Well-known Christian author Nancy Pearcey recently published this article. In the first paragraphs, she says,
A collegiate website advises young women how to have a “happy hook-up.” Get “clear consent and mutual agreement to engage in sexual acts,” the article recommends. Then “the whole hookup experience will be more positive for everyone involved.”
Glancing at the author’s bio, I was surprised to learn that she is a student at a conservative Christian college.
When even Christian young people are buying into the hook-up culture, it’s clear that traditional ways of teaching biblical morality are no longer effective. Young people don’t only need rules; they need reasons. They need to learn the worldview rationale that makes sense of biblical morality.
On her Facebook page, Pearcey drew special attention to this opening portion of her article. I immediately asked what "conservative Christian college" this was, but Pearcey apparently preferred not to say. (I strongly urged that she should inform the administration, as she apparently has spoken at the college and has connections with it, but I do not know if she did so.) A little googling by a helper turned up the article to which Nancy refers and the name of the student. (Well, a name of the student. More on that below.) The article Nancy mentions on having a "happy hookup" is here (at least right now; as you'll see, they sometime disappear), at a secular "collegiette" site called Her Campus, and the student author calls herself Ally Karsyn. The article is part of a four-part series; the series accepts the hook-up culture as a given and is mainly directed at advising women not to seduce men while the men are drunk or in other ways not really consenting. (One might well infer from her article discussed below, however, that it's just fine for women to seduce men who are sober and consenting.) As you can see, Karsyn's profile at Her Campus now says that she is a senior at a "small Iowa college." But on the screen capture I have of the page as it was visible as of August 6, her profile was rather different. It read:
Ally Karsyn is a senior at Dordt College pursuing an individual studies major and a journalism minor, graduating December 2011....Ally is the web editor of her college's student newspaper, the Diamond, in addition to being a regular staff writer/columnist. Her column is called "My Feminist Label," in which she writes about women's issues relating to pop culture and social trends.
To spare you the suspense (this post will get a bit long, and you'll hear more of the story later), "Ally Karsyn's" other name is Alyssa Hoogendoorn, and Alyssa Hoogendoorn is indeed a student at Dordt college. Here is the results page at Dordt for Alyssa Hoogendoorn. Here (Facebook member status seems to be required for access to the profile) is Karsyn/Hoogendoorn's Facebook profile, giving both names, the Dordt connection, and a number of profile pictures that are clearly of the same person whose picture appears next to Ally Karsyn's articles. Here is her Google+ profile, giving both names and the connection to Dordt College. Here is her LinkedIn profile, which does not give the Hoogendoorn name but does give extensive details of her past and present connections with Dordt college. These include (the resume says) present work for the Dordt College public relations department (!).
Karsyn is, according to her LinkedIn profile, the web editor and a columnist with the Dordt College student paper, the Dordt Diamond. LinkedIn says that she "maintain[s] social networking on Facebook" for the Diamond, which it seems safe to infer means that she is, or has been until very recently, a page administrator of the Diamond's Facebook page. More about the Diamond's Facebook page, below.
Nor is the name Ally Karsyn unknown at Dordt. Here are just two of the articles available on-line which she wrote for the Dordt Diamond under that name for her column with the newspaper, "My Feminist Label." (That column name is also given in the Her Campus profile.) Karsyn's picture appears next to the articles for the Diamond; it is the same picture that appears next to the Her Campus articles.
Needless to say, Karsyn's articles for Dordt's own college newspaper are considerably more tame than those for Her Campus, though they still might make one wonder and might at any time have sent someone to do a bit of further googling for other writings by the same author. For example, her article on the royal wedding said that her boyfriend is "amazing" because he "doesn't make [her] want to vomit" when she thinks of marriage. Her article on funding for Planned Parenthood shows an inclination to sympathy for Planned Parenthood. And in this piece she seemed to think it important to tell the Dordt community, with a feminist spin, about a new birth control gel that is presently only in clinical trials.
But there is a good deal more to the story.
If you thought that the Her Campus post that Nancy Pearcey mentions was eyebrow-raising, you may be surprised (or not surprised) to know that Karsyn/Hoogendoorn does not stop there. In an article entitled "Your End-of-Semester College Love Bucket List," posted at Her Campus on May 10, 2011 and publically available until very recently, she goes a good deal farther. (If you are wondering why there is no link here, read on.) This advice column tells college women what sorts of things they should have on their "love" list for the end of the semester. It is written in the perky, chatty style common to girls' and women's magazines, and the items on the list are in the imperative mood. Karsyn expressly encourages women to
--find and "bed" a former "hook-up buddy" in order to end the school year on a "high note."
