Former Mormon reveals what it's REALLY like to attend religion's ultra-strict BYU college - lifting the lid on wild 'moral code' that bans drinking and swearing... and the truth about 'celibate' students' SEX lives

Daily Mail, UK/April 28, 2024

By Rachael Summer Small

A woman, who was raised Mormon but left the church in her young adulthood, has delved into what it was like to attend a strict religious college, where campus culture and regulations were closely aligned with the teachings of the faith.

Alyssa Grenfell, 31, graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2016.

By the end of 2017, she'd left the Mormon church and moved from Utah to New York City with her husband. She now works as a content creator focusing on the realities of growing up in the church and about her decision to leave it behind.

Her alma matter, which was founded in 1875 by the second president of the church, boasts a 99 per cent Mormon student body and on-campus life is heavily dictated by a series of hyper-strict rules, banning everything from coffee and alcohol to premarital sex to male facial hair - and much, much more

The rules were enforced not only by a brigade of on-campus bishops and a BYU police force, but also by fellow students, who are explicitly encouraged to surveil their peers and proactively report any rule infractions to the authorities.

In an exhaustive YouTube video about her BYU experience, Alyssa delved into the realities of on-campus life at the ultra-strict religious university.

Alyssa also flagged that non-Mormons who choose BYU for whatever reason - cheaper tuition or sports scholarship, for instance - are also subject to the college's strict rules.

'Anyone who attends the university has to follow these very strict rules,' she stressed.

Even though it is explicitly a religious college, Alyssa emphasized they 'are accredited' and a BYU degree can definitely get you a job.

At the core of rules guiding student conduct is BYU's honor code, with infractions ruthlessly investigated and usually harshly punished by the much-feared Honor Code Office.

As the top honor code rules: Both Mormons and non-Mormons need to pass an 'ecclesiastical endorsement' from an appointed bishop once per year in order to enroll in classes - which Alyssa describes as being the 'gold standard for being the best Mormon possible.'

The 12 questions asked in the 'ecclesiastical endorsement' ranged from 'Are you striving for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior?' to 'Are there serious sins in your life that need to be resolved with priesthood authorities as part of your repentance?'

Alyssa highlighted the question, 'Do you support or promote any teachings practices or doctrine contrary to those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?'

'If you are, say, someone who supports gay marriage, that is against the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - which is the Mormon church - so you would actually have to answer "no" to that,' she explained.

She added that supporting gay marriage in any way would disqualify you from attending BYU from the outset.

'That is a really long list of moral and faith-based questions that you have to clear each hurdle if you want to get that ecclesiastic endorsement,' she said.

'It's fairly common that there are people who go to BYU who especially as they're at the university begin to question their belief in the church,' she continued.

She added that, 'if you're getting to the end of your college experience and you're starting to question your belief in the Mormon church, you would likely just lie.'

'Because if you lose your ecclesiastical endorsement, and you get kicked out of the university, you lose your degree,' she explained, regardless of how much tuition you've paid.

Another major part of the BYU honor code: Students must 'live a chaste and virtuous life including abstaining from sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman,' Alyssa recited.

'Living a chaste and virtuous life also includes abstaining from same-sex romantic behavior,' the rule further states.

In Alyssa's experience, she didn't know of a single friend at BYU who actually did have sex while unmarried. 'That's very strictly observed,' she said of the chastity directive.

'Of course it does happen. People have sex outside of marriage all over the world. But for me personally, in the hundreds of people I met, and the 10 to 20 close friends I maintained while at the university, I personally never knew a BYU student who had sex outside of marriage.'

Along with that, the law of chastity dictates being very 'prudish' with people who you're dating - including no open-mouthed kissing; and only kissing your romantic interest 'in a way you'd be comfortable kissing them in front of your parents or Jesus.'

'It's literally don't do anything besides a quick peck on the cheek or lips until your wedding night, in which case, go at it,' Alyssa described of the rule.

And, without exception, zero romantic interactions are allowed between people of the same sex.

