5 Rules from my Semester at America's Holiest University

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Picture 32.pngWe're so excited to have author, journalist, and Brown University senior (he's still a senior!) Kevin Roose blogging with us this week. His new book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University is about the semester he spent at Liberty University, the late Jerry Falwell's college for young evangelicals. Kevin's book is engaging, thoughtful and just a delight to read. If you like what you see, be sure to order a copy. We'll let Kevin take it from here:

BY KEVIN ROOSE

For starters, I thought I'd list the five strangest rules I encountered at Liberty.  Per the unofficial school nickname ("Bible Boot Camp"), Liberty is a very strict place.  It has a 46-page code of conduct, called "The Liberty Way," that outlines punishments and monetary fines for specific behaviors.  And coming from Brown, where "“ by Falwellian standards "“ the social scene is a notch or two above Sodom and Gomorrah, I had a lot of adjusting to do.

1) No Sex, Kissing or... Extended Hugging!

Liberty is one of the few universities where the football players have exactly as much sex as the engineers. By University code, all romantic contact beyond hand-holding is prohibited. Hugs are allowed, but only for a three-second maximum. (There used to be a Facebook group poking fun at this rule called, "I Hug for 3 Seconds, Sometimes 4.") And some students are actually saving their first kiss for their wedding night. It's no wonder that Liberty charges any student who spends the night with a person of the opposite sex with 30-reprimands.

But I learned that in terms of rules against inter-gender socializing, Liberty isn't even close to the strictest school in America. At Pensacola Christian College, for example, all physical contact between members of the opposite sex "“ even hand-shaking "“ is forbidden. According to one website run by ex-PCC students, "even couples who are not talking or touching can be reprimanded for what is known on the campus as "˜optical intercourse' "“ staring too intently into the eyes of a member of the opposite sex. This is also referred to as "˜making eye babies.'"

2) No Cursing (or How I Learned to Tame my Tongue)

This was probably the hardest part of my first month at Liberty.  Like most secular students, I used to curse mindlessly and liberally, almost as a way of life.  But "The Liberty Way" makes it clear that "obscene, profane or abusive language" gets you "12-18 Reprimands + Corresponding Fine." So I had to be proactive about cleaning up my language. I even bought a Christian self-help book called "30 Days to Taming Your Tongue," which tells you to replace your basic four-letter words with words like "Glory!"

While the book helped me avoid reprimands, sounding like Beaver Cleaver didn't exactly help me fit in. Although its true that most Liberty students don't curse, they don't walk around saying "Good Heavens!" Instead, they use Nerf curses like "Darn", "Friggin'" and "Crap."

3) No R-rated movies

This rule, too, proved difficult to follow. I like a raunchy Judd Apatow comedy as much as the next guy, but at Liberty, anyone found watching an R-rated movie is given 12 reprimands and a $50 fine. (For perspective, students can be expelled for accumulating as few as 30 reprimands.) On one ill-fated night, the RA on my hall walked in on a roomful of guys huddled around a TV, watching "300," the R-rated war flick about the Spartan army. The seven guys racked up 84 reprimands, they were fined a combined $350, and the DVD was confiscated.  Luckily, like a good Christian, I was at a Bible study group when the bust went down.

4) No Demonstrations

According to "The Liberty Way," any student found guilty of "participation in an unauthorized petition or demonstration" earns 12 reprimands and a $50 fine. Which begs the question: If you think a rule against protesting is unfair, how are you supposed to show it?

5) No Dancing

Baptists are notoriously opposed to bumpin' and grindin'. (Hence the old joke: "Why don't Baptists have sex standing up? Because it might lead to dancing.") At Liberty, 6 reprimands and a $25 fine awaits anyone found to have attended a dance. Or awaited, anyway. I've heard from friends that in the two years since I attended Liberty, the official dancing policy has been loosened. Organized dancing (salsa lessons, ballroom competitions, etc.) is now allowed, while "social dancing" remains off-limits. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that the "Crank Dat Soulja Boy" dance is still a no-go.

Kevin Roose's excellent book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University goes on sale nationally next week, but that shouldn't stop you from pre-ordering it today! Be sure to come back tomorrow to read more from Kevin.

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March 17, 2009 - 7:48am
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