How predatory groups target vulnerable students
By Kelli Green
In 1978, on November 18th more than 900 Americans died in Jonestown, a settlement in Guyana, South America under the leadership and influence of Reverend Jim Jones. It was the largest unnatural loss of American lives before 9/11. A majority of the people that died were members of the People’s Temple, a cult lead by Jones.
It’s been almost forty years, and the tragedy has been reduced to a misled joke about kool-aid, but college students probably shouldn’t put what happened in Jonestown off to the side of their conscious. After all, those who forget their past are destined to repeat it.
Anyone who has heard of the tragedy in Jonestown has probably asked themselves “How do people get caught up in cults?” Many people think of these victims as zombies and think that this could never possibly happen to them.
The thing is, no cult leader is going to come up to you and say “Come join my cult, we’re serving cookies and abuse.” Instead, they resort to tricks and manipulation. For example, in order to convince followers that he had created the perfect Utopia in Guyana, Jones held up bananas to a tree to pretend they grew there.
Attending college can offer numerous opportunities. It can be a very rewarding experience, but it can also be extremely stressful. Many college students are still young and trying to find their place in the world. When people feel lost, they become more vulnerable because they’re searching for something or someone to make them feel like they belong.
For instance, Journalism major Spencer Maupin believes students tend to ignore their problems for too long and get overwhelmed, trying to balance school along with their personal lives.
Reports have shown that colleges are a target for cults and their predatory behavior. According to a poll done by Colleges.com, forty percent of the people polled said that they were aware of cults on college campuses. Thirty five percent of the people polled said that the cults used mind games on college students to control them.
Luckily, none of the students asked reported being aware of any predatory groups at Pensacola State College, but some still found the concept of cults preying on college students to be alarming.
General Studies major Nahomi Sanchez said that the ideas of cults or any type of predatory groups scare her a bit, but she can see how a student could get swept up in something like that. “I absolutely think it would be easy. Peer pressure is a serious thing and anybody could be part of it.”
One of the things a student or any individual can do to protect themselves is to reach out to different people and try to surround themselves with good energy. Cults and other predatory groups such as gangs prey on people who are looking for a place to belong.
History professor Andrew Barbero said “Whether it is some sort of cult, gang or hate group, they tend to recruit people on the margins. Maybe someone is socially awkward or the victim of abuse. Such groups offer a sense of inclusion and security in an otherwise cruel world.”
Maupin said “It’s the mob mentality I mostly don’t like. Surrounding yourself with people that think like you can lead to dangerous situations.”
Groups like cults know that students are experiencing hard times and key in on that. Members from Jonestown tapped into their followers need to be accepted and have a purpose.
Jim Jones offered to be anything one needed whether it was a father, a friend or even a god. That in itself is dangerous. Sanchez said “If anyone is telling you something that is too good to be true or promising you a perfect future, be careful. Students should really trust their instincts.”
Maupin suggests that if students are going through a tough time, they should talk about it and try to expand the amount of people they are openly discussing their problems and issues with. “Having one person to rely on is as bad as keeping it to yourself.”
He also pointed out that PSC offers help to students in need. In Building 20, room 2067, Angelique Austin offers therapy for students. PSC C.A.R.E.S. is also a group on campus focused on helping students.
So, if you’re going through a tough time as a student, take a deep breath and talk about your problems. Cults and other groups that prey on people are not easy to spot, so it’s important to be secure in yourself and keep a positive circle around you. Be aware of people that offer you the world and promise unrealistic happiness. In other words, don’t trust every banana.