Are there cults at St. John’s? There could be…

University hands out flyers on campus high-pressure groups
The Torch (St. John’s University), Feb. 13, 2003
Thomas Winegar, Editorial Editor

Campus Ministry recently began distributing flyers alerting students to the dangers of high-pressure religious groups.

The flyers, which are available through Campus Ministry and Campus Activities, list warnings signs of high-pressure groups and offer ways to deal with them.

Although the flyers say that there are “some high-pressure religious and other groups operating on campus that [Campus Ministry and Student Life] felt that you should be warned about,” students should not panic, according to Brother Mike Sheerin, the Resident Minister for the Queens Campus.

“We don’t have a crisis here,” Sheerin said, stressing that the purpose of the flyers was precautionary and that they did not target any specific group.

“For the past 20-30 years, college campuses nationwide have been targets for high-pressure groups, religious and otherwise,” Sheerin said. “Many other universities are proactive in bringing this to their students’ attention.

“The purpose of the flyer is simply to educate students to this reality, which is nation-wide, and secondly, to let them know that if they are trapped that there are people they can talk to.”

The flyer warns students against groups that offer instant friendship upon joining, claim to have all the answers and seem to be perfect.

Students should exercise caution if they feel pressured to join such groups, according to Campus Ministry.

“There are religious groups who want new members, and that is fine,” Sheerin said. “What St. John’s objects to is taking away a student’s freedom. That is clearly not in keeping with the mission.

“An example of this would be any time a student is forced to put a group’s needs before the individuals. That would be unnecessary coercion.”

Students’ reaction to the flyers was mixed, though none of the students interviewed had seen the flyers previously.

“I think it’s good to warn students about that stuff and to offer help so they know that there’s a way out,” Lori Malmkvist, junior English and journalism major, said after reading one of the flyers.

“I think they should make these more available,” Amy Filadelfo, senior, computer science major, said.

Some students saw immediate parallels to their own experiences.

“The military is like that,” Omar Tsatsis, junior communications arts major, said. “I used to be in the scout sniper platoon, and they’re exactly like that. Exactly.”

Others were more skeptical of the flyer, especially with the fact that the flyer did not name any of the high-pressure religious groups it warned against.

“I need specifics,” Melisa Genao, junior government and politics major, said.

“What high-pressure groups are they talking about? They’re trying to warn us of cults in the school, but they don’t say what those groups are.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday February 14, 2003.
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