Is Pensacola Christian College A Cult? – Part 1

For this post it will be a type of direct sequel to my first post of mine regarding Pensacola Christian College. All of these points are pulled from Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of Authoritarian Control. I acknowledge that I didn’t pull every point in (especially if it didn’t apply). But you are welcome to look it over for yourself. Honestly please do – it’s extremely eye opening.

I know PCC hates the term (and yeah, it’s a little clickbaity) but I was introduced to the BITE model and wanted to see how it lined up with what occurs at PCC. The dates I attended were from 2011-2015 so I do acknowledge some of the rules have changed since I’ve been there, but this post is based off of the rules that were in place during those years.

I’ve posted before that I’m done with the college and I’m moving on. I am. But part of that is trying to warn possible future students about the actions and rules of the college. I’ve seen a lot of pro-PCC blogs and posts pop up when I search for the college, and I want to provide more information for people that are truly trying to look into the college.

I will post this in several sections as this is turning into a longer post than I anticipated. For this post I will post only on the first portion of the BITE model. The first section of the model is behavior control.

  • Behavior Control
    • “Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates”
      • PCC determined all aspects of who you dormed with and didn’t allow students to live off campus.
        • This was at their complete control. For example, I had a roommate that was forced to move out of my room into a RA’s room after the college deemed he had misbehaved (he laughed at a speaker during a chapel service). These RA’s would be the ones enforcing rules and lights out on a floor-by-floor basis. He was moved into this situation so someone in authority would have eyes on him at all times.
        • The college could and would move you if they felt they needed to without explanation.
    • When, how and with whom the member has sex
      • No sex until you are married, or you will be expelled.
      • This also would include a person’s sexual orientation and expressions of it. As any LGBTQ+ person or person suspected it would be expelled from PCC.
    • Control types of clothing and hairstyles
      • Only approved haircuts and clothes were allowed. There would be routine “hair checks” to see that your hair passed official approval.
  • Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
    • I realize that this point is arguable, but PCC did have mandatory sleep times. You couldn’t sleep in past 9:45 am on Sunday-Friday. Also, you were required to attend prayer meetings at 10:30-45pm Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri you couldn’t sleep through these. Which pretty much meant you weren’t able to go to sleep before 11pm. Also, an RA would check in on you after 11pm (normally before 11:30pm) to make sure you were in your room. So if you were a light sleeper, you would probably be woken up at that time when they turned on a light to make sure you were in bed.
  • Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
    • If a student participated in the college’s work program, it certainly forced full dependence on the college. As you didn’t have control of the money you earned. The money went directly towards college tuition and was not able to be spent in any way.
      Contracted work students were especially subject to this as their whole schedule (both work and college classes) were dictated by the college. These students worked 20-30 hrs a week and also were full time workers during the summer in turn the college “paid” for their classes, tuition, and room / board. But in reality, the college just kept a running tab of the student’s charges and the student worked to pay it off. These students were fully at the mercy of the college.
  • Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
    • Vacation time
      • Students were not allowed any large breaks. “Spring break” and “Thanksgiving break” all had daily activities and sermons you were required to attend. Winter and summer break were the only true vacation times.
      • At times staff members would make remarks that this was by design. And it was intentional that students were not allowed any leisure time. It was implied that students would “just get into trouble” if they had “too much” free time.
    • Entertainment
      • All entertainment was subject to the college’s rules.
      • “To provide an atmosphere free from the distraction of prevalent worldly influences and to encourage academic focus, students may not watch television on campus. Movies are not permitted on or off campus (regardless of the movie’s rating) with the exception of PCC library resources. Any media or form of entertainment including but not limited to books, magazines, apps, computer and video games, which contain violence, sensual or demonic themes, suggestive dress, profanity, or rock music are not permitted. Computer and video games rated above E-10 are not permitted.” – PCC Pathway 2013-204
  • Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self-indoctrination including the Internet
    • Mandatory chapel and church services. You could not choose any other religious service as an alternative. Attendance was monitored and you could be kicked out if you refused to attend.
    • You were also required to attend nightly prayer meetings.
  • Permission required for major decisions
    • You had to notify the college of plans to get married. As married students were not permitted in the same dorms as “single” college students. This may not sound like a big deal, but you would have to explain an “unplanned wedding” to student life (the group that was in charge of student discipline).
  • Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
    • Please refer back up to my demerit portion of my previous post.
      • There were many negative punishments for any type of behavior that would have crossed over what they would consider to be acceptable. Including getting kicked out of the college.
  • Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
    • Any disagreement in a school assignment with the college’s position would result in a lower grade and opened yourself to criticism of your position by those in authority over you.
      • “For an Old Testament Survey class, we were required to read and ‘write a critique of’ a dissertation on why the King James Bible is the Only True Bible that Christians Should Read: All Other Versions are Evil. I was pro-King James-only at the time, and was familiar with the arguments– and I thought that the argument was incredibly weak and filled with shoddy scholarship and lies. Since the homework assignment was to write a critique, I wrote one, taking the dissertation to task for presenting such a poor argument when many other better ones could be made. I was called up to Student Life– the disciplinary branch of the administration– and interrogated and lectured. Even after I explained that I agreed with them, they continued to bludgeon me. About a homework assignment where I disagreed with something the school required its students to read” – Samantha Feilds regarding PCC in a post titled “5 GOOD REASONS NOT TO ATTEND PENSACOLA CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
