Christian campuses more likely to experience gender-based discrimination, research finds

Jessica Hubble | Multimedia Editor

By Thomas Moran | Staff Writer

New research suggests students at faith-based universities and colleges are less likely to experience sexual assault, but more likely to experience gender-based discrimination than students attending private or public institutions.

Ph.D candidate Neil Best at Geneva College surveyed 6,643 students at 38 schools across the United States.

His findings indicate that 15 percent of students at Christian institutions, 21 percent of students at public institutions and 27 percent of students at private institutions reported having experienced sexual assault. On the other hand, 79 percent of students at Christian schools reported having experienced gender-based discrimination from faculty, compared to 72 and 75 percent of students at public and private schools, respectively.

After noticing that Christian universities are often unrepresented in statistics that highlight similar issues on college campuses, Best felt compelled to complete a study that compared Christian schools to private and public schools. He said his daughters were also inspiration for the study.

“I have three daughters and I want college to be safer for them and I thought this could be one way that I might be able to make college safer for them, if we better understand how this plays out and better prevent sexual assault and gender-based discrimination,” Best said.

Upon reviewing the results, Best found that students who reported experiencing gender-based discrimination, were twice as likely to also report being a victim of sexual assault. However, he noted these results do not necessarily imply gender-based discrimination leads to higher rates of sexual assault. Rather, the data simply shows that there is some sort of link between the two. What that link may be is still unclear.

Also referred to as “sanctified” or “benevolent” sexism, Best suggests that “ambivalent sexism” might be a cause for higher rates of gender-based discrimination on Christian campuses.

“It’s the idea that women are in need of being protected,” Best said. “It says men exist to protect women and women should be protected. It sounds really positive and it’s got this chivalrous attitude and aspect to it but at it’s core, you’re talking about a gender imbalance between men and women.”

Though at face value it appears to benefit women, ambivalent sexism implies an inequality between the sexes, Best said. This form of sexism is often perpetuated by some Christian tradition and might explain the heightened levels of gender-based discrimination on faith-based campuses.

“That’s the type of attitude that you may see on faith-based campuses and you may experience as a student,” Best said. “If your theological perspective implies differences, it can lead to a perspective of inequality.”

Houston senior Jordan Strack said she was surprised that gender-based discrimination might be more prevalent on Christian campuses than schools with secular ideologies and argued that discrimination of any kind is fundamentally un-Christian.

“I really hope it’s not a reflection of people saying that they’re Christian and going and discriminating based on sex,” Strack said. “I don’t think that’s Christianity. I don’t think discrimination based on anything is part of Christianity. I don’t think being rude or being biased against someone is what we’re called to do as Christians.”

Baylor’s campus may have preferable results to the averages reflected in the study. On Nov. 2, 2017, Baylor released its 2017 Social Climate Survey, which was focused on harassment, stalking, dating and sexual violence.

According to the survey, 76 percent of respondents, all Baylor students, agreed that they feel safe from sexual harassment on campus and 77 percent reported feeling safe from sexual violence. Much lower than the faith-based institutions from Best’s study, only 31 percent reported having experienced sexist or gender-based harassment from faculty members.

Waco freshman Kerry Burkley said he feels that the inauguration of Dr. Linda Livingstone, Baylor’s first female president, was a huge step in the ongoing battle against gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment.

“She is the first female president in Baylor’s history and Baylor has a long history,” Burkley said. “It’s definitely a huge thing for her to take a step forward and kind of use her role as president and being female in that position … Using her influence will definitely help.”

All individuals in positions of authority have an obligation to be voices for positive change against issues like sexual assault and gender-based discrimination and without such action, their power goes to waste, Burkley said.

In her survey-release statement, Livingstone assured students and faculty of her persistent efforts to address the ongoing issue.

“We remain steadfast in our aim to be a model for the prevention of and response to sexual violence,” Livingstone said. “My commitment to improve our campus culture and foster a caring Christian community is unwavering.”

Best is currently working toward the completion and publication of his dissertation featuring his research.