Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fall Picnic with Bethany Christian Services

Here are a few pictures from the Fall Picnic!
Thanks to the students who helped out with the face-painting booth and played with the kids!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Introducing Dr. Chris Robinson

We would like to formally announce that Dr. Chris Robinson of Signal Mountain will come on board as an adjunct professor to the Covenant College Sociology Department.

Dr. Robinson has a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. He has worked as a minister to singles, youth, and families in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas over a number of years while working towards a doctorate in Sociology from the University of South Carolina, graduating in 2007. He has been the Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church for the last 8 years.

He and his wife, Lauren, and two daughters, Lillian and Marilee, love to spend time on the mountain trails, biking, walking the dog, and running. Dr. Robinson considers himself a "pretty simple guy" with a love for the church and family. When asked about some particulars of his upcoming position here at Covenant, he answered, "I don't know if I'll have an office, but I have a minivan. Her name is Betty." Dr. Robinson plans to teach Sociology of Missions, which many students have expressed special interest. He also plans to teach a course on Adolescence.

Welcome to our department, Dr. Robinson! We hope you'll enjoy teaching at Covenant as much as we are sure to enjoy your classes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

An Overview of LoveLookout (including thoughts from Sociology professor, Dr. Jack Muller)

Thanks to everyone who participated in LoveLookout! We wanted to give an overview of the event, hosted by Andreas and Mac.

More than 70 students showed up to serve at the various locations, including faculty and staff's homes, Fairyland Elementary School, CCS, and Hope for the Inner City. Chris Stern told us that he has received numerous emails of gratitude for the work and wonderful servant's hearts portrayed in the students.

The hope for this event was that students would serve out of a genuine desire to bring glory to Christ and not themselves. Chris said, "We felt this was true of our students and were thrilled that they were able to reflect Christ’s love to those in our surrounding community!"

Sociology professor Jack Muller was one of the recipients of the students' hard work and servant hearts. The front of his house was damaged by a fallen tree during the thunderstorms the week before LoveLookout. He contacted Chris, asking for help. On Saturday morning, Mike Bittenbender, Matt Bristley, Davey Hoffman, and Bryan Zumbach arrived. They worked hard clearing away tree limbs from Dr. Muller's house as well as 3 other houses in the neighborhood. Dr. Muller praised their efforts and good attitudes, and added that through conversing with them, he found out that he had been a professor to three of the guys' parents when they were at Covenant.

To all of the students who participated in LoveLookout this year: Thank you for creating goodwill on the mountain and being the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors. Dr. Muller and others hope that "it will be a plan that will continue to re-invent itself in the future."

Thanks again for serving Jesus in this way!

Friday, September 9, 2011

College Pranks in Sociological Perspective, by Dr. Matthew S. Vos

Pranks.  From the infamous “bluff in the buff” of the early ‘70s (just ask a few current board members) to the launching of a homemade mannequin off the chapel catwalk during a board member’s sermon on Eutychus, to various items dropping out of the ceiling during Tony Campolo’s chapel address (prompting a few words not usually heard in that environment) to a few garden-variety standards like rolling the campus just before preview weekend, college pranks elevate us above the mundane “warp and woof” of daily life, offering a kind of transcendence that makes the tuition you pay to go here seem more than a bargain.  Or maybe not.

My idea of a good prank is one that is faculty planned and executed (and, of course, Nielson approved) and which leaves students reveling in the interdisciplinary beauty and intrigue of it all.  Can’t you just picture a crack team including president-elect John Holberg, aided by soon-to-retire-so-what-does-it-matter Jim Wildeman, Kayb (in the event any public nudity is involved), Don Petcher (to provide a Dooyweerdian legitimation for the whole thing), and Paul Morton to drive the admissions golf cart as a getaway vehicle.  Or maybe not.

