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Creating a safe campus

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Why does Dordt College need $200,000 from the federal government for a “Safe Campus” grant? Is Sioux Center such a dangerous place that we need the federal government to provide almost a quarter of a million dollars to keep it secure?

Those are fair questions. When you hear that Dordt College received a grant from the United States Department of Justice under its “Safe Campus” initiatives funded by the Violence Against Women Act, you might wonder just what’s going on in Northwest Iowa.

First, let me assure friends and supporters of Dordt College that by all current comparison standards, this is a “safe campus.” Our crime statistics are, in accordance with federal law, posted on the web, and we are bluntly honest in reporting the crimes that we become aware of, including alcohol law violations. We know what the law is. We expect our students to follow it. When they don’t, we deal with it promptly and firmly.

It’s also important to remember that the fundamental framework from which we approach all activities on campus, academic and social alike, is the motif of “Creation, Fall, and Redemption.” In our social community, we uphold the biblical principles for human behavior God built into the creation—but we also are well aware that human sin leads all of us, Dordt College students included, to violate them on occasion. Social/sexual relationships are, tragically, no exception to that.

But we also believe in redemption. We believe God’s Word and Spirit provide an opportunity to renew our lives in keeping with God’s original good plan for creation, relationships between men and women included. That’s why we have a student services staff of expert counselors and spiritual encouragers. That’s the purpose to which all of our faculty and staff are committed. And if the federal government wants to give us $200,000 to do that better, perhaps our best response is a simple, “Thank You.”

Yet to get back to the original question, “Yes, I do believe that this is a safe campus.” On Parents’ Weekend I told a story that illustrates my point. One day early in our first semester, unfortunately, several students discovered valuables had disappeared from their parked cars overnight. We took that seriously. The local police worked with us. And although we never did identify a suspect, it became apparent that someone from off campus had raided several vehicles that night—something that, at least so far, has not recurred this year. But the most interesting part of the story is this: When our vice president for student services began to gather information on this incident, one of the first questions he asked each student was, “Did you have your car locked?” And the almost uniform response was, “Why would we have done that?” Almost every vehicle from which items disappeared had been left unsecured.

So, yes, our students do feel safe on our campus—although we know we can do better still.

From a biblical point of view, being a “safe campus” involves more than that most students leave their cars unlocked on campus and seldom lock their dorm rooms. From a biblical point of view a truly “safe campus” is one where the Word of God holds authority in every classroom and in every campus activity. A truly “safe campus” is one where the biblical perspective by which God calls us to study and serve in his world is the perspective that is taught and encouraged in every course, music performance, athletic event, and social setting on campus. That’s not something the federal government gives grants for, but it is equally important and more fundamental to the value of a Dordt College education than some of the other concerns we address each year.

I believe that developing that sort of “safe campus” is worth the effort and money that students and supporters have invested over the decades into making Dordt College what it is today. I am convinced that creating a biblically safe campus is worth even greater investments and commitment for the years ahead. If the government can give $200,000 to create what they consider an even safer environment than we’ve had, think how much those of us who know what a truly “safe” campus actually is can be willing to commit to this cause for the years to come.