In light of recent news headlining universities found in violation of federal laws prohibiting acts of hazing, it seems fitting to ask what the Christian response to such “traditions” should be.
As individuals, we were made for community. Even the most independent person longs to be cared for and desires to care about someone else. We were created with an innate need to be a part of something larger than only ourselves. University environments hold ample opportunities for students to find a sense of connection and belonging within living areas, small groups, classes, clubs, athletic teams…the list could go on and on. At Multnomah, a significant commonality is our commitment to Christ. With that as our starting point, we commit to investing more deeply into one another’s lives. This year’s chapel theme, ‘Love God, Love People,’ is fitting given our emphasis on healthy community. After all, how can community be developed if not on a foundation of love?
Traditions which may have originated with the intent of encouraging belonging can easily turn into acts that harm the community they were intended to build. Many university communities have long-standing traditions of fun activities used to welcome new members or to celebrate social milestones. But traditions such as taking newly-engaged couples through a gauntlet of public activities; waking up newly-selected Resident Assistants at 4 a.m. to make them dress in crazy outfits that they’re required to wear all day; or pressuring student residents to participate in specific bonding activities due to their floor membership all have the high potential for creating harm — despite their good intentions.
Healthy community traditions are an important way for participants to contribute to a sense of belonging and common purpose, and the university fully supports them. But traditions cross the line if participation is forced, or if there’s an implication that the only way someone can belong to a group or gain certain standing in the community is if they engage in specific activities. Traditions should never divide or exclude; rather, they should serve to deepen connections between community members. As Multnomah University seeks to foster a community that loves God and loves people, we commit to creating events and developing traditions that are inclusive, uplifting and beneficial to all.
This post was written by Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Kim Stave.