Both me and my wife went and visited the our college town a while ago. Not sure exactly what drew us back, but in many ways we got to say farewell to Pensacola.
It was a bit of an emotionally taxing trip. With reminders of our past on just about every edge of the city.
We didn’t step foot on the college grounds, but we saw more than enough to remind us of it’s presence. The dorm towers looming over the freeway. College student wandering the mall, clearly marked by their strict dress code and male / female only groups. And finding a campus church track in the downtown parks.
And conversation with local business owners revealed they were also well aware of the presence of PCC. I don’t think the college administration realizes the “image” that they hold in the average person from Pensacola is often negative.
Seeing the homeless in Pensacola brought back a memory. My college roommate spoke of how the doorknocking team (think street evangelist) would witness to the homeless. My roommate had witnessed to a homeless man, but was told by his ministry leader not to tell the homeless man about the campus church. Pensacola Christian College wouldn’t even allow the homeless to come on campus grounds to listen to a sermon or attend a service. Instead they were to be referred to other local church.
That was the type of care for the community that the college provided. Eternal salvation but only from a distance. And with very little care for the person’s physical needs. Spiritual needs and appearance were placed at the utmost highest level.
If you didn’t look like someone in the church or from the college you weren’t welcome. A major reason me and my wife didn’t try to walk on campus while we were in Pensacola. Neither I nor she looks the part any longer, and I didn’t want to visit with looks of judgement at every step.
I think that’s a lot of what made my time at college so hard – the judgment. You were expected to keep a certain standard – follow the rules to a “T.” If you didn’t then you were shunned or kicked out of the college. And while I was never “caught” breaking the rules at college I internalized a lot of that shame.
The college also has a very “sink or swim” type of mentality in regards to their students. Very little compassion is shown to those struggling with their studies. The nursing program was very much oriented this way. If you failed in any small way you would fail that class and have to repeat a whole year of college. Their was no other way to remediate that portion of the class or clinical.
“The clinicals are very awkward with an instructor literally standing over you whenever you provide any patient care such as passing meds and starting IVs. The faculty micromanages the entire clinical time and when I graduated in 2015 we were still doing handwritten assessment notes on our patients. A huge emphasis is put on “critical errors” which you can earn from clinicals for things that the faculty deemed horrible mistakes that you made. These errors ranged from not foaming in and out to giving meds more than 30 minutes late to writing your clinical note after 10am. If you receive more than 5 or 6 critical errors in a semester then you failed the class even if you were getting an A in the actual class.”From a review of the college on students review (2015 was the year I graduated)
I added this in to show the general culture of the college and classes. Sharp judgment and standards were place on every student. If you didn’t meet those, you failed the class as a whole.
That was the past I fume about. The judgement and expectations from a distant aloof and uncaring college. Who expected so much of you, but did very little to help you meet those expectations. And had very little sympathy for those that fell short.
Being in Pensacola was a bit of a reminder of that, but in many other ways it was a way for us to see how far we’ve come from that. How both of us have stepped away from a life that demands an exact standard or perfect outward lifestyle.
The trip was also a good reminder of truly how pointless that exacting standard is. How a push for “being different from the world” has turned into constant judgement of “the world.” (I should probably define terms for those who wander in on my blog without an evangelical history. The “world” is defined as anything that isn’t Christian. It’s the others / outsiders, or to many Christian’s they are the enemy.) At times I still catch myself judging others; it’s a hard habit to break. But breaking free from it has helped me to feel empathy for people, without expecting them to change or perfect themselves.
The standards set forward by those in leadership are always explained to be “biblical,” but when it comes down to it most of these rules and standards are an individuals opinion and individual interpretation of the bible. With many of the rules just being antiquated cultural expectations i.e. accepted dress code, music, and hair styles. And while I don’t mind an individual wanting to follow a particular set of standards; I don’t like to see these standards forced on others.
Looking back in hindsight, I could have left the college. Yes, I would have had to start over completely; but it would have been possible. Same with the duress regarding my relationship with my future, we could have just left and moved in together. We would have lost both our time at college and our relationships with our families, but it would have been worth it.
Neither one of us was that strong at that time, but we are now. We’ve made choices that have resulted in distance from our family and community. But we’ve made those choices to help heal and grow our family unit. And we have the power and ability to do so.
Just realizing that can be empowering. That you have control over the direction of your life, and can make choices that contradict what you were told was okay / not okay growing up. Life is complicated (at best) and is not ever going to be able to be controlled by a set of rules and expectations.
PCC hasn’t changed. The rules and expectations remain the same. Their gates and fences still close them off from the community. Continuing on as if they were the 7,000 men who hadn’t bowed to baal mentioned to Elijah in 1 Kings, a reserved people set aside by god. I know they think of themselves as a “light in the darkness,” but ivory tower is probably a more apt term.
And while the college has not changed both me and “her” have grown in so many ways. Our relationship has moved beyond the expected male / female gender roles that we were pressured into. And my wife has moved from full reliance on me to learning to drive and holding multiple part times jobs. Both of us have explored faith / belief in differing directions, but we are still able to have respect for each other’s conclusions. Something that would have never been possible 6+ yrs ago.
We both mention upon leaving Pensacola that this was the last time either of us plan to visit. We’ve said goodbye. And while it was healing in so many ways, the constant reminder of our difficult past isn’t something either one of us want.
Goodbye to the emotional pain. Goodbye to all of the forced shame and secrecy. Goodbye to living a double life: a life of perfectly adhering to all of the standards and expectation, and a life of failure and hidden sins. Goodbye Pensacola.