Actually, a faculty prank would never get off the ground.  To pull one off, we’d need at least three faculty meetings for multiple readings of draft proposals, and in the end, if we couldn’t frame it within the confines of a creation-fall-redemption-consummation paradigm (CFRC for insiders) or figure out how it fit the spirit of the community belief statements, we’d have to abandon it for less ambitious projects like drafting a philosophy of education statement or affirming a strategic plan.  Whew!

During my redemptive freshman year at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, students used to pull “rapture” pranks.  At Redeemer, students live in 8-person townhouses.  We would wait until one housemate was taking a nap.  Then, we’d turn off the main electrical breaker, turn on a bunch of stuff (lights, radios, fans, etc.), huddle outside near the breaker box and throw the switch back on.  The idea was that the unsuspecting napper (usually a history major) would leap to his feet, experience the chaos, and believe he’d been “left behind” (hmmm… maybe Tim LaHaye went to Redeemer).  However, I found that these pranks don’t often have the intended effect at schools with predominantly a-millenial orientations.

Pranks are eminently social phenomena – which is why I, your sociologist and humble servant, am uniquely positioned to write about them.  Professors from other disciplines simply don’t have the proper focus.  English professors would undoubtedly notice that the root of “prank” is “rank” and discussion of the etymology of the word itself – whether it refers to smell or to social position in a hierarchy – would supersede any meaningful discourse we might otherwise enjoy.  History professors would point out that wars are just pranks on a grand scale, noting that “ha” is the epistemic center of the word “jihad” and suggesting that perhaps this is the reason why students try to make college pranks funny.  Philosophers wouldn’t be any help illuminating pranks – after all, the very center of the word “philosophy” is “so”… which is about as far as they would get.  The psychology department could probably be helpful in enlightening us about the true nature of pranks – after all the word “psych” and its various derivatives (psychotic, psycho, etc.) really do describe most college pranks.  But, they are pretty caught up in their own “Where’s Phil Wright” version of the “Where’s Waldo” game.  Thus, I am alone in my calling to bring to you, the student, new, fresh, and true (by which I mean sociological), perspective on the nature, function – and depending on how this goes – theology of college pranks.  Here it is:

As I see it, college pranks can be looked at in two basic ways – they can be seen as disruptive of social systems (a conflict perspective), or as a factor contributing to the stability of social systems (a functionalist perspective).  Your position in the college structure will likely determine which perspective you endorse.  (For example, I have been a student at Covenant College, served on staff for 10 years, and worked as a faculty member for 11 years.  Each of those positions gave me a different perspective on pranks.)

In its elementary form, functionalism suggests that if a given practice continues to persist (we keep on having pranks), this persistence is evidence that the practice is bringing stability and greater cohesion to the system.  This is not so much a moral perspective (i.e., pranks are “good”) as it is an argument that systems will retain those things necessary for system survival, while eliminating those things which threaten it.  In fact, immoral things can stabilize systems.

Well, pranks continue to exist, so, from a functionalist perspective, they must be bringing stability to the system of Covenant College.   The question is, what are they stabilizing?  What are they good for?  I can think of a couple of things.  First, pranks are good for hall unity, and by extension, friendships.  Second, they’re helpful in the ongoing task of convincing high school students to attend this college.  Oddly, I don’t believe we could continue to run this college if students, with a sudden burst of piety (brought on by mandatory chapel attendance), simply settled into their studies and refused to pull pranks.  How dull.  How boring.  How Arminian.  How unlikely any campus preview weekenders would want to come here.

I remember quite well (from my years as an admissions counselor) that campus pre-viewers sometimes matriculate for no other reason than their delight in being included in some cool, mildly destructive, only slightly distasteful prank.  Do the math… If a destructive prank costs the college $1000 and there was little moral turpitude involved (I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds serious), and if a new freshman brings upwards of $35,000 to the college for the next four years… that is an excellent investment.  Suddenly, the prankster is not simply a degenerate, but a sort of visionary fundraiser.  And, if aforementioned new freshman guy meets freshman girl… they marry after an extended engagement of, say, three or four months, join a PCA church, tithe, and eventually send their kids here… well, you see what latent functionality a mere prank can have.  Seen this way, pranks are downright kingdom building.  Can I get an “Amen!?”

