At Wheaton, Student Journalism Gets Religious

(Jennifer Xiao/Rhode Island School of Design)

(Jennifer Xiao/Rhode Island School of Design)

If you choose to enroll at my small evangelical liberal arts college in Illinois, you’ll learn quickly that the Wheaton community is very much into prayer.

Sometimes, it’s great. Imagine, before a midterm, your professor leads the class in a prayer that goes: “God, thank you for the opportunity we have to take this test. Help the students remember what they have studied. Help them know they are not defined by their test results.”

If you can’t imagine that, let me tell you: It is powerful to hear that your professor cares about your sanity right before you take a high-stakes test.

But the religiosity that permeates campus life can start to ring hollow for student journalists covering the college. That’s because the institutional shortcomings of a Christian college aren’t divorced from questions of spirituality and religion. As an editor of the campus newspaper, I have frequently been in the uncomfortable position of covering the school’s leaders when they have not seemed to live up to the evangelical values they espouse.

Some stories that do not have an immediately religious angle are too quick to adopt one. And some criticism may be casual cynicism — students have a tendency to sensationalize a bit anywhere. But we are also holding our college accountable for both its spiritual and its secular values.

Reports from students who were left in housing limbo — in some cases, denied cheaper off-campus housing, only to find themselves without a dorm-room option — inspired accusations that the Housing Committee had an uncaring attitude toward students.

Stories on Wheaton’s battle against the United States Department of Health and Human Services over health coverage that includes contraception became investigations into whether the college was appropriately protecting students and staff.

Often, controversies are imbued with a theological weight when the college maintains they are handled according to Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions, even if it is at odds with students’ interpretations.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
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