Tag Archive | "student handbook"

IWU revises media policy


Scurlock

SGA President Tim Scurlock addresses the student body in chapel on Monday, Oct. 14, giving his insights on the media policy and dress code changes.

Indiana Wesleyan University students can now watch R-rated movies and play M-rated video games.

But IWU Dean of Student Conduct Andrew Parker wants you to read past that sentence.

“The intent behind it is not to say ‘the R-rated movie policy’s gone, the M-rated policy’s gone, it’s a free-for-all!’” Parker said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Sojourn. “But we want to make sure students understand why they’ve changed; those policies have changed intentionally.”

The university announced this rule revision, effective immediately, along with a simplification of the dress code policy during chapel services Monday. Any movies rated above R, including NC-17, pornography and adult-only video games will still be banned.

Student Government Association President Tim Scurlock, IWU Executive Vice President Keith Newman and Parker all spoke during the service, hoping to make clear the reasons and vision for the new system.

“The policy is recognizing that they’re adults,” Parker said. “But it’s also calling to say, with this comes responsibility and even some added thought that we need to have as Christians of ‘how are we critical consumers of media?’”

SGA played an important role in the process that culminated Monday. The university enacted exploratory committees June and July 2012 for the media and dress code policies respectively, according to Parker. Students sat on both these committees.

Click here to read the updated policy

Scurlock echoed Parker’s sentiments before the announcement, saying he wants his fellow students to actively think about the media they consume.

“I hope students, my peers, understand the philosophy behind this; they’re wanting to empower students and give them personal responsibility,” Scurlock said Thursday. “This is a great opportunity for students to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian while engaging media, what does it mean for a Christian while choosing, for the most part, what is appropriate, what is modest. I hope at the end of chapel students are willing to recognize that this is an ongoing process of trying to better understand what it means to be a Christian in culture today.”

These ideas started in those exploratory committees almost a year and a half ago before going to the cabinet, which consists of all the vice presidents of the university and President David Wright. Each proposal received revision recommendations before going to the student, staff and faculty-led Student Life Council. The proposals then went before the cabinet one final time and were unanimously approved Sept. 6.

Parker

IWU Dean of Student Conduct Andrew Parker announces the policy changes during the 10 a.m. chapel service.

“That’s exactly what we should be about — having these conversations,” Parker said. “As a liberal arts institution we should be opening people’s minds, expanding people’s mind, seeing what’s out there; pursuing truth.”

Parker also said the debates surrounding media policies and dress codes at Christian colleges has been going on for “several decades.”

As for the dress code policy, Parker said the new rules are more concise, paring down a 600-word policy with guidelines down to the inches. The updated standards are “less prescriptive,” according to Parker, meaning it’s less about specific rules and more about the concept of being modest.

Modesty may appear like a gray area, but we’re wanting students to think about what is modest,” Parker said. “Think about how you’re presenting yourself, how you view yourself and what you wear says about who you are.”

With both of the new rules, Parker and Scurlock each hope the change prompts more conversations and learning opportunities for students.

“Hopefully we learn how to look at things and not just shut them off as being secular or negative,” Scurlock said. “But we learn how to come along these different media and we learn how to look at culture with a lens that’s critical but also positive and that there’s room for transformation.”

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The Student Handbook: Bigotry


By: Andrew Parker

As I round out the final of the five columns I was asked to write for the Sojourn, I come to the article about bigotry. On page 19 of the 2011-2012 IWU Student Handbook is the Access, Equity, & Diversity Statement. It reads: “Indiana Wesleyan University endeavors to maintain a teaching and learning environment that supports sensitivity to diverse individuals and groups. Acts of racism, hazing, sexism, bigotry, harassment, and violence are not acceptable behaviors from either employees or students.”

“Bigot” is not a word that people tend to use in their everyday conversations.Think about it. When was the last time you used the term? What does it even mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a bigot is “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

As an institution of higher education, and even more so as one that upholds Christian values, it should not be surprising that IWU seeks to be a place free of bigotry. Higher education, and particularly a liberal arts education, is typically associated with being exposed to new ideas and concepts – the expanding of one’s mind. As Christians, we are called to love and pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:44), love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), seek to live peaceably with all people (Rom. 12:18), and to withhold judgment (Matt. 7:1). These things are all antithetical to bigotry.