But… there’s also the conflict perspective.  A conflict perspective involves an attempt to explain social life in terms of divisiveness, fighting over scarce resources, annihilation or neutralization of opponents, and so on.  And this is where our problems with pranks come in.  Pranks affect groups differently.  They can help one group achieve status, while doing violence to another group.  They can give one group a thrill, while degrading another group.

I can remember at least two particularly disturbing pranks during my tenure here at the college.  One occurred while I was career-shadowing then Dean of students Scott Raymond.  Mr. Raymond had to deal with a situation involving a group of Covenant College guys taking a group of preview-weekend guys down to a soccer field at night, making them strip down to that which God had given them, and jog back to the campus.  Hmmm.  Funny?  Possibly.  Normal behavior for college guys?  Probably.  But, there was one 17-year old in the group – legally a child – and his mother had called Dean Raymond after hearing how coerced and uncomfortable her son had felt with what he experienced as a borderline sexual assault.  The possibility of formal charges was raised.  I don’t know many of the in-and-outs of the situation, but my memory is that Dean Raymond very skillfully acknowledged the injury and brought the situation to a satisfactory outcome.  But the whole event was lamentable and the young man who felt coerced did not experience us as a college that protected him.  We victimized him.  Funny?  No.

The other incident involved a male hall “pranking” a female hall.  The males got the brilliant idea of sneaking onto the females’ floor late at night, pulling them out of their beds and hauling them outside the building where they sprayed them with water.  I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.  This too can easily be seen as an act of violence.  Done outside the confines of a college (i.e., sneaking into someone’s home and kidnapping them) there would undoubtedly be police involvement.  I remember hearing that several parents of the girls were considering legal action against those male students.  I don’t know what the eventual outcome was, but I wonder what I would do if my daughters were treated in such a way?

We are a community, and communities like ours – who have much of their lives bound up in each other – have to be very careful to protect and act in the interest of the other.  We are also people of the Word – and this Word tells us that we are to think of each other as neighbors, brothers, and sisters.  Accordingly, pranks must edify all.  Actually, it takes a great deal of skill to plan and execute a college prank that leaves all parties reveling in the wonder of it all.  It’s pretty easy to plan some act of violence or to destroy something with little reflection on the meaning of those acts.

I suggest one simple standard for determining whether a given prank is appropriate.  Does it treat the other as “neighbor” or does it reinforce the notion of other as “stranger?”  How hollow is our Christian vernacular, with its reference to “the body,” “community,” and “people of God” if we treat each other like objects rather than image-bearers and neighbors?

From time to time we (the campus community) grapple with what it means to be an adult.  I feel fairly strongly that we, the college authorities, should treat you, the students, as adults.  As it is, you live in a difficult liminal space.  But the standard for adult behavior is pretty high.  To be an adult is to assume a particular kind of role on campus.  That role primarily involves envisioning oneself as a caretaker of the community.  Faculty are, in part, evaluated according to this standard.  When I am evaluated, my super-ordinates are asking whether I have functioned as a caretaker in this community.  People can be caretakers in the classroom, on a soccer field, basketball court, or in the dorms.  That is what an adult is.  Accordingly, I think all pranks should be executed by adults – because when pranks are carried out by caretakers, they stabilize the community.

Now get out there, plan some pranks, and report back to me.  I’ll do my best to take care of Nielson and Voyles.  But remember… your pranks can’t touch the things we used to do in the late 1980s!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Welcome From the Sociology Department

Hello Sociology (and Intercultural Studies) students and professors,
This is a blog that the Sociology work study students will keep updated with articles and recent news about what's going on in the "sociology world". We will also post links about different sociological opportunities and lectures. If you would like for us to post anything sociology related, please send us an email at sociologyws@covenant.edu.
Mary Frances Roberts, Damarise Turnbull, and Austin Shelton
(the sociology work study students)