The first book I read as part of the #SAChat Book Club was “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” by Kevin Roose. I definitely enjoyed reading this book, as it was interesting to see Kevin’s transition, as well as read about the events happening to him, at his university, and in the larger world and how all of that affected “Brown Kevin” and “Liberty Kevin” and later, how those two identities merged.
I was excited to read this book from the moment I read that it was going to be a part of the book club. I am always interested in learning about experiences that drastically differ from the experiences that I had as a student. I had a few friends from high school that wound up going to religious colleges and since I was at a school with very few rules, I was always shocked to hear about the rules they had to follow – only certain hours they could have guests, what they were and were not allowed to do in their free time…very different than the free-for-all I had! Overall, I enjoyed this book. It read like a story, which was a nice change of pace from all those theoretical texts I spent the past two years reading.
This book really made me think about the similarities and differences between schools. We always hear that each institution has it’s own culture, and yes, the four I have worked at have all differed to some degree, but the culture at Liberty University is completely different than anything I’ve seen before. Like Kevin, I had an image in my mind of what Liberty was like and what the students who went there were like. I imagined the students to be like none I had encountered before. To some extent, I was correct. Many of the students said they liked the rules because they prevented the students from sinning. The students pray a lot. When one student was about to face disciplinary trouble, his friends prayed for him. I don’t think that is something I have witnessed, either as a student or an administrator. While I have heard of students doing missionary work during spring break, I usually thought of those trips being to impoverished countries. Not places like Miami Beach where “sinful” students are partaking in “sinful” activities. But that’s where they went…not to join them but to try to get students (and locals) to “know” Christ.
At the same time, outside of the modest dress and church services, these students are very much like “typical” students. They goof off in their dorm rooms, they talk about things going on in the outside world, they tease each other. The boys want to date the pretty girls on campus but what they do on those dates is what sets them apart. Basically, they’re still students, they still have fun, and I would be a very happy person if more of my students understood that fun exists in other ways and shapes than drinking and partying. Students who don’t like the strict rules in place at Liberty University (or a similar religious institution) aren’t likely to apply or attend this type of school.
Kevin’s visit unfortunately coincided with two major events in Virginia. The first was the Virginia Tech shooting. This was an event that affected everybody involved in higher education and plenty of people outside of it. Students at Liberty quickly gathered to pray for those affected by this senseless act of violence. At first, Kevin was upset because while prayer was helping his friends and classmates, he was still questioning why this had happened. Later, Kevin was “fuming” because a student compares the deaths from the shooting to abortion. This is one instance of many where Kevin knows that his classmates are good people, but they their strict interpretation of the Bible before everything else and say things that Kevin completely disagrees with.
The second event happens at the end of the semester. After Kevin returns to his room from a final, he finds out the news that Jerry Falwell has been taken to the hospital where he later died. Many students on other campus do not regard their campus leaders the same way Liberty students did Jerry Falwell. I don’t think Kevin would have felt it as much as he did, had he not interviewed Dr. Falwell just days prior to his death, which had made Falwell seem much more human to Kevin. Ironically, the whole situation reminded me of the end of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” in which Hogwart’s Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, dies at the end of the term. I say ironic because Jerry Falwell was probably one of those Christians against the Harry Potter series.
Eventually, I had to step back and stop looking this as a series of journal entries and start looking at it from my new position as a professional in the student affairs world. This isn’t one of those books where I can say “Now how can I make my RAs…”. That’s fine. I’m pretty sure I have a few of those on my reading list. This book gave me a better understanding of a religion I am not very familiar with. Waiting until marriage until your first kiss? I thought that was something only a select group of people (the Duggars) did, but reading this book I found out that there is a much larger population that follows the Bible a little more closely than most of the Christians I know. I also wondered what it would be like to work at such an institution. I remember during some of my graduate courses hearing about interview questions about your faith in God and Jesus and I couldn’t imagine being asked something like that! Then again, I remember interviewing at some Catholic colleges for assistantships and they were very clear in the interview that I would need to follow some of the same rules as my residents – my boyfriend would NOT be able to stay over. I guess working at an institution like this is similar to what I said about being a student – if you don’t like what’s going on, you’re not going to apply.
In the end, I think it’s a good read. I’m not mad that I spent my time or money on it. It gave me a good look at a different type of institution and I think this might also help if I have extremely conservative students as residents or if a student one day transfers from Liberty to my institution to be closer to home or for some other reason. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I missed BOTH of the discussions for this book. My supervisor had said she was going to read it, but I don’t think she got around to it. If anybody out there read it, leave some comments about what you thought!