Campus warned of cults

California State University, Long Beach On-Line Forty-Niner, September 10, 1998
By Jeanine Cardullo

Students exploring the diverse college life at Cal State Long Beach are most likely exposed to new experiences on a daily basis.

One of these new experiences may be that of attempted recruitment into a cult.

The University Interfaith Center held a panel presentation yesterday discussing the dangers of cults looking for new recruits on campus.

Most people think of Jonestown and Waco when thinking of cults, when the reality is that most cults appear to be normal, friendly clubs or bible studies, said Adele Langworthy, Protestant campus minister. By seeming loving and benign, cults are able to draw in students who may be lonely and seeking closeness.

"Students are prime targets. College students are searching, but not only careerwise. Many students are going through a spiritual search as well, for something to give meaning to their lives," Langworthy said.

According to the center, there are specific characteristics of a cult that one should be aware of. Most cults concentrate heavily on securing new members for the organization, and require new recruits to participate in meeting membership "quotas."

Cults work at isolating members from friends and family, and instill feelings of guilt and faithlessness to keep individuals from straying, Langworthy said.

After a new recruit has been separated from past support systems, the cults require large donations as well.

The isolation and the financial requirements work at keeping the individual emotionally and financially dependent on his or her new "family," Langworthy said.

If and when a member does try to leave the group, cult leaders will isolate the individual, and harass the member for hours. The member is often times threatened with burning in hell, or told that "this is the devil working in you."

Sgt. Bonnie Myers of the University Police has worked on the campus for nine years, and every year has seen students traumatized by these groups.

According to Myers, cult leaders will use student members to set up a CSULB club by going through the proper channels.

It is in this manner that "legitimate" organizations are created under false pretenses, Myers said.

Calvin Kwan, a CSULB alumnus, was a member of a cult for 4.5 years. Kwan was approached at Long Beach City College.

"I was convinced by the second day that I was going to hell. A leader wrote a schedule for me - 5 a.m. bible study, all the activities. I was a member within a week."

Kwan eventually transferred to CSULB. In the three years he attended the campus, he attempted to recruit between 500 and 600 students, and donated more than $10,000 to the cult.

Kwan is now out of the cult and working at R.E.V.E.A.L, a worldwide support group for former cult members, current cult members and their families.

Steps can be taken to effectively deal with high-pressure groups. According to the center, before joining a group, one should ask questions and not accept evasive answers. It is also important to beware of organizations that will not clearly define how membership fees are spent.

"Never let your guard down. You must always be aware," Langworthy said.

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