While wording targeting 'homosexual behavior' was removed from the honor code in 2020, BYU still prohibits same-sex dating, according to a 2022 Associated Press report.

As dealing with matter of sexual assault and rape, the school's track record is abysmal.

A Pulitzer-winning investigation by The Salt Lake City Tribune uncovered multiple reports of young woman, and one young man, who found themselves suspended and otherwise punished after reporting their sexual assaults to on-campus bishops.

Curfews mandating when opposite-sex students can be in the dorms can also contribute to the an abuser-enabling on-campus culture.

As Alyssa put it, these rules plus the stringent honor code 'creates a culture of punishing people who have been abused.'

'Because, if at any point in that abuse, they were "asking for it" or they were "sinning" or they were breaking the rules, they won't want to go report a very serious and legitimate law that was broken - a crime - because of this silly BYU rule about 12 o'clock,' she said.

Same goes for drinking, or even if the girl admitted to wearing a tank top, Alyssa added.

In short, Alyssa claims that in reporting sexual assault to the university, a victim also gets punished for any rules they were deemed to be breaking in the course of the circumstances around the assault.

Next up on the honor code: 'Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, vaping, marijuana, and other substance abuse.'

'BYU is known as one of the most dry campuses in America. When I attended BYU, never even saw alcohol. You know, and I went to parties off campus, I went to parties at people's houses, I even went to parties where people you know, lights were off, people were dancing... [what] seemed like a real college party to me.

'Even at stuff like that, never any alcohol, totally dry.'  

Also on the honor code: 'Participate regularly in church services.'

'You are required to attend church, non-member or member, as a person who's attending BYU,' with 'regularly' meaning 'at least once a month,' though ideally more frequently,' explained Alyssa.

The next honor code guideline: 'Respect others, including the avoidance of profane and vulgar language.'

'If you walk around BYU you're not going to hear a damn or a hell. You're certainly not going to hear a f**k,' said Alyssa.

'There is definitely no swearing at BYU and people take this very seriously.

'Which to me is so ironic looking back: that not drinking coffee and not saying damn or a hell are the ways that you're benchmarking if you're a good person or not, or if you're a good Mormon.

'Meanwhile, the church has their war chest of $100 billion that they choose not to help nearly as many people with as they could.'

She pointed out: 'There's a church history of Joseph Smith telling a 14-year-old that he needs to marry her.'

Alyssa also pointed out how strange it is that Mormon students would be more concerned about things like not drinking coffee than the suicide rates among their gay peers and the fact that Black people weren't permitted into the priesthood until the late 1970s.

'So these rules to me are very frustrating because it's very much making these Mormons and these BYU students focus on just absolutely the wrong things when it comes to worrying about how to be a good person, worrying about how to be kind, worrying about real-life damage to real-life people,' she emphatically stated.

Next up on the honor code, Alyssa highlighted the rule stating: 'Obey the law and follow campus policies, including the CES Dress and Grooming standards.'

The BYU rulebook puts for strict guidelines and men's hair and grooming, specifying haircuts should be 'trimmed above the collar, leaving the ear uncovered,' being 'clean-shaven' and any sideburns not extending 'below the earlobe or on to the cheek.'

Alyssa added that men's hair even looking a little 'shaggy' is looked down upon.

She noted that it wasn't lost on many BYU students how Jesus had a beard and shaggy hair in typical depictions.

The restrictions on beards and unkept-looking hair kicked in in the 1960s when 'beards shifted from a sign of dignity to a sign of rebellion' further associated with hippie and drug culture, according to LDS Living.

Administrators tended to enforce appearance rules most strictly during exams; so, if a man had had a little stubble, he couldn't take the test until he'd shaved it.

For girls, only 'natural hair colors' are allowed.

Alyssa admitted that she'd 'caused quite a lot of gossip' with a small red streak of hair near the back of her neck.

When people called her out, she'd shoot back, 'Red is a natural hair color, so I think it's okay.'

During exams, she'd wear a low ponytail to conceal it from proctors.

'It's kind of human nature I think to not just want to look like everyone else, all the time,' Alyssa asserted.

