Chapel cheating: why does it exist?

Molly Rapske, OpEd Editor

When thinking of cheating, particularly amongst a group of students, it is probable that one’s mind begins to fill with thoughts of tests, homework and money. However, here at Westmont College, another form of cheating exists: the practice of scanning one’s student ID immediately before booking it in the opposite direction.

Chapel services are at the very heart of Westmont, as it is a consistent time for the entire student body to gather together in one space. On Westmont College’s website the Campus Pastor’s office notes, “[Chapel is] an essential component of your education at Westmont College.” If this is so, why is it that students skip chapel?

One reason students may skip chapel is due to the number of allotted chapel skips students are given each semester. Students are granted 12 skips at the beginning of each semester, but this number is oftentimes not enough. Westmont’s website states, “Chapel is required and twelve chapel absences are permitted each semester. These twelve absences may be used to sleep, study, recover from illness, for doctor’s appointments, non-school related trips, irregular work schedules, interviews, car trouble, and any trips to the airport, etc. Students are expected to manage their chapel attendance wisely over the course of each semester and communicate proactively.” 

When issues regarding chapel attendance arise, the typical counter-argument from the pastor’s office includes the fact that students can skip chapel, as long as they have not used all of their chapel skips. Furthermore, while 12 chapel skips may sound like a lot, that number is deceivingly low. If a student were to skip one day of chapel every week, they would reach the limit when the semester is only three-fourths of the way through. The consequences for going over the amount of absences is a warning, followed by a probationary period. If a student were to continue to skip chapel over the course of two semesters, they could be subject to a potential semester suspension. While students can appeal these decisions, the final choice is ultimately up to the campus pastor’s office. 

Aside from a set amount of chapel skips, there are also rules to abide by while students are in the service. Students are not permitted to have phones, laptops or books out while seated. For a service that offers no academic credit, not allowing students to study during assembly feels like an extreme measure. I see this rule as creating an environment of frustration and tension among Westmont students.

Another common counter-argument coming from Westmont staff is that students agree to accept admission to Westmont knowing that chapel attendance is mandatory. However, according to the Westmont website, students are informed that the point of chapel is “[coming] together for worship three times a week because gathering in the presence of the living God transforms how we think, act, live and love.” This has sometimes felt untrue. 

If the campus pastor’s office wants to minimize dishonest chapel skipping — rather than focusing on the fact that chapel is a requirement — it would be more effective to adjust the content shared in chapel services to incentivize honest attendance. As a personal example, in the three years that I have been attending Westmont I have been frequently dissatisfied with the amount of times the speakers’ messages directly pull from the Bible. A frequent opinion among my circle is that if chapel were to have services that were more centered on togetherness and Biblical teaching, the overall student population would be more satisfied with required chapel attendance.

Also, considering the percentage of students at Westmont who do not identify as Christians, I would hope chapel administration would present a more self-elective paradigm for Christianity, rather than forcing non-Christian students to sit through three days of content each week.

The message of chapel is to bring the students of Westmont together through a shared space of worship. In my view, chapel services have not been living up to this expectation. Instead, these services create barriers between identifying Christians and non-Christians by not catering to the needs of all members of the Westmont community. 

When Westmont chapel administration listens more attentively to what their student body wants, it is my hope that students will dishonestly skip chapel less frequently.

Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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