--have sexual intercourse in public places; specific suggestions include a public bathroom, a theater, and an elevator.
--have sex to relieve stress at the end of the semester.
--attempt to sexualize one's relationship with a male fellow student with whom one has previously had only a Platonic friendship.
Yep, sex in a public bathroom is just exactly what love is all about, right?
These are not even the most outrageous items on the list, but this is at least a somewhat family-friendly site, and I'd like to keep it that way.
As of August 6, 2011, one could see that the Facebook page of the Dordt Diamond enthusiastically advertised a possible position as an "editor-in-chief" for a Dordt branch of the Her Campus site. The entry, put up by "The Dordt Diamond" (obviously, by a page administrator), emphasized that such a position with Her Campus would look good on a resume. The entry went up on July 27, 2011, but it has since disappeared. (See below.)
Dordt's own college handbook expressly states that students may be dismissed for "sexual misconduct," which includes advocating sexual immorality.
Dordt College has a good reputation as a conservative Christian school. Dordt states that it "welcomes all students who are interested in a biblical, Christ-centered education."
If "Ally Karsyn" wants entirely to reject Christian sexual morality and celebrate arrant promiscuity, it lies within her power to do so, though she will doubtless harm herself and others in the process. But to get her degree from an explicitly Christian college while working actively to undermine what it stands for--that's low.
It seemed to me extremely important that, if the administration was not already aware, it be made aware of these activities by a Dordt senior, a student leader who has a prominent position with their own student newspaper. Any readers who do not know what a "conservative Christian college" is supposed to be about will perhaps not understand, but others will: This is something akin to a crisis for Dordt. How has Karsyn/Hoogendorn gotten where she is while retaining this worldview? How has she written such things without being called to account by faculty? And what does her endorsement of the blatantly promiscuous hook-up culture say about the moral atmosphere and the progress of the hook-up culture even at Dordt itself? How does she represent the "biblical education" students are supposed to receive? What does Hoogendoorn's prominent position at Dordt, combined with her writings for Her Campus, say about the faculty with whom Hoogendoorn has worked most closely?
With these sorts of concerns in mind, I wrote on August 6 to President Carl Zylstra of Dordt College, with whom I had had no previous contact. (I carbon-copied the chairman of the Communications department, Charles Veenstra.) I explained the situation and provided links, all of which were at that time readily available. At that time I did not know that Karsyn's other name was Alyssa Hoogendorn, so I was able only to give President Zylstra the name "Ally Karsyn" and various statements of hers on the web that she is a student at Dordt.
President Zylstra responded personally and swiftly (on a weekend!) with a warm and concerned note that said that he would be personally investigating this matter. He indicated clearly that he and some unnamed faculty (I would guess Prof. Veenstra, who had been CCed) are very distressed by the material I had sent. However, he said that he had to tell me that no student by the name I had provided is a student at Dordt College. He even raised the possibility that some student was posing as a Dordt student, and he asked for any further information that might identify the person.
He received in return a link to Karsyn's LinkedIn page with its detailed information about her relationship with Dordt and links to several articles in Dordt's student newspaper under her name. The LinkedIn article particularly notes that Karsyn claims to be working closely with Prof. Jim Schaap in the English department at Dordt, and this fact was called to President Zylstra's attention. President Zylstra replied graciously and gratefully. I said that I quite understand the privacy issues he is facing but asked that at a minimum, if he were subsequently able to confirm that Karsyn is a Dordt student, he would let me know this.
At that time, I took page captures of the "happy hook-up" article and the even more outrageous "love bucket" article, with Karsyn's profile on the sidebar. I also got a page capture of the Diamond's Facebook page with the enthusiastic announcement of the Her Campus opportunity for a "branch" at Dordt.
About ten days later, I began once more checking the links, as I was considering writing another e-mail note containing them. The "love bucket" article (here is the link that used to go to it) now comes up as you see: "Access Denied." Karsyn's profile on Her Campus has been changed to eliminate the reference to Dordt College (though the reference to "My Feminist Label" and thirty seconds' googling turns up the Dordt connection anyway). And the Dordt Diamond's Facebook reference to Her Campus is gone.
