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Tips on Identifying Deceptive or Coercive Groups

While you are a student at Pace University, many internal organizations may ask you to join them. The great majority of these organizations, whether they are academic, religious, cultural, professional, service oriented, social, or political in nature, are well meaning and constructive. They should also be officially sanctioned by Pace University. There are, too, individuals and groups who operate in and around Pace who would like to share their ideas with you. Often, these "ideas" include values and beliefs they hold about the world around us. They may approach you in a residence hall, library, cafeteria, classroom building, or elsewhere. In addition to sharing with you the answers they have found to life's questions, they may ask you to enlist your time, energy, and resources in endeavors they believe to be worthwhile. In short, they may ask you to join their groups and make substantial contributions of time and money to their causes.

Although it is healthy for groups to further their causes and recruit new members, some groups use recruiting tactics that are intrusive, deceitful, manipulative, and coercive.

Such individuals and groups may at first take a personal interest in you, which may be gradually combined with increased demands on your time and commitment to their groups. Through the use of subtle manipulation, they can make the group seem so important that it will then make sense to substantially reduce your study time and class attendance, even to the point where you consider dropping out of school. They may convince you to reject previously held values, abandon friends and family, and virtually change your identity. Of course, such groups do not announce their intention to undermine your ability to think independently. Their tactics can be sophisticated and subtle. Be alert and informed.

It is our hope that you will have many positive associations at Pace. We strive to foster an environment that encourages the development of independent and critical thinking, and a community of people who respect each other's right to question and confront. To preserve this environment each member of the Pace community must take responsibility for ensuring that all honor the free exchange of ideas. But, it is up to you to investigate the goals of those who would ask you for your personal commitment and to say "No" if needed.

This section is intended to alert you to the existence of deceptive or coercive groups and to equip you with questions that will help you identify them. Pace wants you to be able to make your own decisions about your association, your education, and your life without undue pressure from others.

If you are having difficulty deciding if a certain group is right for you, discuss the matter with someone whose judgment you trust. Friends, parents, professors, counselors, coaches, campus ministries, and student services staff could offer good advice. The following questions are designed to help you assess a group that seeks your commitment. The questions could apply not only when you are being recruited, but also after you have been involved for some time.

  • What commitment of time, money, and other resources are expected from you?
  • Would I be assigned recruiting or financial quotas?
  • Is associating with family and friends discouraged?
  • What benefits would I gain from being a member of this group? How do these benefits fit with my own goals and ideas and values?

Does the group...

  • Encourage you to continue your studies, succeed academically, and to graduate, or does it say that its activities are more important than school?
  • Answer the questions that you ask, or are you told repeatedly that the answer will come later?
  • Discourage discussion of its beliefs, either with other members or with your family and friends?
  • Want its members to give up traditions and beliefs?
  • Require absolute obedience and devotion to its leader(s)?
  • Allow members quiet time alone, other interests, or time with other friends outside the groups?
  • Predict tragedy will befall anyone who leaves the group?

After you have answered these questions, you may decide that the group is not for you. In that case you have the right to separate yourself from the group and to be free from pressure by the group. If your instincts tell you there is a problem or you are being harassed, please contact the Office of the Dean for Students, Counseling Center, Center for Student Development and Campus Activities, or the Office of Residential Life. (See Appendix E: Problem Solving Directory).

Note: Pace University wishes to gratefully acknowledge the Human Relations Committee and the Office of Student Life at New York University for developing the brochure "A CULT" originally published in 1997, which provides the text of the section above. This text is modified only to apply to Pace University.