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It’s Time to Drop Purity Culture, Baylor

Contrary to what may be popular belief, both secular and religious students attend traditionally religious universities in the United States. For many, the religious aspect is no problem and often embraced. Some prospective students actually choose their colleges based on the presence of religion in student life and academia. For others, this aspect doesn’t sway them one way or another. Regardless of how on board a student is with the religious affiliation of their university, the purity culture that seems to permeate these institutions affects everyone in the same way.

I like to think of a religious university as an oxymoron, something that is in the sweet spot of ambiguity and the grey area of life. College is inherently a time of exploration and new experiences. Religion, on the other hand, can limit what these new experiences are and may shame some of its members for learning and trying new things. It’s an odd thing to experience. On one hand, everyone is wishing us good luck in college, always saying it was the best time of their lives and that it’s the time to experiment and figure out who you are. On the other hand, we’re being berated with exactly how we should live our lives and being held emotionally and socially hostage if we do anything different. How can such conflicting experiences coexist? And why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?

In my experience at Baylor, there is a strong purity culture that percolates throughout the university. Some classes, some students and some faculty feel the need to express their religious views. This is perfectly fine. It’s the social and religious connotations that come with these interactions that can be a problem. I’ve heard stories of slut-shaming while in the women’s bathroom. I have heard people’s worthiness as a Christian be downplayed because their friends caught wind of them doing something “unbiblical,” as if we aren’t all sinners. There is this underlying assumption that if you come to Baylor, you’re a Christian. First of all, that’s not true and people need to stop acting like it is. Secondly, that assumption is harmful and contributes to the power purity culture has over us.

If you follow Christianity a certain way, that is perfectly fine. But you don’t get to shame others if they don’t do it your way. You don’t get to judge them for their decisions, their practices or their beliefs. You don’t get to do that before looking inward at yourself.

Yet, that doesn’t matter when it comes to the purity culture at Baylor. There is an underlying competition between the cliques of life groups and church congregations. Oh, she goes there? Of course she would. Even within the Baptist faith, there is shaming. Everyone needs to go to this church. Everyone needs to follow this doctrine.

Oh, you’ve had sex? It’s time for me to shame you even though I’ve had sex.

Religious purity is harmful because it pits us against each other even though we do the same things. Aren’t all sins the same in the eyes of God? 

Purity culture shames us for experiences that are natural. It shames us for trying new things. It shames us for making decisions for ourselves. But most importantly, it encourages us to shame each other.

That is not the community that Baylor preaches. That is not the community I came to Baylor for. More than likely, it’s not the community you came to Baylor for either.

I encourage you to reflect on this and your own role in the purity culture that exists here. We can change this, and the way to do that is by speaking up for both yourself and others.

Respect the differences of those around you and withhold judgement. If you disagree with someone’s choices, that doesn’t mean you are better than they are. The only way to combat purity culture is to dismantle it from within, starting with the students.

Yes, we are at a religious institution, but we are also at college with the main purpose of learning. That includes learning how to exist in a world with others, making mistakes and acknowledging that at the end of the day, we are all the same.

Liz McRae

Baylor '23

Hi, friends! I'm Liz. I love writing (obvi 😉), reading, and basically anything with a good plot. I am passionate about justice and fairness, especially in regards to women's issues and rights. I hope to go to law school and put that passion to use. In the meantime, I am a regular contributor here with a lot of opinions and stories to share!
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