Midriff: A Conversation about modesty on a Christian Campus

Courtsey of Creativecommon

Yasaman Kharsandi || Copy Editor 

Among the Christian community, modesty is often used to describe the way women should dress to prevent the opposite sex from stumbling. The word modesty, however, carries a spectrum of physical and emotional implications.

For sophomore social work major and Honors College student, Heather Turner, modesty is self-motivated. “I personally dress modestly to be respected and taken seriously. I don’t want people to know my butt cheeks before they know my name.”

Dress Code

Christian college campuses offer differing views of modesty within their dress codes. There is no specific dress code in the APU Student Standards of Conduct other than Clause 8.0, which states, “Inappropriate dress will not be tolerated.”

Comparatively, Biola University’s dress code states, “No spaghetti strap or tank tops, no skirts, no exposed midriffs or backs, no excessively baggy, tight or low-cut clothing.” This is applied to all students, male and female.

Liberty University, considered to be one of the more conservative Christian universities in Virginia, enforces a dress code with “class dress” and “casual dress.” Class dress includes long pants for men and long skirts/dresses and pants for women. Facial jewelry is prohibited on men, and reduced to small nose studs and earrings on women.

“We don’t want students’ appearance to be a distraction or interruption to any environment,” said Cimber Cummings, associate director of the Office of Student Leadership at Liberty University. “We encourage them to reflect Christ in all things, including their decisions with what they wear. I believe the standards we hold for both genders are fair and equally modest.”

While APU does not have a dress code, certain professors practice the freedom of enforcing their own dress codes in the classroom. Turner had a dress code in her Honors class with a female professor.

“My professor said, ‘I don’t want beach attire’, which means no thighs or shoulders or baseball caps. I was really intimidated, because at the time it was August in Azusa, so it was extremely hot,” said Turner.

Senior history major Kadie Chakerian also had an in-class experience regarding dress code with history professor, Edmund Mazza.

“It was a week into class and I was wearing a shirt covering my chest but my back was open. He took me aside and asked me to make sure it was covered next time. It was embarrassing and it was the first time I had been told that what I was wearing was inappropriate,” Chakerian said.

Chakerian has had eight classes with this professor since. Professor Mazza has  restructured the way he goes about dress code and now offers to drop one test grade if everyone abides by the dress code. Males are included in this dress code because they  cannot wear tank tops or hats.

When approached by Collide for an interview, Professor Edmund Mazza declined to comment.

What do men think?

Modesty, especially on a campus with no rules and regulations, is a self-motivated expression of personal fashion and values. While choice of dress can reflect individuality, it also has the ability to influence the sexual thoughts of others and their occurrences. In 2011, a research team at Ohio State University provided 283 students with golf score counters and asked them to press and record every time they thought about sex, food, or sleep. Research showed the average man had 19 thoughts about sex, while women had 10.

In 2009, a select group of male students from Princeton University participated in a study where they were shown images of women in bikinis and tested their reactions. When the men were shown images of women in bikinis, the brain scans showed that the region of their brain associated with tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers, lit up. One researcher said the men were “reacting to these women as if they are not fully human, as if they are objects, not people.”

While men are often targeted for objectifying women, research shows that women look at and objectify other women just as much. In another study done in 2013 by University of Nebraska Lincoln, psychologists fitted 65 college students with eye-tracking devices to test how men and women viewed images of females. They found that women had strong visual patterns suggesting they objectify other women. When they looked at both men and women’s “overall dwell timehow long they focused on each body part,” the exact same effects were found for both groups.

For junior music major and international student Hector Vega, modesty is embedded in his cultural upbringing. Vega defines modesty as “the style of clothing that shows respect to yourself and doesn’t provoke the opposite gender.” Vega’s upbringing in Mexico paved the way for culture shock when he came to the U.S. for college.  

“It was an uncomfortable distraction. In Mexico it’s harder to find women wearing short shorts,” said Vega.

Junior music major, John Christiansen, was raised in a conservative Christian home in which his parents taught him not to objectify women. In conversation about what is distracting in the classroom, Christiansen said, “It’s short-sighted to blame women for the sin of man. I believe a woman should dress modestly for the right reasons. If she feels like her relationship with God suffers because she dresses immodestly, then she should dress modestly.”

Modesty at APU

While some professors find dress codes effective, associate professor of journalism Brooke Van Dam is open to discussing modesty in other ways.

“I don’t believe you can legislate morality, if you even consider the way people dress a moral issue. I’m all for having a discussion about modesty, but I’m not sure dress code is going to facilitate that conversation,” said Van Dam.

Elaine Walton, director of the Women’s Resources Center, hears from APU’s campus about important issues and create events that seek to explore those issues in-depth.

“I would think if students find it [modesty] problematic, that might give rise to some good conversation and exploring what it means to have a dress code,” Walton said.  

Walton explained that the Women’s Resource Center promotes modesty by being good role models.

“Our goal is not to impose what we think is right, but to help every woman come to a place in their relationship with God so that their dress reflects that,” Walton said.

Modesty is also addressed through the Office of Residence Life. Sarah Brackbill, junior psychology major and Adams Hall resident advisor, acts as a role model in what she wears, while also having grace on her freshman girls who are undergoing a transition of fitting in.

“As a staff, we talked about making sure girls in Adams dress appropriately. For my hall, I put a sign that says, ‘Modest is hottest,” Brackbill said. “I have to remind myself of how I dressed in high school and give them grace. They are learning still. I tell them, ‘it’s okay to dress your body how you want, but think about the message it sends to people.’”

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