Breaking bubbles and building bridges: Analyzing religious inclusivity on Baylor’s campus

Photo courtesy of Naya Jimenez

By Naya Jimenez | Guest Contributor

As Baylor University evolves, it is important that both students and campus faculty alike understand the power that comes with the converging of different thoughts, ideas, cultures and beliefs. Within a college environment, students should have the opportunity to engage and collaborate with one another in whichever way they feel best, and they should not have to be isolated within a college campus because they feel as though they have no members of their own faith to confide in.

If students feel as though creating a religious organization would help them to establish more meaningful relationships with their peers, they should be free to do so. Baylor should not be allowed to exclude religions outside of the Christian faith from creating student organizations centered around their own religious beliefs if they claim to embody “teachings of love and inclusivity across boundaries of racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, religious and other expressions of human difference” on campus by allowing “people of all backgrounds [to] come together and reason together, live together, believe together, create together, learn together, work together and grow together.”

If Baylor truly wishes to fulfill its Christian mission, it needs to commit itself to encourage religious diversity by striving to create an environment that embraces diversity of thought in its many forms and therefore serves as hospitable to its entire student body.

Students of all cultures and backgrounds need opportunities to engage with their fellow peers outside of the classroom setting, and student organizations make space for this by building a foundation for constructive, collaborative and empathetic communication. These spaces allow students to grow both scholastically and socially through their college journey as they become more connected with campus life and culture.

As the Journal of College and Character states, “the more involved students are in college, the better they fare with respect to both affective and cognitive forms of development.” Through these means, involvement both within and outside of the classroom allows students to develop not only their academic skills but also their capacity to express and experience a range of emotions. This kind of emotional development can serve a fundamental role in preparing students to connect with others, make responsible decisions, think critically, persevere, be resilient and work in teams once they have graduated from Baylor and aim to join the workforce.

Rather than using inclusive language to unite their students together in the pursuit of a more welcoming and accepting Christian environment on campus, Baylor’s religious organization policies prevent a significant portion of their student body from feeling as though they can contribute to Baylor’s mission through their unique religious experiences. This can be proven through Baylor’s “Affirmation of the Baylor University Statement of Common Faith” form, which is required from all religious organizations that aim to be chartered by the university. This “common faith” form centers around many exclusively Christian beliefs, which many religious minority students would not be able to align themselves with.

When we engage people across ideological divides, asking questions helps us map the disconnect between our differing points of view. Therefore, creating an environment conducive to open, honest and transparent conversation is one of the most important things Baylor can do to establish a foundation for interfaith collaboration since such conversations give religious minority groups a chance to point out flaws in Baylor’s position. The creation of a metaphorical “table” for this sort of conversation on Baylor’s campus requires that both religious and non-religious students and faculty members feel fully comfortable expressing their individual needs, concerns and opinions surrounding the ideological inconsistencies that make up Baylor’s position on religious minority groups on campus.

Research has shown that it is “the style of interfaith setting – which is shaped not just by individual actors’ religious beliefs, but by their collective goals, organizational constraints and relationships to religious institutions – shapes the religious practices that emerge from interfaith work.” Therefore, in order to create and maintain a comfortable environment for interfaith discussion, the majority of Baylor’s Christian community needs to have an alternative focus when they sit down and stay at this “table” with justice, patience and a sense of generosity, asking how they can avoid walking away or dominating the table while still remaining open to constructive criticism.

When moral communities are able to form as a result of interfaith conversation, tremendous progress can be made within campus environments. By taking steps to initiate conversation across religious divides, Baylor University’s faculty and student body can begin giving Baylor’s religious minority students the platform they need to have their issues addressed. By eventually allowing for the formation of religious minority student organizations, Baylor University can ensure that every individual member of its student body feels as though they have a voice and a place on Baylor’s campus.