More generally, for everyone, dressing 'modest in fit and style' was essential.

For women, this meant  'no tank tops or short-shorts,' but knee-length shorts and skirts were okay.

'No low-cut tops, nothing too form-fitting, as they say,' she continued of the clothing guidelines.

However, students participating in athletics can wear appropriately fitted uniforms as necessary, as with the ballroom dancing company or cheerleading team.

The final rule in the honor code states: 'Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming standards.'

What this mean in practice, said Alyssa, is that: 'BYU does legitimately have a culture of snitching within the campus.

'So you are encourage within the honor code to spy on, to encourage others, to watch others, and make sure they're following the rules.'

This culture in effect urges students to surveil other students when they're out of view of other authority figures, like the on-campus bishops, the BYU police, and the like.

For instance, if someone's roommate noticed they didn't come home the previous evening and suspects they were with another guy or girl, they can 'file a report against you for breaking the honor code, which will then initiate an investigation into that instance of a thing happening,' elaborated Alyssa.

'This is not a rare thing. I was there for four years, and I knew a lot of people,' she emphasized.

While she was at BYU, as an English major especially, Alyssa added that she did have some fairly 'liberal' professors; meanwhile, the business department was more, 'conservative.'

'Those people within those departments are all kind of vying for their own policies or their points of view to be represented within how the campus handles these types of things,' she clarified.

Then, of course, there's the university's public relations arm.

'The public relations department also is kind of keeping in mind that anytime they're making these stances … Anytime - even that there is a student who kills themselves as a result of these policies - they also are viewing it from a public relations perspective and trying to figure out how do we please almost both sides.

'How do we please the traditionalists? How do we please the nuanced liberals? … How do we continue to receive donor money? How do we keep members in the church for longer?

'How do we make the public, in our PR efforts, not make us look like we are crazy religious fundamentalists - but we are kind of the mainstream Christianity that you know and love?' Alyssa detailed.

From there, Alyssa shared a number of horror stories from BYU students who'd been called into the Honor Code Office, for various offenses - some with a legitimate basis and others that were fabrications.

She cited an Instagram account with the handle @honorcodestories, which posts horrifying stories anonymously submitted by current and former BYU students who'd had to deal with the Honor Code Office.

In one instance Alyssa highlighted, a woman who was getting married to her fiancé in one week had him 'enter her bedroom' to help her lift a heavy box amid 'slowly moving [her] belongings' out of the dorm.

She'd fractured a bone and needed his help, she added.

'Without us knowing, one of my roommates filmed us walking into my room, and she submitted it to the HCO without any context.'

The couple was then allegedly called in to Honor Code Office and 'interrogated' and threatened' - with the administrators 'sure something sexual happened in the three minutes that he was in my room.'

The day before her wedding, the head of the HCO called her and told her he planned to show up at the wedding and put a stop to it because he didn't think the pair 'were worthy' - then reiterated as much in an email the morning of their wedding day.

The woman told him to 'cease contact immediately,' but she remained 'extremely distressed and upset'  and 'sick to [her] stomach and scared' throughout her wedding - even though no one from the HCO ultimately showed up.

'This was my wedding day. Something has to change,' the post concluded.

Other posts described more false accusations as well as weeks-long investigation and months-long suspensions, jeopardizing students' graduation prospects and futures.

'I personally had friends reported to the Honor Code Office for benign experiences like that,' added Alyssa. 'Where they were just living their life,' adding that she knew of students who'd report violations out of vindictiveness as well.

Alyssa also covered BYU's 'Political Neutrality Policy,' which states in part: 'The essential functions of the university require strict institutional neutrality, integrity, and independence regarding partisan political activities, particularly because perceived partisanship is often interpreted as endorsement by the university’s sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

'The reason that they want the university to stay neutral is because obviously any stance brought on by the university is going to be reflected onto the Mormon church at large.'

Maintaining its tax-exempt status is also a major motive in BYU's appearance of political neutrality.

