A matter of taste

"A matter of taste" Continued...

Issue: "New Orleans: Starting over," Sept. 24, 2005

Nearly 1,000 miles southwest of the stately brick buildings of Geneva College, Spanish-style stucco and terra cotta roofs form the architectural landscape of Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OWU), a 400-student Christian school in Bartlesville, a small town on the vast plain of northeast Oklahoma.

At the front of the OWU chapel, a figure of Jesus, etched on a clear two-story window and surrounded by streaks of purple, green, and gold stained glass, looks out on the campus's green lawn encircled by a dozen buildings, while students and teachers make their way to morning chapel services, a requirement for students.

A praise band leads the crowd in singing Third Day's "Your Love Oh Lord" as the words appear on a huge screen above them. In the center of the auditorium, a young man in a button-down shirt and jeans stands up and stretches his arms out in the shape of a cross as he sings. A quarter of the students join him, raising their arms and swaying to the music. As Professor Steve Hughes begins his message, the sound of zippers fills the chapel as students unload Bibles from backpacks to follow the sermon.

OWU, one of four colleges affiliated with the conservative Wesleyan denomination, fosters a tight-knit community with a generous spirit. "It feels so much like a family," says junior Shantrel Van Dyke, vice president of social life for the student government. Ms. Van Dyke recently helped raise $230 from students to pay the travel expenses of a friend who needed to go home but couldn't afford it.

Students take their cues from administrators at OWU. In his house next to campus, President Everett Piper has hosted students who could not go home for the summer or could not afford to live in the dorms. He leaves his back gate open so students can swim in his pool whenever they want.

The campus's family atmosphere is also evident in Wert Hall, a dorm that houses mostly sophomore, junior, and senior males. Residents share big-screen televisions, Sony PlayStations, and spiritual struggles. "If any one of us is having a problem, we'll all get together and pray together," says resident Jess Holmes.

Men and woman live in separate dorms but can visit each other in most of the residence-hall lobbies. Members of the opposite sex must stay in lobbies except during six hours of visitation on Sunday afternoon. In the men's dorms, some students frantically clean their rooms for visitation and invite women to watch movies or football games on their televisions.

The OWU family life extends beyond graduation for many students because at this school, the men and women date to wed. So many students at OWU get married that the college is sometimes called "Oklahoma Wesleyan Shoe Factory: mend their souls and send them out in pairs."

Though OWU sits in a small town, students are experts on cheap, fun things to do around Bartlesville. They play roller hockey and sand volleyball, hang out at coffee houses, watch movies at the dollar theater, and dive off the cliffs at Osage Hills State Park.

The Halton Campus Center is home to Doc Lacy's coffee house, with its purplish-brown walls, cozy armchairs, and low lighting. Students enjoy a menu of espresso and coffee drinks, and others eat toasted sandwiches to get a break from cafeteria food, a mixture of home-style foods like roast beef and student favorites like chicken nuggets.

Students often drive 40 minutes to Tulsa to have dinner and watch movies or go shopping, but students have also been known to go to Tulsa for its clubs, which is against school rules. Social dancing and drinking are forbidden for OWU students, and administrators say they've faced problems with student drinking in the past.

One student at a local bar with friends on a Friday night described himself as a former binge drinker who felt so outcast his freshman year that he considered committing suicide. He resented the dean and other students coming to his room to check on him, sometimes at 2 or 3 a.m. Then he heard one of his teammates give a testimony at the Altar, a student-led worship service on Sunday nights. "That was the first time I prayed, the first time I did anything spiritual at all," he said. "That's one of the things I love about this school. . . . At the most important moment in a person's life, the freshman year of college, we make it tough to be bad."

Students also often find the classroom to be tough. Sophomore Matt Miller said he thought his first test in General Psychology would be easy, but he learned that studying is as much a part of OWU life as Christian fellowship: "This isn't fun and games."


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