Subtitled: What to do when your alma mater is kind of embarrassing.

Taylor University was the perfect place for me to pursue my undergraduate degree in English/Writing. I lived in a tiny little dorm (I think there were maybe 18 women on my floor) in a room with a phenomenal window. I had interesting and dedicated professors like Thom Satterlee and Steve Messer and Beulah Baker. I was involved with the student newspaper, spent a summer in Spain and a semester in a film program in Los Angeles. I became friends with great people, learned how to write a good paper, had my eyes opened to the systematic injustices of racism and sexism, and found a safe place to transition from conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian to progressive, liberal, feminist Christian.

The Moon Room--my incredible dorm room at Taylor

The Moon Room–my incredible dorm room at Taylor

All in all, I am grateful for my alma mater. Grateful enough that this past year, Chalupa and I donated a small amount of money on a monthly basis. We didn’t decide to donate because of the persuasive skills of the student-caller during the pledge drive, but because Taylor is expensive, and we wanted to contribute to a fund that would help students continue their enrollment.

Taylor was making the rounds in my Facebook feed last week due to a big announcement from the Board: Taylor students are now allowed to dance!

Did I mention that Taylor is kind of conservative?

Oh, wait. I didn’t?

Let me explain to any of you who feel like you were suddenly zapped into the experience of Kevin Bacon in 1984, trying to figure out what on earth anyone could have against dancing.

Taylor does not have any official denominational affiliation. It originally started in 1846 as a Bible college for women in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It moved to the tiny town of Upland in 1893. Every student who enrolls at Taylor signs something called the Life Together Covenant. The document outlines key behavioral expectations, including: no drinking, no sex for unmarried students, no “homosexual behavior,” no pornography, no drugs, no smoking, no crude language, no vulgarity, no “immodesty of dress,” no occult practice, no backbiting, no cheating, and no social dancing.

The rules used to be even more intense, governing everything from what kind of movies a student could watch to the fact that they weren’t allowed to own playing cards or VCRs.

As things stood in 2001 when I started at the school, the rules weren’t really an issue for me. After all, some of the rules aren’t enforced (backbiting, vulgarity, crude language, etc.) on an institutional or interpersonal level. Others (immodesty of dress, for example) might get you seriously shamed by your peers, but I don’t know of the administration ever getting involved because one person thought someone else’s skirt was too short. Because I’m not gay–and because I was fine with the Christian status quo conversations about homosexuality when I was 18–that rule didn’t even raise my eyebrows, although now seeing it in that list, I am grieved deeply. (Another topic for another day, certainly.) I honestly don’t mind the fact that there is a no drinking rule for underage students–don’t most colleges have the same?

So what does it mean that Taylor just changed its rule on dancing?

Everything. And nothing.

First of all, dancing has been allowed in a lot of ways at Taylor for ages. One of the biggest events of the year, Air Band, is a choreographed dance competition between dorms. Students are allowed to dance at weddings and cultural events and in theater. Liturgical and other worship-based dancing is fine. Although I don’t see it spelled out in the LTC now, I always understood that people could also dance (and even drink) in the presence of their parents, as it was said that “the authority of the home outweighs the authority of the institution.” I always liked that phrasing and believe that it’s true. The rule, though, has always been that you can’t go out dancing, and you can’t dance on campus just because you feel like it.


Now, though, Taylor is going to start hosting official university-sanctioned dances.

For some people, like the folks who commented on Facebook, this change is a bad thing:

I do not think it is the right choice for a christian university to allow dancing. These universities choose to stand up for Christ and biblical believes and the students who choose to go to these schools are aware of this. Dancing can in fact lead to impure thoughts and with these schools trying to provide an atmosphere that minimizes those thoughts I do not believe dancing should be allowed. If you’re going to stand for something you have to draw a line and the more and more we blur lines the less we realize what we truly believe in.

and

Oh well…..that’s not the TU I remember! Not sure it’s a good thing, either……Just my opinion.

and

doesnt seem like a smart move for a Christian school…just saying

Most of the response I’ve seen from young alumni is just kind of chuckling or minor embarrassment that it has taken this long. There’s also some embarrassment to the fact that they didn’t just go ahead and get rid of the no-dancing rule altogether. Taylor isn’t exactly situated in a hotbed of dancing/clubbing culture. It’s not like the students are living with some constant temptation to go dancing off campus or on–the ones who are interested in dancing and want to do it are doing it anyway, but it’s far enough from campus (simply because there aren’t places to dance anywhere nearby) that they’re not getting caught.

I never know what to say when people ask about the rules that existed at my college.

The thing is, most people didn’t break the rules. At least not very many of them. There were plenty of people who drank or smoked or had sex with their girlfriends or boyfriends, but for the most part, we followed the general guidelines. The university attracts people who are interested in a certain style of living, and so it makes sense that so many of us were happy following the rules. Not all of us. But many of us.

The fact that the rules exist just make us sound so outdated and old fashioned. No dancing? No drinking for students who are over 21? Rules about whether or not gay students can date?

Here’s what I wonder: could universities like Taylor maintain their intentional atmosphere of Christian community without making it about rules? I’m not calling for a free-for-all. I just wonder what is the point of a bunch of rules that are based on principles that Christians can’t even agree on to begin with. And even the ones who agree don’t tend to follow the rules they believe in. Rules that essentially state “all alcohol is bad” or “homosexuality is wrong” or “dancing is sinful” are bound to do one thing: create a monolithic student body. Who wants to go to a college where everyone believes exactly the same way? It can be attractive to live in a community where certain values are agreed upon, but when that continues to get divided and divided again into smaller and smaller categories, you’re eventually going to create a community in which the only people who are comfortable are the ones who hold on to the lowest common denominator of scriptural interpretation.

Rules are helpful. Rules are good. But I do hope that in the future, Taylor doesn’t hold on to rules the way that it’s still fighting tooth and nail to hold on to this no dancing policy. It’s great that the university now allows dancing at officially-sanctioned events, but while the rule still exists, the university is still telling students who view things a little bit differently, “You’re not actually welcome here. We’ll let you in, but we think you’re wrong, and you’d better be willing to live by our rules for as long as you’re a part of our community.”

Next week I will post about how Christian institutions could create a values-based community ethos without depending on strict rules and regulations.

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