Does this mean that bigotry does not exist on our campus? Of course not. Anyone who makes such a claim is either naïve or untruthful. However, it is the type of environment we seek to cultivate. Part of cultivating such an environment is that we must continually engage in the evaluation of our campus culture, as well as the larger, popular culture, to determine if there are groups or individuals falling through the cracks, going unnoticed and, ultimately, unprotected from bigotry. A significant way we seek to ward off such narrow-minded and prejudiced behavior is by re-evaluating the Student Handbook each year to ensure that the community standards and policies put forth address the various groups on campus that could potentially be discriminated against.

As has been stated in nearly every article written in this series, this is further evidence of the fact that the Student Handbook is a “living” document. As living creatures change and adapt over time – sometimes out of preference, sometimes out of principle, and sometimes out of necessity – so does the Student Handbook. Failure to do so would ultimately result in a set of rules and policies that would be largely irrelevant and/or ineffective.

If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions regarding this policy or any others, please feel free to contact me (andrew.parker@indwes.edu). I would love to hear what you have to say. Whether we see eye to eye on things, I can promise you one thing … I will do my best not to be a bigot.

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The Student Handbook: Sexual Misconduct


By: Andrew Parker

At most Christian colleges, particularly those in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sexual acts outside the bounds of marriage are prohibited. Exactly what do “sexual acts” include? Well, that question has become increasingly difficult to answer given the widening variety of thoughts, opinions and cultural understandings that surround the creation and implementation of such policies.

Often, schools like ours use broader terms like ‘sexual behavior” or “sexual misconduct.” While using a term that is more enveloping has its challenges, it can create an environment where many questions are raised about what exactly such a term covers, breed profitable formal and informal discussions, and cause those in the community to think carefully about their actions, how those actions might be perceived and the many potential outcomes.

Numerous types of sexual behavior are noted in the IWU 2011-2012 Student Handbook. Some items addressed are actual acts, while others are actions that could possibly be perceived as sexual in nature. For example, the Handbook identifies very specific acts such as adultery and premarital sex (p. 18), but also uses the term “sexual misconduct” (p. 27) to address a variety of other actions that could involve actually engaging in a sexual act or simply something that has “the appearance of indiscreet or sexual behavior” (p. 27).

The Handbook is by no means perfect, and not everything in it has been chiseled in stone, so to speak. In fact, the Handbook is a “living” document, one that should, and does, change over time. The topic of sexual misconduct in the Student Handbook was raised earlier this semester in a February article by a Sojourn reporter; he pointed out an area where such change might be needed. The broader evangelical community has, for far too long, viewed sexual promiscuity and misconduct as happening between a male and female and oft chosen to pretend as though same-sex relationships do not exist. Popular culture has changed, and this change has been evidenced within the Christian community; the term “romantic relationship” is no longer simply synonymous with a heterosexual relationship. Given such cultural shifts and understandings, and the fact that the Handbook is a “living” document, it is imperative that policies are revisited to make sure they are not targeting or ignoring one type of behavior, but rather addressing them all. Perhaps, as noted by the reporter in the aforementioned article, utilizing more gender-neutral terms in certain polices could assist in attending to this issue.

Now, having ventured down that path, let’s explore another for a moment. While dialogue about what constitutes sexual behavior” or “sexual misconduct” is valuable for discussions and even necessary to ensure that people in various circumstances are treated fairly, it is likewise important that we not get caught up in all of the details. We must be careful not to define everything so precisely that the result is a legalistic approach to certain policies. (If there are current policies that are broaching the bounds of legalism, they should merit review.) We must keep a bigger picture in mind of the standard of purity that the Scriptures call us to. It is true, we live within a cultural context and that must be taken into account on various levels. However, in other ways, the purity that God calls us to supersedes specific points in time and places in history; it is, in essence, timeless.

