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From a ‘cult’ to ‘poetic justice’: For IO graduate, commencement means coming back to Chicago on her terms

Stories | 10.17.23

For Rachel Frost, the Chicagoland area is full of complex — many unhappy — memories.

Frost was raised with the controversial teachings of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), and as a teenager, lived at the religious organizations’ former headquarters in Hinsdale, Illinois — about 20 miles west of Chicago.

“It’s pretty random, but I was in a religious cult there,” she said. “I didn’t question a lot of things for a very long time.”

Two decades after leaving IBLP, she would only return to attend court proceedings at the DuPage County Courthouse. Frost was among a dozen women who filed a civil suit against IBLP and its founder, Bill Gothard, alleging that they had been sexually, physically, or psychologically abused by Gothard as minors and the religious organization covered it up. However, in 2018, the plaintiffs chose to dismiss the case for a variety of reasons, including a threatened countersuit, statute of limitations laws, and their own mental health.

“Our lawsuit didn’t end with tangible justice,” she said. “But that experience propelled me to look at my future in a larger way and what I could do with my life.”

In January 2020, at the age of 43, Frost took her first college course at a community college in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“I was just going to take one class and see if I was able to keep up,” said Frost, who was homeschooled and received her GED when she was 18 years old. “And oh my gosh, I loved learning, and it opened up everything.”

Five years since the last time she was inside a Chicagoland courtroom, Frost will be back in the area, this time, among the students walking across the stage of the Chicago Theatre during the 2023 Chicago and Online Commencement Ceremony. She’ll complete the Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program in December.

“I feel that I’m taking back some power returning to Chicago,” she said. “It just feels like poetic justice.”

Photo of Rachel Frost's family

Rachel Frost is all smiles with her family. The mom of five will celebrate earning a Master of Arts in Industrial and Organization Psychology at this year’s Chicago and Online Commencement Ceremony.

Never too late

Frost knows her road to a master’s degree came in later than usual. Between leaving IBLP and restarting her educational journey, she had started a family and joined the civil lawsuit.

When she decided to go further and pursue a master’s degree, she knew she found the right program at Adler University. She loved the focus on social justice and ability to take an accelerated one-year program through its Online Campus.

“I’m a mom with five kids and teach fitness on the side,” said Frost, who earned a bachelor’s in human resources and a minor in psychology at Concordia University in St. Paul. “This was really the only way I could do it.”

It was at Concordia where she first learned of Alfred Adler and his approach to psychology.

“He seemed to be a man way ahead of his time,” she said. “He was a feminist, he valued individuals who were different, and I just admired his outside-the-box way of viewing whole systems.”

Since starting in January, the biggest program highlight has been the Social Justice Practicum, which led her to develop a facilitator training for advocates at a women’s shelter near St. Paul. The training helped advocates provide more effective and evidence-based support to survivors.

“Advocacy is not centering my own voice but amplifying the voice of those I’m serving,” she said. “You can’t tell someone, ‘Go be a socially responsible practitioner.’ It doesn’t happen by osmosis. It has to happen by personal experience and Adler created that opportunity.”

Reclaiming her story

As for what’s next after Adler, Frost is excited to see where her degree in IO psychology takes her.

She has already joined a book writing team led by Tricia Mazurowski, Ph.D., Master of Arts in Psychology online program director. Frost is writing a chapter on psychological safety within employee motivation for training and development.

“I’d like to work somewhere as a training specialist and as a consultant later,” she said. “I’m really homing in on the concept of building psychologically safe workplaces, especially in religious institutions.”

At the Oct. 22 commencement ceremony, fellow graduates may notice a film crew following Frost around the theater.

Since 2019, Frost has participated in a documentary that aims to tell the stories of the women who were involved in the lawsuit against IBLP and Gothard. Some have started families, others found new faiths, and others, like Frost, have thrived in their educational journeys.

The religious organization has been criticized for its abusive authority structures and controversial teachings, including requiring women to be subservient to their husbands, shunning modern popular culture, and restricting higher education, especially for women.

“We hope the documentary expands the conversation that there’s no one way to heal or recover after trauma,” she said.

Along with the film crew and her family, Frost will also have other special guests in the audience — the women who survived IBLP and joined the lawsuit with her.

“We are treating the ceremony as a mini reunion since our court case ended five years ago,” Frost said. “We’ve rented a huge house, and we’ll be celebrating. To come back to Chicago on my terms, it really feels good and meaningful.”

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