Making Choices: How to Respond to High Pressure Groups

A special information sheet for international students

This special insert will help you become more aware of certain groups on or around your campus that may try to pressure you to participate in their programs. It is not designed to create fears and/or reluctance on your part to participate in voluntary groups. Many such groups can provide helpful and desirable contacts, relationships, and opportunities. In the following story, “Maria” tells how representatives of one group tried to pressure her into joining. Fortunately, she refused to become involved:

“They were the first Americans to invite me to dinner. I had been sitting by myself in the cafeteria when a young girl came over to sit with me. She asked me where I was from and what I was studying. She seemed interested in me. Then she invited me to go to dinner that evening with her friends. I was so happy. I had been feeling very lonely; I was missing my family in the Philippines. We had a wonderful dinner. I got together with these people a few more times, but I did not really have the time to visit with them as much as they wanted me to because my classes were demanding more homework and I was going to have mid-term examinations soon. I tried to explain this to them. I thought they were also students and they would understand, but they did not seem to, and they just kept calling and insisting. I didn’t know how to say no. They had been so friendly, and in my country, declining invitations from friends is considered to be rude… Finally I told them I had too much studying to do and could not go to all these dinners with them. Even though they continued to phone me, I didn’t go. I felt so impolite! I never saw any of them again.”

* Excerpt from “Cult Recruitment of International Students on American Campuses” by Jane R. Lindley in Cults on Campus: Continuing Challenge, ed. Marcia Rudin, an International Cult Education Program book published by American Family Foundation, 1991.

What Are High–Pressure Groups?

High-Pressure groups like the one “Maria” talks about try to manipulate you to get involved with the group and stay in it. Often they are deceptive because they don’t tell you everything about the group, perhaps not even it’s real name, and don’t tell you what will be expected of you if you join the group.

Some of these groups promise religious or spiritual fulfillment. Others claim they can help you cope with stress and other personal problems, get good grades, have a good social life, prepare for a successful career, be happy, or fulfill your personal potential. Some say they have the only solutions for serious world problems such as poverty, hunger, war, and social injustice. While these are all good goals, high-pressure groups generally don’t fulfill their promises. Instead, they may cause you to lose interest in your studies or to lose contact with your family and friends. You could be abused, or your life seriously and sometimes permanently disrupted.

What Are Some Warning Signs of High-Pressure Groups?

There are many groups on your campus and in your community that you can join which are not harmful or destructive. How can you tell the difference? What are warning signs of a

high-pressure, high-impact, or destructive group? Ask yourself the following questions:

Does the group or its representatives:

  • Pressure you to give them money?
  • Offer you so many free things that what they’re offering you seems to be too good to be true?
  • Force you to make a decision about joining them immediately without giving you a chance to think about it?
  • Flatter you and compliment you constantly?
  • Try to control what you think and what you do?
  • Discourage you from asking questions and making free choices?
  • Tell you that thinking interferes with finding happiness or real answers?
  • Insist that you spend so much time with them that you can’t get your studying done or you don’t have enough time for your other friends and activities?
  • Pressure you to get others involved in the group?
  • Discourage you from keeping in touch with your family and friends or not allow you to talk to your friends or your family alone?
  • Refuse to answer questions you ask about their group and tell you they’ll answer your questions later?
  • Claim to have all the answers to your problems and that you can’t find answers anywhere else?

These questions are meant only to help you identify what might be a high-pressure group. Answering “yes” to one or two questions doesn’t mean that a group is destructive or harmful, but it does mean you should proceed slowly and investigate the group more carefully.

How Can You Respond to High-Pressure Groups?

  • You have the right to choose how and with whom you spend your time.
  • It’s OK to say “no”. You can say no firmly but politely. For example, you can say something like “Thank you, but I’m not interested at this time. But please give me your telephone number so I can call you if I change my mind.”
  • You have the right to take your time to make important decisions. Don’t agree to join anything right away. A group that isn’t high-pressured or destructive will always be happy for you to become involved later.
  • Don’t give up the things that are most important to you for anyone else or for any group.
  • Be sure the group is a student group recognized by your college or university or is well known in the community. You have a right to know all the facts about a group or an organization so you can make a good decision and a free choice. Find out everything you can about it. Ask people you trust or ask your International Student and Scholar Services Office for information.
  • If you miss your family, feel lonely, are having trouble keeping up with your studies, experience personal problems, or having a hard time adjusting to your campus or to life in the United States, talk to people in the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, faculty members, or trusted friends. You can always find someone to help you.
  • There are many ways to solve problems that the group or its representatives say only they can solve. No one person or one group has all of the answers or all of the correct answers to questions or problems.
  • There are many ways to meet people and make friends on you campus. Don’t depend on one group for all of your friends.
  • Always stay in contact with you family and friends back home.
  • If you do participate in a group at first, but do not want to continue it, you may withdraw or stop your participation.

Where Do High-Pressure Groups Recruit?

Representative of these groups may try to recruit you at any time and at any place on or off-campus, such as a student lounge, University Union, library, or other place where you go to study or to relax; a dormitory or other student residence; a religious organization meeting or a political meeting; in a classroom; at a social event; in a coffeehouse, restaurant, or bar; at a park or beach; a shopping mall, youth hostel, sports event, or concert; at an airport, bus station, or railroad station.

Where Can You Go for Additional Information and Assistance?

Many groups on your campus are not high-pressure or destructive. They let you take your time to decide whether or not to join and let you make your own decision. They tell you all you want to know about the group right away. They encourage you to stay in touch with your family and other friends. They encourage you to study hard, train for your career, and to make your own plans for your future.

If there’s anything you don’t understand in this information sheet, if you want more information about high-pressure groups, if you need help with a person or group that is pressuring you to join it now, or if you want advice about a high-pressure group you are already in, go to the Office of International Student and Scholar Services and talk with an advisor, or Dean of Students Office, located at University Union West Room 207, or contact:

ICSA Cult Information Line (239) 514-3081

Provides Information and referral

This manuscript was prepared by Marcia Rudin, a speaker at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, national and regional conferences. Rudin is a nationally recognized expert on destructive cults and has appeared on television and radio talk shows regarding cults and their influence. She has authored or co-authored Why Me? Why Anyone?; Prison or Paradise? The New Religious Cults; and Cults on Campus: Continuing Challenge. She holds degrees in philosophy and religion from Boston University and Columbia University/Union Theological Seminary.

This information sheet provided by NAFSA: Association of International Educators 1996.


Last Updated: 8/28/14