HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Esau” is a pseudonym.
I heard that you are calling for contributions from graduates of Patrick Henry College, and I think you need to hear a balance of different perspectives, so I am writing. Please do not identify me by name–I wish to remain anonymous (you may identify me as a male student who was a member of the class of 2010). Please be very careful if you feel compelled to edit my comments… I will be very angry if my words are twisted or misquoted in any way!
Here are some of my observations about life at Patrick Henry, based on my personal observation, during the time I was there (2006-2010):
–Campus culture tended to divide into narrow, insular “cliques” or circles. A particular student might circulate through multiple cliques, but the cliques themselves seldom overlapped. Acceptable behavior varied widely between these different cliques. This, I believe, is a source of much confusion: observers tend to generalize about the entire school based on what happened in a single clique, without realizing that other students behaved very differently. Some cliques or circles engaged in risky behavior, or liked to go off campus and break rules just to see what they could get away with. Other circles were exactly the opposite, not only in obedience to but also in support of and agreement with the rules that governed life on campus. Students who never found at least one circle or clique to become a part of generally did not last long.
–Much has been made of the way male students treated female students. I never personally perceived a culture of “rape” or chauvinist male dominance at Patrick Henry. Throughout my time on campus, in the circles I was a part of, female students were always treated graciously, courteously, and with respect. Behind closed doors, the men I associated with always spoke about female students wholesomely and respectfully. That is not an exaggeration or a generalization–it is the literal truth. Not only that, but some male students even took it upon themselves to play the role of vigilantes in protecting the honor of female students against any perceived inappropriate behavior, confronting alleged “creeps” and firmly warning them to mend their ways (this is not a generalization or based on hearsay). Some male PHC students, especially freshmen, were so awkward and uncomfortable dealing with members of the opposite sex that they did their best to avoid them altogether, sitting only with other male students in the dining hall and seldom, if ever, setting foot in the common areas of female dorms. For some, the awkwardness eased after a few years; for others, it remained intact even through graduation day.
–Patrick Henry students loved to argue. Oh, how they loved to argue. It was absolutely vital to always have something to argue about. Among freshmen, many arguments revolved around finer points of theology, particularly Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Thankfully, many older students eventually tired of arguing theology and moved on to other subjects. During much of my time on campus, a perennial topic of argument was proposed revisions to the student honor code. The need to argue about something was such a deep-seated urge, in fact, that if there were no genuine controversy to argue about, a controversy would sometimes be manufactured, seemingly just so people would have something to argue about in the dining hall.
–There were a relatively small number of students who were consumed with hatred and bitterness toward the administration, because of things the administration had allegedly done to them and their friends. Students who felt persecuted by the administration sometimes took out their wrath and frustration on students who did not share their hatred of the administration. In particular, some members of the outgoing class of 2007 greeted the incoming class of 2010 with a great deal of anger and bitterness, stirred up to apoplectic frenzy by the very thought that incoming freshmen could dare to be happy and enthusiastic about the school after the Great Schism of 2006. While I was a student these kinds of controversies sometimes played out as “ASE wars,” epic e-mail battles which clogged the inboxes of the entire student body (Explanation: while I was there, students had the ability to send mass e-mails, known as ASEs (All Student E-mails) to the entire student body. Students lost this privilege during my senior year.)
–I personally did not share the hostility that many students felt toward the administration. I never had any reason to believe that the administration was my enemy, or was persecuting me, or had anything other than the best interests of the students at heart. The only instance in which I was ever unfairly treated by any member of the staff or administration was one time when my privileges to drive school vans were summarily revoked without explanation. Upon inquiry I discovered that they had been revoked because another student had complained and said things about my driving that were not true. I was sternly lectured on the need to improve without ever being given a chance to tell my side of the story or defend myself; my driving privileges were grudgingly restored after I humbly promised to do better, even though I was not really guilty of the fault in question. Even so, though, I felt no real hostility to the administration over the incident, since it was such a minor issue in the whole scheme of things.
–Most of the professors I had were excellent teachers who genuinely cared about their students. The few teachers who did not like their students typically did not last very long. Professors often went out of their way to spend time with students, eating meals with them in the dining hall, inviting them into their homes, organizing trips and events, and attending student affairs such as the famous Liberty Ball.
–Because the school was so small, it functioned as an incredibly tightly-knit community. There were disadvantages to this kind of closeness: rumors and gossip, once started, could spread like wildfire and destroy someone’s reputation, and students who disliked each other found it difficult to avoid one another on the small campus. There were also major advantages as well: many students genuinely loved and cared for one another; students worshiped and sang together, prayed for each other, helped each other out when they could, and occasionally even took up community monetary offerings to help those in need.