Stop the Hostage Crisis in Campus Culture Wars

It can be difficult to know what to do on America’s college campuses. Recent cases from Baylor and Duke lead to some difficult questions: Do conservative Christian colleges have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ students? Do liberal schools have a right to discriminate against conservative Christian ones? In all these culture-war tiffs, one fact tends to get lost. Namely, students should not be the ones paying the price for culture-war hostilities.

Houston chronicle Rice LGBTQ

Even if we agree with them, should we be making students fight our battles?

First, a little background: At the recent Rice/Baylor football game, Rice’s band put on a gay-stravaganza to protest Baylor’s anti-LGBTQ student policies. Baylor had recently refused to recognize a campus LGBTQ student group.

Meanwhile, Duke’s student government voted to de-recognize Young Life, an evangelical Christian group. Why? Because Young Life will not allow LGBTQ students to be leaders or volunteers.

We can agree or disagree with the pro- or anti-LGBTQ policies at play. Me, I side with the LGBTQ students—I support efforts to eliminate anti-LGBTQ discrimination. But it’s not really as cut-and-dried a debate as some of my progressive friends seem to think. For example, I also think religious colleges should be free to set policies that accord with their religious views. And I think religious students should have maximum freedom to do the same, wherever they go to college.

While we try to figure out a way to square this circle—a way to allow religious students to express their religion without hurting the right of LGBTQ students to feel included and welcomed—why don’t we consider a tweak of our campus culture-war playbook? Consider a plea for something that should be obvious but seems to get lost in the shuffle?

Here it is: When colleges fight about these issues, why don’t we all agree to keep students out of the firing line? Why don’t we agree to give students maximum ability to experiment with different ideas and identities, instead of punishing them for advocating ideas that are near and dear to them?

Here’s what it could look like in practice: Instead of focusing on kicking off this student group or that student group, ALL student groups could be required to have a faculty advisor. The advisor could represent the student-group’s interests with the school administration. In principle, ALL student groups would be recognized, even if the school did not endorse their ideologies or theologies. It would take a lot to have a student-group de-recognized. The faculty senate—or whatever body represented faculty interests—would have to be agree that the group represented a harm to the university community, not just a disagreement with prevailing policy.

In this set-up, Duke’s student government could not simply vote out a Christian group it didn’t like. Baylor’s administration would be prodded to allow LGBTQ students to organize. It wouldn’t stop the arguments about student groups, but it would make it less likely for students to be penalized for caring about the world around them. It would turn faculty members and administrators into the ones doing the fighting and make it less likely for students to be directly embroiled in bruising culture-war battles.

It would encourage—not discourage—smart, engaged students to get together to make their school and world a better place. And isn’t that what college is supposed to do?

Razzing Christian Athletes

The tradition continues. At yesterday’s Rice/Baylor football game, Rice’s band poked one of Baylor’s culture-war soft spots. Will it do any damage?

Houston chronicle Rice LGBTQ

Take that, conservative Christianity!

It’s not the first time. Back in the 1920s, when Des Moines University in Iowa declared its allegiance to the fundamentalist movement, its football foes used to taunt the Des Moines team with chants of

Darwin! Darwin! Darwin!

Now, the Rice band has apparently updated that anti-fundamentalist tactic for the twenty-first century. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Rice band

played pro-LGBTQ song “YMCA” by the Village People as dozens of students and alumni rushed the field with rainbow flags at its football game against Baylor University on Saturday night.

The Rice band was protesting against Baylor’s decision to withhold official recognition for a student LGBTQ group.

Did it work? Well, not on the gridiron. Baylor trounced the Owls 21-13. In the long run, however, I wonder if increasing pressure on LGBTQ issues will force Baylor to change its tune.