High Pressure Groups: What You Need to Know
Part of the purpose of higher education is to expose you to new ideas. At UMBC, you will encounter many individuals and groups wishing to share their ideas with you, including values and beliefs they hold about the world around us. They may approach you after class, in a residence hall, at The Commons, on the Quad, or elsewhere. In addition to sharing with you the answers they have found to life’s questions, they may seek 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 contributions to their causes.
Student organizations provide great benefits to the UMBC community. The vast majority of these groups are well meaning and constructive, whether their activities are political, social, service-oriented, religious or philosophical. It is our hope that you will have many positive associations at UMBC, and it is our belief that many associations can serve to enhance your education. The University strives 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 any assumption or put forward any proposition in the pursuit of truth. To preserve this environment, each member of the campus community must take responsibility for ensuring that the free exchange of ideas is honored by all.
Unfortunately, some groups may not operate exactly as they present themselves. We call these groups “high pressure groups.” High pressure groups use recruiting tactics that are deceitful, manipulative, and coercive. They typically are very persistent in their recruiting efforts. These groups look to recruit young people who are vulnerable and in transition, such as college students.
Before you join any group, it is important to ask yourself questions about the group to make sure it is the type of group you want to join. Please use the following information to help you assess a group and to keep you safe from high pressure groups that may not have your best interests at heart.
Ask about the group:
- With what national organizations, if any, is the group affiliated?
- What values does the group advocate?
- How is the group funded?
- What commitments of time, money, and other resources does the group expect of its members?
- Are members expected to solicit money, recruit new members, or engage in other promotional activities?
- Does the group respect members’ commitments to family and friends?
- Does the group encourage members to continue their studies, to succeed academically, and to graduate?
- How difficult is it to leave the group?
- Why was I approached/selected by the group?
- Did members satisfactorily answer the questions I asked about the group?
- Does the group use many names for itself? If so, why? If the group has multiple names, this may be a sign they are covering up their true identity to get you to join the group.
- Does the group seem to have simplistic answers to complex world issues?
- Does the group encourage questions and discussion about its beliefs and practices?
- Does the group want its members to give up their traditions and beliefs?
- Does the group require absolute obedience and devotion to its leader?
- Does the group allow members to have quiet times alone, or time with other friends outside the group?
- What will I gain from being a member of this group? Does that fit with my own goals and ideas?
Below are some warning signs or possible red flags that a group may be engaging in “high pressure” tactics. Use your best judgment when joining new groups and if you have any questions or concerns about groups on campus, talk with a faculty or staff member, a family member, or a trusted friend.
Possible Red Flags:
- The group claims to have “all the answers” to the problems you are experiencing.
- Early and constant messages of personal love and/or coercive, high-pressure tactics are used to recruit you, or to keep you coming to the group’s meetings.
- The group begins to isolate you from friends and family.
- The group interprets your questions or doubts as signs of weak faith and insists on obedience to leaders and/or the group.
- The group puts down your past religious, social or political affiliations.
- The group encourages you to put their meetings and commitments before everything else, including your studies, your family, self-care and sleep.
- The group encourages constant fear and guilt-based confession to the group or its leaders.
- The group pressures you to give them money.
- The group uses constant flattery and compliments to keep you coming back to the group.
- The group uses multiple names.
- The group discourages independent thinking and opinion.
If you are approached by what feels like a high pressure group:
- You do not have to give out your name, address or phone number to someone who is a stranger.
- You do not have to engage them in conversation.
- If you decide to look into a group further, take a friend with you.
- Do not go to any function hosted off campus unless you know you can trust the group.
- Ask for printed materials about the group and do your own research on the group.
- Talk with a trusted friend, relative or staff member about the group.
- Make sure all your questions are answered and you are satisfied with the answers.
- If you join a group and then decide that the group is not for you, you have the right to disassociate yourself from the group at any time.
If you are having difficulty deciding if a certain group is right for you, discuss the matter with someone whose judgment you trust. Friends, relatives, professors, counselors, or religious council members could offer advice. The Student Affairs Office (410-455-2393), Campus Life (410-455-3462), and the Counseling Center (410-455-2472) are also prepared to provide information and assistance at any time.
If you are concerned about the behavior of a group that has approached you, do something about it!
- Report the behavior to the Behavioral Risk Assessment and Consultation Team (BRACT) by contacting Dr. Kim Leisey, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 410-455-2393.
- Discuss the matter with a Campus Life staff member. Talk with your RA or Community Director.
- Discuss the matter with a counselor at University Counseling Services.
- Contact the Police.
Language adapted from and used with permission of UMD Student Affairs