At most bastions of learning, beer-fueled hookup sex is the norm. Not so at Liberty, the Evangelical university in Lynchburg, VA, founded by Jerry Falwell, where virginity, courtship, and marriage are guiding lights. Kevin Roose, a then-19-year-old sophomore from anything-goes Brown University, spent his "semester abroad" at Liberty to learn how the other half lives. Then he turned it into a book: The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University.
MC: Liberty has pretty strict rules about male-female relations.
KR: The official school policy is that there is no contact between genders beyond hand-holding, and you can hug for a maximum of three seconds.
MC: What happens if you get caught?
KR: Each violation has a number of reprimands and a fine attached to it. One girl who got caught having sex with her boyfriend had to go to the dean's office for a hearing, and got slapped with 30 reprimands, a $500 fine, and 30 hours of community service.
MC: Was it difficult for you to adapt?
KR: I came from this third-wave feminist thing where you don't hold open doors or pull out chairs. And I'd never properly gone on a date. At Brown, it was your typical college hookup culture: Go to a party and case out your options. People would hook up and then date. At Liberty, it feels like an Archie comic. You have to ask the girl out in the right way, hold doors, pull out chairs. I had to get tutored on this. I had met this one girl in Bible study, and we hit it off. Then my friends badgered me into asking her out and instructed me on how to do it: no text message, no Facebook.
MC: Did you find the rules confining?
KR: I thought I'd be terribly frustrated, but there was a lot about dating there that I sort of liked. For one thing, there is much less pressure. Because I wasn't trying to score, I could say anything. It was freeing not to think about hooking up. I didn't have to worry, Am I being smooth enough? or What's the line that's going to get me the kiss? It was all preordained. And you end up talking and concentrating on them as a person.
MC: If they don't have parties, how do people meet?
KR: In classes or at the student center or church. And every male dorm is paired with a girl dorm, and they have joint activities — bowling, going to IHOP. For a lot of them, Liberty is the best dating pool ever: Everyone learns the same worldview and everyone is very beautiful there. It's like the kids at Willy Wonka's chocolate factory — you can't touch, and you can't lust after them. They actually have a dress code designed to keep people free from lust — like, girls can't wear short skirts.
MC: What's the vibe on campus?
KR: If you're a girl and you don't have an engagement ring by the time you graduate, they wonder what's wrong with you. There were bridal showers in the dorms. It's a culture of quick marriage — straight out of Jane Austen.
MC: Did you break any rules?
KR: I kissed a girl on the cheek once. This could've gotten us four reprimands and a $10 fine, but I made sure that there were no RAs around.
MC: Did you take what you learned back to Brown with you?
KR: I try to listen more on dates and try not to get ahead of myself.