses because students are more likely to be questioning their values and religion and are encouraged to ask questions and become critical thinkers, college is far away from home and traditional support systems, and the transition period leaves some people venerable and lonely.

As a liberal arts college the University intends to encourage students to be mindful, to ask questions and to investigate. Reports of the ICC's presence in Tacoma have encouraged the University to help make students more aware and more critical thinkers, according to Chaplain Jim Davis.

"We tried to provide the best information that we can that lets students do their own investigation, to do their own learning, and make their own choices," Bartanen said. "I hope that people have the opportunity to think about the kinds of persuasive strategies used by any group that respects people's freedom of choice versus manipulative strategies that don't respect another person's freedom of choice."

Bartanan hopes that the flyers will help let students know they can ask questions and find help from people on campus.

Since the situation includes religion, it is also an issue of the division of individual freedom and religious freedom.

"There is a fine line between religious conviction and religious conviction that infringes on others' rights," Davis said. "That's when it becomes a coercive thing. I can believe things as an individual, but when I try to manipulate others is when I step over the boundaries."

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