Christian college culture affects Baylor students in subtle ways

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Every university has its own identity founded in large part on the culture it fosters. Arizona State University is known as a party school. University of California at Berkeley is known for being politically liberal. But what is Baylor’s cultural identity?

Baylor prides itself on being a Christian institution of higher education. That identity has been absorbed in almost every aspect of Baylor society to create a unique “Christian college culture.”

The effects of Christian college culture are evidenced in the ways students interact with each other in large- and small-scale ways. It is demonstrated in the ring-by-spring mentality that pushes us off the graduation stage and right down the aisle. Christian college culture also permeates the most simple of interactions to the point where it is commonly understood that the question you ask someone immediately after learning their name is which church they go to.

This identity of Christian college culture could create a community of openness, acceptance and individuality. Christianity preaches messages of community rooted in love and hospitality, in humility and honesty. The more positive aspects of this campus environment are clear, but the more subtle ways this culture impacts us need to be discussed so we can move past the spiritual dogma and exclusivity that runs rampant among students.

Any kind of college culture comes with positives and negatives; “party” colleges, “liberal” colleges and “rich kid” colleges all come with their own set of drawbacks. At Baylor, Christianity is more than a religion; it is a culture. Because of this, individuals may begin to feel pressure to conform to the larger cultural narrative in order to be accepted – and that can come with dangerous consequences.

On one hand, many individuals on Baylor’s campus do not fit the mold that Christian college culture cultivates. While Christianity can foster a common spiritual language and ethical code, those who do not identify as Christians may find themselves lost in the sea of Pine Cove T-shirts and Bible study invitations.

Baylor Institutional Research and Testing’s report for undergraduates in fall 2018 reveals that 109 Muslim students, 62 Buddhist students, 129 Hindu students, 59 self-identified atheist students and 15 Jewish students call Baylor home – not to mention the other atheist or agnostic students who chose not to disclose their true religious affiliation. These students are not allowed to form community because of Baylor’s policy of not chartering non-Christian religious student organizations – a policy embedded in the larger Christian college culture.

While some may say these students should have chosen a different university if they didn’t want to partake in the Christian college culture, some of Baylor’s messages address this argument. While Baylor focuses on Christian values on one hand, it also strives to be a top research institution. In that way, students may choose to come to Baylor not because of the Christian college culture, but despite it due to the larger draw of good academic rigor and prestige. Non-Christian students on campus deserve to feel welcomed as they are.

Religious minorities on campus may not be the only ones negatively affected by the dominance of Christian college culture on campus. Even those who do subscribe to Christian beliefs may feel the effects of this environment. This is because, when religion is sewn into every aspect of life, it can become a spiritual dogma in which people go through the motions of the religion in order to fit in rather than embrace the faith on their own terms. This is where the imagery surrounding Christian college culture is so pervasive. Thoughts of “granola” Christian camp counselors wearing Chacos and lounging in Enos come to mind when thinking of the “traditional” Baylor Christian student. It proposes an understanding of comfortable Christianity where faith is proved through Instagram posts about Bible verses and mission trips to Guatemala. These outcroppings of Baylor culture are not inherently problematic unless they are done out of a desire to fit into Baylor socially rather than earnestly express faith.

Because of Christian college culture, this social pressure to fit the Baylor mold also means trying to look like a good Christian, which can lead to secrecy for fear of judgement and can keep individuals from being honest about real issues they face. Silence and secrecy surrounds issues like sexual conduct, mental health and alcohol abuse because Baylor students may feel they can’t talk about these issues and be honest and open with friends out of fear of not looking like a good Baylor Christian. On the other hand, students can also be instigators of this problem by meeting vulnerability with pity or evangelism, offering in passing to simply pray for friends rather than also offering to really work through an issue with them.

We cannot address these individual problems until we recognize that they stem from the dominant culture on campus. The Lariat Editorial Board will dedicate page two of every Friday’s paper for the next few weeks to exploring different aspects of this culture. From purity to community, from mental health to Christian hipsters, we hope to help facilitate some honest conversations among Baylor students about some of the big issues that face our campus today as a result of Christian college culture.