    • Any participation in any anti-PCC content could result in expulsion.
      • This would include any type of in person protest or online content that criticized the college.
  • Impose rigid rules and regulations
    • I think previous post has already made this point, but I will attach “The Pathway” on this post for anyone curious to look over all the various rules.
  • Encourage and engage in corporal punishment
    • Although the college did not practice corporal punishment, they certainly encouraged it within the home. Many of the books I was required to read as a student for childhood development encouraged disciplining your children by spanking.
      • James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline
        • “A spanking is to be reserved for use in response to willful defiance, whenever it occurs (Dobson 1978, 36).”  
        • “…corporal punishment in the hands of a loving parent is …a teaching tool by which harmful behavior is inhibited rather than a wrathful attempt by one person to damage another (Dobson 1978, 35).”
        • This was required reading for my developmental psychology class.
      • The college also supported Gary Ezzo’s books as well and assigned them to elementary education students.
        • Gary Ezzo heavily supports corporal punishment and blanket training.
        • Blanket training is teaching a baby that they can’t leave a blanket sized area.
          • To teach this a baby is spanked or swatted every time they leave that boundary.
      • My college notes from my developmental psychology class also indicate that Gary Ezzo’s teachings about child development and spanking were taught in the class.
  • Instill dependency and obedience
    • Full obedience and reliance were expected and rewarded. It’s a system that works well. As many of my previous friends still live and work at the college even after they graduated.
  • Imprisonment
    • Please stay with me on this as I know PCC didn’t literally lock anyone up. But I do want to highlight some really odd behaviors and punishments that are in this vein.
    • Punishments for work
      • While I worked at PCC during the summers, they had a policy that they would punish students who received three notices of misbehavior from their assigned workplace. How they did this was having a worker “attend a shift” at the library. While this sounds innocent it really was nefarious. One of the worker’s shifts would be removed from their normal work schedule and the student would be told to report to the library for that time. (This would generally be an eight-hour time block). While at the library, the worker had to remain on the first floor of the library without any electronics present. They could leave to use the restroom, but they had to immediately return. Keep in mind this was also completely unpaid. This would be monitored by the staff, and someone would be constantly checking to see that you weren’t using a laptop / phone. Can you put that together as a whole idea? A mandated unpaid time that you had to sit in a library in order to stay employed by the college (as long as one of your shifts).
        • The reason I was forced to do this was because I was late to clock into work three times (This would have been anything over 7 min. late during the summer).
        • This was not a policy during the semester, and it varied year to year how this was handled during the semesters.
          • For several years – three notices of misconduct at work would result in a lost shift (you would be forced to sit out one of your work shifts).
          • For one year – three notices of misconduct at would result in a student being forced to pick up a shift (you had to work an extra shift – you would be paid for it)
    • Punishments for student misconduct (Please note the college no longer has these in place). The college had these in place my first year as a student but removed these after 2012. I pulled these student made definitions from a student blog post (The Student Voice) about discipline at PCC.
      • “Campusing. The student is, in effect, ‘grounded,’ for a period of time, usually no shorter than a week. This means he may not leave campus except for preapproved reasons such as work. He will also be required to turn in the keys to any car registered to him. He also must sign a statement saying he will have no communication (verbal or not) with another campused student. If a person in his room is already campused, he is required to change rooms, and will not change back after the campusing ends.”
      • “Socialling. While socialled, a student may have no communication with another student of the opposite sex except in in classroom or preapproved situations.”
        • This was often a punishment for a couple caught exhibiting a form of physical affection.
          • The couple could be kicked out if they tried to go against this restriction and talk / communicate to each other in any way.
      • “Shadowing. Though not a specific punishment, it often accompanies the above disciplines. Shadowing is when a student is made to accompany a floor-leader or other PCC staff member 24 hours a day. He will sleep in the floor-leaders room, attend his classes (or sit in the dean’s office) and eat all meals with him. The student is allowed no interaction with any other student, with limited access to those outside the school (e.g. parents). The student is shadowed from the time he has been accused or suspected of a “serious” infraction until he is exonerated or punished. There is an implied “presumption of guilt.” Any student is vulnerable to having his life severely interrupted, possibly suffering exceptional emotional and spiritual distress as he is isolated, pressured, and scared, being made to feel guilty even when there is no reason.”
        • I most often heard of this type of punishment being used for someone that was under review by student life (and was in danger of getting kicked out)
          • These were often students that had a high number of demerits.
          • My roommate suffered this partially during Freshman year. He was forced to move in with a RA (floor leader) and was removed from his student leadership positions. He also was forced to the front of the chapel for all services so that the speaker and row monitor could keep an eye on him. He didn’t face all of the before mentioned punishments and continual monitoring, but he was forced into a room where he could be monitored and reported on most of the time when he wasn’t in class.

I plan to do a few more posts directly comparing the BITE model with my time and experiences as PCC. I was initially planning on only one post, but only made it through the behavior control section. I hope this post was able to point out some legitimate problems with the actions of the college, and some of the ways they control their students behavior.

2 thoughts on “Is Pensacola Christian College A Cult? – Part 1

  1. Pensacola is a fascinating place. I visited there as teen with my youth group because it was one of the schools our church pushed. It was so nutty seeing these rules in action over adults. Wild.

    Liked by 1 person

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