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PARADIGM SHIFT

If you’ve spent much time on a Christian-college campus, "ring by spring" is a familiar term to you. It describes the pressure students feel to find a mate and commit to marriage before graduation. Some describe ring by spring as a joke used to tease happy young couples who become engaged over Christmas Break, while others may dwell upon and question their own relationship status, which could have a significant impact upon their college experience.

"The fact that we rarely celebrate singlehood
can be damaging to everyone... [it] can prevent students
from embracing the people they are called to be."

Recent research into the ring-by-spring culture indicates that some students – mostly women – do, in fact, internalize the pressure associated with finding a partner before commencement. In surveys from fall 2014 and fall 2015, 67 percent of students said they feel at least some pressure to marry. And of the 171 traditional undergraduates surveyed, 82 percent were women. While there are many social dynamics worthy of further exploration in this statistic alone, these findings suggest that something on Christian college camp uses creates additional stress for students, especially for young women.

While very few students – an estimated 10 percent – who actually do graduate get engaged during senior year, the conventional narrative of college-student success includes pairing up. Hence, some students feel discouraged at failing to find a lifetime partner. But our job as a university is to graduate accomplished adults who are equipped to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity. This means tackling the ring-by-spring culture issue head-on.

Faculty and staff have varying opportunities for engagement with students when it comes to personal beliefs about romantic relationships, love and marriage. However, we as a Christian community should acknowledge the vocations to which God calls us. For some, this may mean marriage at 22; for others, it may mean moving or traveling; for still others, it may mean the development of a career or commitment to a graduate program.

While many Christians do encourage students to explore all options, we might also remind students that God does not call everyone to marry – that singlehood is also a calling, and is a valuable time for personal, professional and spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul writes, "[E]ach has a particular gift from God; one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am" (1 Corin­thians 7:7-8). The fact that we rarely celebrate singlehood can be damaging to everyone in society, including our students, just as the invisibility of other non-normative cultures and identities can prevent students from embracing the people they are called to be.

Christian colleges and universities are places for growth. Indeed, Whitworth boasts a mind-and-heart education that both encourages academic knowledge and hopes to inspire our students to pursue their God-given talents and passions. As we study ring by spring and seek to learn more about student experiences, we can develop more programs aimed at promoting healthy relationships for our students – relationships that inspire them to seek out their very own vocational callings.

George's research was featured in the October 2016 issue of Christianity Today. Assistant Professor of English Nicole Sheets interviewed George for the article; click here for a link to this piece.