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Release of new purity test long overdue

By Anthony Lauriello     8/17/12 7:00pm


When I came to Rice I expected to participate in deep and intellectual discussions - conversations that would challenge me and expand my horizons. What I did not expect was that these conversations would be about how to phrase the questions in the crass, offensive and troublesome tradition known as the Rice purity test. For the uninitiated, the test is an immature game consisting of 100 questions each corresponding to a different task ranging from holding hands to improper sexual conduct with animals. New students take the test after O-Week and again after a period of time to see how many points they "lose."

Such a format does present epistemological problems. How can 100 questions determine how "pure" someone is and what does purity mean in the first place? Even ignoring these philosophical issues, how can French kissing and doing heroin equally result in the loss of one point? Could a teetotaling virgin who commits regular murders have a higher score than the average college student? It also presents practical problems: The test has the potential to divide students based off of their scores or lead to embarrassment due to past mistakes - or perhaps lack thereof. 

For these reasons my fellow Backpage editors and I were hesitant to print the purity test and, breaking with tradition, refused to do so last year. This year, however, we have changed our minds for a number of reasons. The first is that the test has positive as well as negative potential. It allows O-Week groups to learn about each other and transition from the rosy summer camp feel of O-Week to the somewhat irreverent year ahead. Unlike the orientation icebreakers, Rice University is not G-rated and many of the recreational activities that occur on campus are far more hedonistic than broomball. 

And while it is often taken in a group, students are under no obligation to share their information or to take the test in the first place. Any O-Week advisor who makes the purity test compulsory is simply bad at his or her job. Furthermore, students seem to see the test based on their preconceived outlook and mores that they bring to school. I know students who take pride in staying in the "90s" of the score and admirably sticking to their beliefs despite the sometimes ardent peer pressure of Night of Decadence and Beer Bike, and, on the other hand, I know students who see the test as a checklist. 

The second reason we decided to print the test is that O-Week groups were going to take it anyway and the current tests were in dire need of updating. Many of the old tests contained anachronisms; one question involved drive-in movie-theaters while others did not involve the numerous technologies, such as cell-phones, that now pervade our lives. 

While these issues may be chalked up as quaint, others were far more serious. The old tests clearly viewed intimate acts between those of the same sex as "less pure" than those with a different sex, and bisexuality as the "least pure" of all. Worst of all, one question involved forcible rape, docking a purity point from the rapist and victim alike. This is why I spent my Wednesday discussing at length the wording of each of the purity questions. We wanted to take out the gender and sexuality bias and make "losing purity" a consensual activity and active choice. Some of the things on our list are things one should not do, but many more are things that everyone should do as long as it is at their own pace. It is my hope, as Backpage editor, that our new test reflects this. 

The purity test is not wholesome. It is not something I want my parents to read about and certainly not my future children. This is similar to most Rice traditions, which are rarely completely family friendly. However, what makes Rice traditions truly great is not the irreverence or debauchery, but their inclusiveness. We are a university that prides itself on providing parties for both those who imbibe and those who do not. A place where Beer Bike can be enjoyed sober. A place where a virgin can have fun at NOD. It is my hope that our updated purity test will be inclusive. It is not just an immature game for Rice students, but an immature game for all Rice students. 

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