So, what does purity mean? That opens up a new discussion, one that will require more time and space than this article can provide, but one that is closely connected to sexual misconduct. Perhaps it even provides a better avenue to approach the concept of sexual misconduct. Instead of seeking to define sexual misconduct in order to arrive at an understanding of what constitutes purity, perhaps we should seek to define purity in order to understand what might fall within the bounds of sexual misconduct. This seems to follow the line of thinking identified in Philippians 4:8 (New Revised Standard Version): “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

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The Student Handbook: Freedom of Speech


By: Andrew Parker

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Freedom of speech – it is a right afforded to all Americans by the U.S. Constitution, more accurately by amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights. Free speech, also known more broadly as free expression, covers a wide variety of issues, with the exception of the following: obscenities; fighting words; defamation, which would include things such as libel or slander; child pornography; perjury; blackmail; incitement to imminent lawless action; true threats; solicitation to commit crimes; plagiarism of copyrighted materials; and, in certain instances, treason.

The First Amendment, provided above, is actually the one that guarantees the right to free expression. However, what most people are not aware of is that the First Amendment primarily addresses the government’s ability to forbid such actions; included under government would be groups considered to be an arm of the government, such as a public school. While there are other situations/places in which such freedoms would also be protected, this article will deal with the realm of education, specifically higher education.

What about private education? Do the same rights regarding speech apply in those settings? While it may surprise some, the answer, in short, is no. In the First Amendment, though the words are not specifically there, implicit is also the concept of freedom of association. This means that individuals have the freedom to choose the groups they want to associate with, which would include specific colleges and universities. Since institutions of private education are not considered to be an arm of the government, they are not bound by the First Amendment, but rather are covered by what is known as contract law.

Contract law acts like it sounds; individuals are bound by a contract between themselves and an institution. When you applied to be a student at IWU, your signature indicated that you agreed to abide by the expectations and standards placed upon you as a member of this community. Such a document serves as a legal contract and the Student Handbook, Academic Catalog and other posted policies spell out the rules that govern students in the community of which they have chosen to be a part.

So, as strange as it may seem, by exercising one’s constitutional right to associate with a particular institution, an individual may end up limiting other afforded rights such as freedom of speech. Such provisions in the First Amendment allow private institutions to create policies that would not be enforceable at public institutions. For example, a public college cannot prohibit a student from consuming alcohol off-campus if that student is of legal drinking age according to federal law. However, a private institution can do so as a result of the contract to which that student agreed. At the same time, such restrictions are often the reasons many students choose to attend a private college or university. The majority of students at IWU, and other Christian colleges, selected their particular institution largely because of the type of community present, communities significantly shaped and impacted by the policies in place.

Now, as a Christian educational institution, and as one focused on the liberal arts, IWU strives to provide an education that opens students’ minds to concepts and content that develop critical thinking skills and encourage faith development. The balancing act that comes into play here is how to create and enforce policies that create a certain type of community, support its faith-based ideals and principles and encourage the development of critical thinking. It is at the intersection of these things where many conversations over rules and expectations often come into play.

Often, regarding policies specifically related to freedom of speech since that is the focus of this article, the Student Handbook takes its fair share of heat for being somewhat vague in places. For example, an article printed in the Sojourn on Feb. 1, 2012 about freedom of speech targeted specific policies requesting clarification on terms such as “demeaning gestures” and “disrupting pedestrian traffic.” While such questions are plausible, and in some cases necessary, they must also be asked in light of an understanding of critical thinking, which again is something the institution hopes its students develop during their tenure here.

Let’s briefly consider the terms above. Not only would it be nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive list of things that could be considered a demeaning gesture, but providing such a list would not afford the opportunity to think critically about what a demeaning gesture could be. This is best done through seeking to understand the context of the wording in which the policy is couched through the use of intellectual values and reasoning. I will agree that there are times when certain restrictions should be outlined very specifically, such as sexual assault and hours for open house visitation. However, there are other instances where such specification is neither practical nor conducive to the educational goals of the institution.

I want to note that, as part of the educational process, I am willing, as are many other staff and faculty, to discuss issues and questions students may have regarding policies, procedures and expectations outlined in the various contractual documents. In fact, I would welcome such invitations. It is my hope that this article has not only shed some light on the issue of free speech, but that it also spurs discussion that ultimately brings forth better policies and dialogue.

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