Grateful to the little bird who advised me to get page captures, I did a bit more googling, whereby I turned up (not that it was really that hard) the evidence that Ally Karsyn is Alyssa Hoogendoorn, who is undeniably a Dordt student. Here is a picture of Hoogendoorn, obviously the same woman who appears in the picture beside the Her Campus columns, in her freshman year at Dordt. She appears with Prof. Schaap in the picture, and the article contains praise for her assistance to him. (Schaap is the professor to whom Ally Karsyn is an assistant, according to her LinkedIn profile.)
I don't want to be misunderstood: I'm not accusing President Zylstra of doing anything wrong. I'm not inclined to believe that he has done anything wrong. I positively encouraged him to make contact with faculty, such as the faculty advisors for the Diamond and such as Prof. Schaap, who might know more about this student. I would guess that it was one of these other people who passed on the information to Hoogendoorn that inquiries were being made. It is also possible that in looking into the matter President Zylstra was in touch with Hoogendoorn while not realizing the connection to Karsyn.
At this point, I made contact with President Zylstra again, telling him that I had identified the student. I suggested that it would not be contrary to privacy considerations for Dordt “simply to admit that it has been brought to the college's attention that a Dordt student has indeed published writings diametrically opposed to the college's position on sexual morality and that the college is investigating the matter further and deciding how to handle it.” I indicated an intention to go to press the next day and asked if there were any further statement that I should include.
President Zylstra replied, again kindly, saying that he hoped to get back to me later with a further statement but that he thought something along the lines I suggested would “not be out of line." He did not at this time explicitly confirm that the administration is aware that a real Dordt student has written such things, though I think it is safe to infer that they are. President Zylstra also indicated that Dordt officials are distressed if and when students do not live up to the Christian standards to which they are obligated at the school and that they are glad to have the opportunity to work with students to bring them into more “faithful discipleship” in such cases. He stressed that both he and other senior administrators and faculty are taking what I have communicated to them very seriously.
At the time of publication, I have not received a more official statement from President Zylstra.
I very much appreciate President Zylstra's work and patience. I do have some further specific suggestions.
--It would be a good thing if Dordt College would unequivocally acknowledge that a Dordt student has written material opposed to the college's position on sexual morality, though (understandably) without naming the student. This would be particularly useful given that a) a question was originally raised (due to the student's use of a quite transparent alias) as to whether this is, in fact, true, and b) people can easily find out that the student in question continues to maintain an official writing relationship with the highly questionable secular college web site at which the articles appeared and also that the majority of her articles (including the “happy hook-up” piece that kicked off the entire investigation) are still available.
(I understand that the school cannot reveal details of any private process involving a student.)
--Dordt should undertake a vigorous investigation to discover which, if any, faculty have known about Hoogendoorn's outrageous writings for Her Campus and have done nothing or even encouraged her. (I understand that the outside world might not know if this were taking place, but I suggest it as it seems important.)
--Dordt could set up a commission including administrators, faculty, and students (and maybe some trustees and alumni as well) who are fully and unambiguously committed to biblical moral standards to address the following questions: "How can we insure that we are upholding biblical moral standards of sexual conduct at Dordt and passing on these standards to students?" "What problems do we currently face at Dordt in maintaining and passing on biblical standards of sexual conduct, and how can we address these problems?"
These are, I would point out, the sorts of things that secular colleges do all the time in response to incidents (or even alleged incidents) of racism. It would do no harm for a Christian college to have a similar response in defense of its mission when an important facet of that mission has been called into question by a student's blatant and shocking writings.
If our Christian colleges do not work to maintain their biblical identity, they will lose it. This incident should be a wake-up call--and not only to Dordt College.
I have debated quite a bit about whether to make available the page captures of the "End-of-Semester College Love Bucket" piece (still listed in this Google cache, with its first few sentences, as one of Karsyn's articles at Her Campus). The piece is so inappropriate that I advise readers who are not in a need-to-know position not to go to it. Yet it should be available to parents of present or prospective students at Dordt as well as to Dordt faculty and administrators who might read this post and who had not previously known about it. I have therefore decided to put up page captures of this egregious article. They are, in order, here, here, and here. Again, readers who have no need to read the entire article are advised not to access it. Readers who do see the additional sexual items from the article that I intentionally left off the list above, please exercise discretion and do not bring them up in the comments.