In terms of student demonstrations, it's against the rules at BYU to 'contradict or oppose, rather than analyze or discuss, fundamental Church doctrine or policy.'

Going beyond written policy at the university, Alyssa also touched on its 'student culture.'

Dating is 'very interesting,' Alyssa said, admitting that the 'stereotype … is very much legitimately also the truth.'

'People get married very quickly,' she continued.

She recalled that the 'fastest I ever saw people get engaged' was after two weeks of dating, and they were 'married after two months.'

Marriage is viewed very much as a 'rite of passage within Mormonism,' with unmarried people being viewed as in a 'childlike state.'

It's 'very competitive' for women, she added: 'Purely because the younger you get married, it's kind of seen as you were more hot or desirable or righteous or whatever.'

Alyssa, who got married at 23, deadpanned, 'I was kind of considered an old maid at that point, glad my husband was willing to go out on a limb for me.'

By the time she was 23, almost all her roommates and friends from BYU were married.

'Dating at BYU is so funny because it's almost like friends. Like dating is, you know, you'll go to a game night as a group date. There's tons of group dates. You'll go bowling, you'll go on a date to the library, you'll go on a scavenger hunt.'

Alyssa added that it actually made dating 'cute' in that it 'encourages creating dating, rather than "Hey let's just go to a party together," "Let's go get drinks," "Let's go get coffee."'

So there'd be a lot of 'quirky dates' as well as sprawling 'group dates,' in which there'd be 'some pairing off within those group dates.'

Going on a second date would generally be discouraged unless 'you're pretty serious about them.'

Men are 'very much encouraged to do as much asking as possible,' with some giving themselves a 'quota' of in the range of three to five first dates in a week.

For girls, 'especially really pretty girls,' it wasn't uncommon to go on three or four first dates in a single day.

'I met a girl who said that her goal was to just never buy her own food cause she would just go on dates constantly,' Alyssa recalled.

'Within the culture of getting married and trying to get married as quickly as possible, there's also this speed dating first date thing that happens a lot at BYU, that, to me, was very strange and very tiring, also.

'I went on so many first dates and it gets old after a while because you kind of talk about the same things, and it's also weird to go on a first date with somebody who you can tell isn't even that interested in you - they're just getting their little quota in, right?' she went on of her dating experience at BYU.

There's also a famous idea in Mormonism, Alyssa added, describing that any two 'righteous people, if they date, they can get married and they can make the marriage work.'

'So, there's also very much a mentality that if you are dating a worthy member of the church and you like them. you guys get along well, you can get married, and very much have a successful happy marriage.

'And it has nothing to do with true compatibility as much as if they're righteous and you're righteous and they're a good Mormon and you're a good Mormon - you're good to go!' Alyssa explained.

'There's nothing to see past that, because it's not about compatibility.'

On this thinking, Alyssa said: 'The idea of the soulmate is an illusion and it's meant to kind of keep you dating around till you really find the "right one," when really any good Mormon guy who served a mission is "the one."

'And so it creates I think a lot of unhappy marriages honestly, because that's a lie.'

She acknowledged that of course finding 'the one' in eight billion people is farfetched - but matching in 'likes and interests and personalities, that's really good advice.'

Alyssa emphasized that she knew many people who'd been divorced thanks to the church's emphasis on tying the knot as quickly as possible with any other 'righteous' Mormon.

Plus, her friends who got hitched rapidly disappeared from platonic social life in settling into their married life.

As has previously reported on, Alyssa has extensively documented the process and aftermath of leaving Mormonism on her TikTok and YouTube.

After renouncing the religion age 25, she proudly underwent a post-Mormon 'glow up that included getting a nose ring and tattoos as well as wearing a bikini for the first time at 28 years old.

In another video, she described the 'painful' process of getting married in the Mormon church, with the church controlling every aspect of the wedding, including choosing her dress for her.

She's also since come out with a book called How to Leave the Mormon Church: An Exmormon’s Guide to Rebuilding After Religion, which she recently snuck onto the shelves of BYU's library, as she documented on TikTok.

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