Fundamentalist U & Me: Kurt Morris

Welcome to our latest edition of Fundamentalist U & Me, our occasional series of memory and reflection from people who attended evangelical colleges and universities. [Click here to see all the entries.] The history I recounted in Fundamentalist U only told one part of the complicated story of evangelical higher education. Depending on the person, the school, and the decade, going to an evangelical college has been very different for different people.

This time, we are talking with Kurt Morris, a mental health advocate, writer, storyteller, and speaker in Boston. Morris attended Taylor University from 1997 to 2001 and has a masters in Library Science from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a masters in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.Kurt Morris

ILYBYGTH: How did you decide on Taylor? What were your other options? Did your family pressure you to go to an evangelical college?

I never really wanted to go to college but didn’t know what else to do with my life and my parents pushed the idea of how important it is to get a college education. I went to Taylor because I was too scared to go anywhere else. I dealt with a lot of anxiety as a teen (and still do to some extent) and the idea of going to school where I wouldn’t know anyone was terrifying to me. Especially a big state school. My sister went to Taylor and so I knew that I would at least know her and her friends. Also, my parents agreed to pay for college if I went to a Christian college, but not if I went to a non-Christian college.

ILYBYGTH: Do you think your college experience deepened your faith? Do you still feel connected to your alma mater? What was the most powerful religious part of your college experience?

I don’t think my college experience necessarily deepened my faith, nor did it make it weaker. It just kind of was. I can’t think of any powerfully religious part of my experience beyond evening floor prayers and chapels. I feel slightly connected to my alma mater, mainly because I’m part of a Facebook group of alumni who are quite liberal.

ILYBYGTH: Would you/did you send your kids to an evangelical college? If so, why, and if not, why not?

I don’t have kids and don’t know if I will, but I’d let them make their own decision on where to attend college. However, given that my partner and I aren’t Christians, it would be rather odd if our children did want to attend an evangelical college.

ILYBYGTH: Do you still support your alma mater, financially or otherwise? If so, how and why, and if not, why not?

I don’t support my alma mater in any way. I never have and never will. I haven’t kept them in the loop as far as my contact info so I haven’t received any solicitations in probably ten years or more. As I’m not a Christian and as I didn’t really enjoy my experience there I don’t see any reason to support them.

ILYBYGTH: If you’ve had experience in both evangelical and non-evangelical institutions of higher education, what have you found to be the biggest differences? The biggest similarities?

I went to state schools for my graduate degrees and loved them. When I went to the first one I still considered myself a Christian (although I was slowly falling away from the evangelical movement in which I was raised) and when I went to the second grad program I wasn’t a Christian. It was great to be around diverse groups of people with open minds. Going to an evangelical college, especially one like Taylor that is in a rural setting, can place you in a bubble.

I’d say beyond the basic structure (both have buildings, classes, professors, homework, projects) there were few similarities. At Taylor we had rules about when men and women could be in one another’s rooms. You couldn’t live off campus until your senior year. You couldn’t drink, do drugs, or smoke. People often had issues if you cussed or didn’t go to church or chapel.

The classes at Taylor, while they provided a good foundation in history, were never intellectually challenging. I never felt like I had to really dig and question my beliefs like I did in my grad programs. Things definitely skewed conservative at Taylor while they skewed incredibly liberal for my grad programs.

ILYBYGTH: If you studied science at your evangelical college, did you feel like it was particularly “Christian?” How so? Did you wonder at the time if it was similar to what you might learn at a non-evangelical college? Have you wondered since?

I only took a couple general education requirements for my science classes. One was environmental science and one was geography, which had a lot to do with geology. I didn’t feel like they were particularly Christian. I imagine the classes at a non-evangelical college would be somewhat similar as far as subject matter but it’s not something I’ve thought about.

ILYBYGTH: Was your social life at your evangelical college similar to the college stereotype (partying, “hooking up,” drinking, etc.) we see in mainstream media? If not, how was it different? Do you think your social experience would have been much different if you went to a secular institution?

Ha ha ha! It was definitely not similar. I was a pretty straight-laced kid in college so I wasn’t really interested in partying anyway. I partied much more in my graduate programs although even that was slightly more reserved than what one sees in the media. At Taylor I spent a lot of time going to concerts in nearby college towns and being into music. Some people drank at those shows but I wasn’t interested in drinking anyway so it wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m not really sure if my situation would’ve been different at a secular institution. I might’ve just latched on to a church and spent most of my time with those folks. I find it hard to imagine I would’ve partied and hooked up with people when I was college-aged, even at a state school. I was a pretty insecure, depressed, anxious kid.

ILYBYGTH: In your experience, was the “Christian” part of your college experience a prominent part? In other words, would someone from a secular college notice differences right away if she or he visited your school?

I think someone from a secular college definitely would’ve noticed a difference. In fact, the few times my friends who went to the nearby state school came to visit they thought the place was weird. The vernacular used and the rules were so foreign to them. And these people were Christians, too!

ILYBYGTH: Did you feel political pressure at school? That is, did you feel like the school environment tipped in a politically conservative direction? Did you feel free to form your own opinions about the news? Were you encouraged or discouraged from doing so?

Taylor definitely skewed politically conservative. I felt I could form my own opinions about the news. I was pretty liberal as far as political interests go—I was reading Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn if that says anything. I picked them up on my own after hearing about them through interviews with punk bands I listened to. I’m sure the school would’ve loved to have us all have the same opinions on political issues, but I didn’t care. That said, I certainly skewed conservative on a number of social issues: gay marriage, abortion, etc. I still felt those were bad things but no longer feel that way.

ILYBYGTH: What do you think the future holds for evangelical higher education? What are the main problems looming for evangelical schools? What advantages do they have over other types of colleges?

I think as Church membership declines and more young people come out as non-believers (as statistics show is happening) some schools will have a difficult time staying open. I’m sure there will be some mergers and closings. Still, I don’t think we’re going to see the end of evangelical colleges in our lifetimes. One thing they certainly provide is a safe setting for believers. Evangelical colleges are bubbles where one can theoretically grow in one’s faith and not feel threatened. That’s a very comforting proposition (and somewhat the reason I attended Taylor) so I think as long as there are people who feel threatened by the secular world, there will be a place for evangelical schools.

Thanks, Kurt!

Did YOU attend an evangelical college? Are you willing to share your experiences? If so, please get in touch with Adam at the ILYBYGTH editorial desk at alaats@binghamton.edu

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