Altercations with Residence Life a Matter of Ideology

EvanKnappenburgerI have been involved in many institutions and have experience in so many different kinds of situations, and yet it is hard for me to understand the things that make up the EMU Res. Life mentality. As a philosophy/theology major and a former analyst, I have spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to understand the deep structuRes. that make up the EMU landscape; I have also been one of the most vocal Res. Life critics, and have spent much of the last two years trying to pinpoint my criticism without being mean. I have had to bear witness to many friends dealing with Res. Life. It would take many hours to recount all these experiences.

Attributional Thinking


One of my main problems with the Res.. Life attitude is that it engages to a large degree in “attributional thinking.” This is a fancy term for the confusion of behavior with personality. There are many arguments regarding Res. Life, but they all boil down to the same root issue: an inescapable problem of worldview in which judgment and authority become the major criterion of social awareness.

Rather than engage in the hard work of character-building with students in a way that doesn’t cause alienation, Res. Life uses rules and regulations. These rules serve to stand both in loco parentis – that is, in place of good parenting, which is still somewhat necessary in the college setting – and in loco iudiciam – in place of better judgment, which is not something that is one-size-fits-all.

Res. Life Ideology

Talking with Res. Life authorities, one hears much of the evangelical party line, albeit in terminology that is softened. As someone who has spent a lot of time talking to Eric Codding, my sense of his learning and opinions is that deep down, he is a very conservative person who has appropriated the language and some of the methodology of the liberal arts.

Eric and I have our major ideological differences, and I want to Res.pect him as a person. But I honestly think that many of the changes Res. Life is seeking to effect in the EMU culture are, at heart, ideological.

My deep conviction is that, if the university culture is going to change, it shouldn’t be an issue of enforcement, or a top-down process. Unfortunately at times it seems that the Student Life philosophy does not allow consideration of a bottom-up approach to issues like sobriety.

Effects of Prohibition

Another problem with Res. Life’s philosophy is that it ignoRes. its own affect: as Aaron Wile and Peter Rollins pointed out last year, the prohibition often creates the desire to break the prohibition. Former student Aaron Wile used the example of alcohol in a letter to the editor, explaining how treating drinking as a taboo actually creates serious behavioral problems at EMU.

I feel as if, instead of examining their own behaviors, student life authorities tried to psychoanalyze the problem onto me. This seems, unfortunately, to be an experience mirrored by some of my friends in their dealings with Res. Life.

Purity Ethic and Punishment

Perhaps the biggest problem with Res. Life is that it functions through a purity ethic that is by no means shared culturally. In fact, everything I have learned in my theology and bible and religion classes is against this way of non-relational negative identity. Everything I know about Jesus informs me that being a Christian is not about being exclusivist, but about forgiveness, Res.toration and the embrace of difference.

The problem I have with Res. Life’s mechanistic implementation of punitive justice is not that it is mechanistic so much as that it is punitive, and that it pretends to be based on Biblical ethics. Instead of “circumcising our hearts” when it comes to goofy teenaged behaviors, Res. Life focuses on “washing the outside of the cup” and further marginalizes anyone who doesn’t already fit in. The kind of philosophy practiced by Res. Life blocks people and institutions from self-actualizing; aspirational purity spawns a dearth of real moral discernment. Being dependent on ideologies Res.ults in a lack of moral imagination.

Instead of helping God discern what it means to be righteous, like Abraham does, we merely parrot some arbitrary lines from scripture like the Pharisees. Because Res. Life lacks the moral imagination necessary to see beyond the perception of insecurity that comes with real moral discernment, it cannot help but see the efforts of student leaders as a threat, and it begins to desire the repression of desire as a means to its aspirations.

Relationship, not Legalism

I could go on and on with specific examples, and am happy to engage in conversation with anyone on these topics. But here, for the sake of brevity, I will end with another philosophical point. Everyone knows that the speed limit is both arbitrary and existentially flexible. You only get pulled over for two reasons: you’re being egregiously reckless, or the cops have an alternative motive for their actions, like racism or boredom.

The law itself is not an absolute stricture of the ontological process of driving, and even if it were physically impossible to go 26 in a Res.idential zone, it wouldn’t be categorically wrong. We cannot treat the law, the CLC or any other document as an absolute. To do so is idolatry. Let’s stop with the idolatry and allow our hearts to turn to God. Because unlike Res. Life, God actually trusts that deep down you want to do the right thing.

If indeed EMU wants to survive the next one hundred years, it is going to have to face the music.

The lifestyle aspirations which we talk about were meant to serve the students, not vice versa. If EMU is going to survive, going to thrive, it is going to need to do some deep soul-searching, and it is going to have to reject the pharisaical purity ethic, the obsession- compulsion of reckless authority, and it’s going to have to embrace the foundational Anabaptist principles of community discernment and deep relationship. Blessed are they who thirst for wholeness – they will be filled, and those who obsess over meaningless identity-markers and engage in attributional thinking will go away empty.

-Evan Knappenberger, Staff Writer


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