Westmont Magazine Character Counts
by David K. Winter
These are great years at Westmont. I can’t recall a more exciting period during my time at the College. Applications are at the highest level in our history, and the academic strength and spiritual motivation of our prospective and current students are impressive. We are very pleased with our student body.
Westmont’s experience is not unusual. Other Christian institutions that take their academic program seriously and challenge students to mature spiritually are also doing well. Recently the lead article in the Chronicle of Higher Education described the growing enrollments and momentum of Christian colleges nationally. What are the reasons for this growth? There are many possibilities, but in my opinion three stand out.
First, character does in fact matter to a rather large segment of our society. There has been a strong reaction to the casual morality of our national political leaders, and many people are looking for schools and colleges that are intentional about the development of strong beliefs and personal integrity. There is no question that our Christian institutions are in a much better position to provide the people and the programs that are effective in this regard than the typical state or secular college.
In my daily contacts with Westmont students, it is very clear there is strong peer pressure, as well as institutional support, for them to develop their character and Christian commitments.
Second, Christian institutions still believe in the existence of truth. American higher education today can give the impression that truth in any absolute sense simply does not exist. For many people everything is relative, and they feel free to act on the basis of whatever seems good to them. But the search for truth has been the basis of our society’s educational heritage, and there are many people in our country who believe young people should be educated at colleges deeply committed to the existence of truth and the need to base our lives on the truth we are able to discern.
What a privilege to be at a college where seeking truth is basic to our curriculum! We proclaim that our God is the ultimate source of all truth, and we hold up Jesus Christ as the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In fact, I cannot imagine being at a secular college or university today where this fundamental understanding of reality no longer exists. Our belief in truth is the dynamic that gives us energy and reward as a Christian educational community.
Then, third, I am afraid there is a growing contrast between the campus life of Christian colleges and those of the rest of American higher education. It is not simply a matter of being protective, for a college that prevents students from engaging the complex and difficult moral issues of our world would not prepare them well for adult responsibilities, much less leadership in our society. The best preparation for mature leadership is to encourage students to grapple with difficult issues during the four critical years of college, yet do that in an environment that is supportive of deep and healthy Christian commitments. This ability to realistically engage these issues in a caring Christian community is ideal for strong and healthy growth.
Our students recently held their annual Spring Sing, and a few weeks later spent their spring break in missions to the churches surrounding Ensenada, Mexico, and in Watts and Pasadena in California. These activities are tremendously challenging and teach students significant lessons of adult responsibility and the expression of compassion for others. We are providing campus life that is healthy, challenging and supportive.
Christian colleges are attractive today for good reasons. They are ideal places to develop personal character and commitments, along with healthy social skills. They also provide the resources and incentives for rigorous intellectual learning, all based on a strong belief in truth and the virtue of seeking truth. And, finally, they are remarkably healthy and positive communities. We’re proud and very thankful to be at one of the best of these, Westmont College.