Cults pose danger to college students

By Jennifer McCabe

A great deal of well-known destructive cults have swept across the U.S. in recent history, including the 1979 Jim Jones Guyana tragedy and the more recent demise of Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas under the leadership of David Koresh.

However, cults do not typically end in devastating mass suicides by fire or poisoned Kool-Aid. More common cult destruction is often subtle within the psyches of its own members and their families.

Cults on college campuses seem impossible to students who are supposed to be educated and informed about the problems cults can cause. However, students are very likely candidates for cults as they focus on those who are lonely or curious. Cults look to recruit members during normal transition times, such as the first year away from home, a job loss, a sudden illness, a death or accident, a vacation or a change of lifestyle.

Kathy Hotelling, the director of Counseling and Student Development, said there are students on campus involved in cults, but it is a very small number. Hotelling added she is aware of cults recruiting on campus.

When students involved in cults come to the CSDC, Hotelling said she tries to find the reasons they joined, helps build their self-esteem and attempts to find their unmet needs. However, she said she does not have experience in deprogramming.

According to a press release from the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), cults will recruit members anytime, anywhere. They will come to dorms, the student union, outside counseling centers and within student organizations. All cults hold conferences or self-improvement seminars on street corners, outside libraries, military bases and high schools. They hold dances, parties and any other types of informal gatherings to find members.

Cult members are typically overly friendly, too concerned with other’s interests, have influence and have all of the answers.

The CAN press release stated belonging to a cult has many unfortunate effects—loss of free will, return to childlike behavior, loss of spontaneity or sense of humor, inability to make friendships outside the cult, physical deterioration and abuse, psychological deterioration and involuntary self exploitation. But not everyone will experience any or all of these effects.

Hotelling said, “All cults are destructive.” The effects from a completely destructive cult, however, are worse than those mentioned above. Destructive cults do what they can to gain mind control, deception and

exclusivity. Methods include secretiveness about activities and beliefs, alienation, exploitation and a totalitarian view.

Destructive cults fall into several different categories—religious, therapy/self-awareness, political, commercial, new age and satanic/ritual abuse. Group pressure and “love-bombing” are the most effective methods of mind control. This discourages doubt and reinforces the need to belong which then spurs isolation, fear and guilt, sleep deprivation, inadequate nutrition and sensory overload. Eventually, new values are accepted, according to CAN press release.