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It's not always safety first


Last updated 3/9/2021 at 1:36pm | View PDF

"What kinda lies you tellin' this boy?" he croaked.

The man's eyes were a cold blue color. They reminded me of shotgun barrels, and fit very well with his cowboy boots, denim jeans and black vest. Going by his ethereal white beard, he was at least in his 70s. My supervisor laughed and introduced the man to me.

"I like to call him the sheriff," my supervisor said. I nodded, said hello and went back to collecting tickets from the folks coming in to the country fair entrance. I had been in college for two weeks, and was taking part in a sanctioned community service event at a country fair. My school, a private Christian university in the Midwest, was a bit strict (no drinking or smoking, no dancing at public events). Since it attracted a lot of upper-class Christians from families that had done homeschooling or private Christian education alternatives, it had a reputation for being a safe place. My mother commented that during the grand tour of the college, the idea "your child will be safe here" came up routinely. Having grown up among missionaries in South America, my mother wasn't sure safety itself was the most important thing in life.

The country fair I was helping out at fit the image that I'd gotten so far of the school. We were the prototypical good Christian college kids, helping at a family-friendly event attended by lots of country people ("Hoosiers," as they called them in Indiana). Every time someone asked what school I was from, the name seemed to have a reverent tone for them.

That is, it did for everyone except the sheriff. He didn't seem to care. He sat on a bench with my supervisor and watched me work, telling little stories about this and that. Then he looked over at me and began talking about college students who, shall we say, "messed around" on his property. He talked about cars driving out into his field at night, chasing people (some dressed, some less than dressed) off the property, things like that.

My supervisor gave me a very embarrassed look. I pretended I wasn't really listening and kept working. I knew the sheriff wasn't accusing me of anything; I just happened to be in the area and reminded him of people my age that he'd had to chase off recently. He could have just as easily seen my shoes and talked about his favorite brand of sneakers.

Still, it was awkward. It was also probably the most educational experience I had my first semester. Listening to this man ramble about reckless college kids told me that just because my school was generally a clean environment didn't mean there weren't students who messed around.

This didn't mean many of the school's boundaries weren't good things. It wasn't a bad thing that so many families wanted their kids to go to places that had those boundaries. However, the idea that the college was spotless, a risk-free zone, was terribly important for many people I met during my college career. Some of the parents I spoke with seemed to think their kids would spontaneously combust in sin and iniquity if they didn't attend a Christian college.

Whether he meant to or not, the sheriff taught me that "safe places" are never quite as safe as we imagine. We can be so overly worried about safety that we become paranoid and miss the fact that no place is perfect.


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