Ex-student urges repeal of BYU's honor code

She says the school's policies make Mormonism smaller than it is

The Salt Lake Tribune/August 8, 2008

Brigham Young University's honor code should be repealed and rewritten with input from people of varying opinions, a participant said Thursday at the annual Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City.

By spelling out strict grooming codes, limiting social interactions between the sexes and reducing avenues for dissent, the LDS Church-owned school is "producing a Mormonism that is smaller than Mormonism itself," Ashley Sanders, a former BYU student, said at the symposium sponsored by Sunstone magazine, an independent journal of Mormon thought. "It puts two unlike things together - spirituality and hair length, for example - and then re-enforces it to create a relationship that people think is natural and necessary."

Her English professor, she said, could enter an LDS temple with his longish hair, but was denied service at the CougarEat, a cafeteria on campus.

Sanders, who last year organized an alternative graduation to protest the school's decision to invite Vice President Dick Cheney to speak at commencement, described being ordered off the school's quad for protesting the Iraq War, while ROTC recruiters were passing out fliers and carrying weapons nearby.

"BYU will always approve something that is part of the majority culture and silence minority voices," she said. "By doing this, the school is creating a religion that values insularity and provincialism, rather than expansiveness."

BYU spokeswoman Carrie Jenkins said administrators must approve all demonstrations but added the school did allow many anti-Cheney demonstrations.

"The university does not dictate political opinion for students or faculty," Jenkins said.

However, the school's academic freedom policy strictly forbids any public speaking that "contradicts or opposes, rather than analyzes or discusses, fundamental [LDS] Church doctrine or policy; deliberately attacks or derides the Church or its general leaders."

Civil disobedience, for example, would violate the honor code because it is against the law. "That would be handled on a case-by-case basis," Jenkins said.

Caleb Proulx, who joined Sanders on the Sunstone panel, presented just such a case. He dropped out of BYU after he was arrested for peacefully protesting the Iraq War in 2003.

"I had already had several run-ins with the honor-code office," said Proulx, who now attends the University of Utah. "After I got arrested for civil disobedience, I went to the office to tell them." The man in the office asked lots of questions, Proulx recalled, and then said, "We'd appreciate it if you wouldn't talk to the press." Because Proulx had been interviewed by a newspaper reporter, the school put him on eight months probation. But he then left and shortly after served an LDS mission to Las Vegas.

"I was really bitter about how I was treated by the culture that was spawned by the honor code and the honor-code office," he said. "Here I was at BYU. This was my community of fellow Mormons who should have been acting more Christian toward me, I wasn't shrill about [my views]. I thought people would welcome a dissenting opinion. I felt rather shabbily treated by the administration and the student body."

Tristan Call, who graduates next week with a degree in anthropology and Latin American studies, organized a BYU event called "Seven Straight Nights for Gay Rights."

The honor code section about homosexuality forbids "advocacy," which it describes as "seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable." Because of that "homosexuality cannot be discussed on campus," Call said. "The code says we should be honest but what if we honestly believe same-sex unions are a good thing?"

The Sunstone Symposium continues at the Sheraton Centre in downtown Salt Lake City through Saturday.

Some conditions of BYU's

honor code:

  • In addition to normal college rules about honesty and academic integrity, BYU's honor code lays out dress and grooming standards that forbid male students from wearing sleeveless shirts and above-the-knee shorts or having beards, earrings or body-piercing or hair below the collar. Female students cannot wear anything sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing, that has slits above the knee or that is form fitting. Dresses, skirts, and shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extremes in styles and colors. They also cannot sport more than one piercing per ear and all other body piercings are unacceptable.

  • It also dictates when those of the opposite sex can visit the others' dormitory rooms; even in off-campus apartments, they are permitted in living rooms and kitchens but not in bedrooms.

  • It forbids the use of tobacco and the consumption of coffee, tea and alcohol, having the latter in one's apartment or furnishing it to others. It also prohibits the use of illegal drugs.

  • Students must attend their weekly LDS Church services and get an ecclesiastical endorsement every year from their bishops.

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