The BYU Honor Code Office and the Idea of Reasonableness

Those aware of the similarities and differences between Brigham Young University-Provo (BYU), Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-I), and Brigham Young University-Hawaii (BYU-H) have grown accustomed to knowing that while BYU may have some interesting tendencies in its culture surrounding dress, grooming, standards in the apartments, and prior aversion to caffeinated beverages (they’ve progressed on that, yay), none of their wackiness comes close to what can be seen at BYU-I. There, in Rexburg, Idaho, students are not allowed to wear shorts at all (except and only when engaging in a sport for a class) anytime of the year. Recently, photos of the difference in the clothing cheerleaders are allowed to wear at both universities have been highlighted online and in social media.

BYU’s Honor Code Office has been in the news over the last several years for a handful of problematic practices and relationships between it, the Title IX office, and the private but recently decertified (because of these practices) BYU Police. In the wake of these revelations the BYU Title IX and Honor Code offices has shifted, attempting to rebrand themselves as aware of the systemic and cultural issues that are found on campus and highlighted in recent media coverage, and some have felt that the efforts of a few in the new office are noteworthy and suggest that real change might be coming soon.

It is in this context that I present to you few excerpts from the recently revised BYU Honor Code website. At first reading these seem to be a lot more appropriate in a BYU-I context, and show a surprising lack of self awareness in the way that they present answers to faculty questions about Dress & Grooming. Does this sound like the kind of appropriate change that will actually make a difference on campus at BYU, or does it sound more like the change is leaning toward BYU-I? I’ll you decided the answer to that question. The office clearly wants faculty to include the university’s Dress & Grooming standards on their syllabus (why doesn’t the university have that as a policy?), and they not only treat the adult students at the university like irresponsible ten year old children, the new website reads like an uncomfortable exercise in guilt tripping faculty to get after the students. While, again, that does appear to be a part of BYU’s history, does this sound more like BYU or BYU-I?

1. Question: Is a student’s fashion or overall appearance really my responsibility? Isn’t that the job of the Honor Code Office? Answer: Dress and grooming are often reiterated tenets of the Honor Code. The Board of Trustees regards all members of the BYU community as representatives of the Church and the University, and they have a definite view of how such representatives should look. They ask everyone in the community to take an active role in this matter and faculty members are key figures in this community. In short, yes! It is your responsibility and everyone else’s, too.

2. Question: One of my male students has shoulder-length hair; but when he comes to class, he keeps it tucked up under a cap. I told him I wouldn’t give him credit until he got it cut. He’s protesting that I can’t do that. Can I? Answer: Faculty members certainly can! They are the stewards for everything that happens in their classroom. Of course, faculty members credibility is enhanced if they are up front about their personal support of the university’s Dress and Grooming standards, such as placing a clear statement in their syllabi, and/or making appropriate introductory comments on the first day of class.

3. Question: One of my female students has shaved her head. Do I have a responsibility here? Answer: Yes, faculty have a responsibility in this situation! A girl shaving her head, a guy dying his hair bright blue, or any other extreme fashion is not appropriate for representatives of the Church and the University.

4. Question: One of my male students wears black clothing and eye shadow to class; and his fingernails are at least half an inch long. What can I do about it? Answer: That sort of appearance is not appropriate for a BYU student, particularly a male. It is suggested that a faculty member 1) invite the student in for a confidential interview to explain the issue concerning the student’s appearance and teach a principle; or 2) if the student seems unreceptive, contact the Honor Code Office. Also, faculty may take their own action, such as prohibiting attendance at class, until the necessary adjustments are made. Of course, this would be simplified if there had already been a clear statement in the syllabus, or otherwise, regarding support of the university’s Dress and Grooming Standards.

5. Question: In my eight o’clock class, one of the guys always shows up half-asleep and with a face full of scruffy whiskers. Isn’t that a violation of dress and grooming standards? How can I help him? Answer: A male student is required to shave at least every 24 hours. Although it’s conceivable that he’s within the limit according to the letter of the law, he is certainly marginal relative to the spirit of it. Why not have a confidential visit with him to discuss it, and challenge him to do better. If he has a scruffy attitude to go along with his appearance, give the Honor Code Office a call.

6. Question: One of my female students has a tongue post. You can’t really tell until she tries to talk; then it becomes very obvious. It must be a violation of some kind. What should I do about it? Answer: The only body piercing sanctioned by BYU Dress and Grooming Standards is a maximum of one per earlobe for women. No body piercing is sanctioned for men. A tongue post is not appropriate for either gender. Arrange for a confidential interview. Tell the student how you feel about that choice, and teach a principle. The faculty member may remind the student that class attendance may be prohibited, if necessary, and the Honor Code Office is available to help.

7. Question: I’m a male faculty member, and I do a lot of my teaching in a “pit”-style classroom. The raised seating reveals some sights that are downright embarrassing. It would really help if all of my students were in compliance with Dress and Grooming Standards; but I’m very uncomfortable approaching offending female students. Can the Honor Code Office help? Answer: It is best to cover the topic adequately in the syllabus and introductory comments at the outset; then follow up with general public comments along the way. If there are still have offenders who don’t “get it,” give the Honor Code Office a call. They will take it from there.

8. Question: Some of my students come to my class on the upper campus in P.E. clothing. They say it is “BYU issue”, so it’s legal, but the shorts are well above their knees. Is that appropriate? Answer: No! Although P.E. issue is appropriate for the course or activity for which it was issued, it is not appropriate for general wear in any other academic or public area. Invite the student in for a confidential interview, point this out, and teach a principle. Let the Honor Code Office know if they can help.

9. Question: A guy in one of my classes wears sideburns clear to the bottom of his earlobes. His hair is cut above his ears and collar, but it always looks windblown. His shorts come to the knee, but he has hairy legs. And not only that, on the warmer days, he wears sandals without socks! He and I have talked about his appearance, but he claims he is in full compliance with BYU Dress and Grooming Standards. I disagree. Which one of us is right? Answer: It sounds like he has a good case. Trimmed sideburns to the bottom of the ear lobe are permitted, along with hair which is off the ear and collar. Shorts to the knee and sandals, even without socks, are allowed. No mention is made of a windblown hairstyle or hairy legs in the Honor Code.

10. Question: Although I support the BYU Honor Code, I really don’t want to get involved with the hassle of enforcing Dress and Grooming standards in my classes. How can I help without getting bogged down in the details?Answer:

– Be a personal example.
– Publish a clear statement supporting the Honor Code in your syllabus.
– Be vocally supportive in your classes.
– Call the Honor Code Office, or the Student Honor Association (SHA), if either of them could help.

P. S. Yes, I noticed that I never said anything about BYU-H except to include them in the grouping of BYU campuses (there are more, actually). Do they do anything? I assume that they are at least allowed to wear shorts.

13 Replies to “The BYU Honor Code Office and the Idea of Reasonableness”

  1. Not sure if it makes a difference, but these FAQs are actually not on the Honor Code website. This is from the Faculty Center website, and I think they’re really hokey.

    1. So semantically you are correct. I could rephrase the link to say “BYU Faculty Center website” instead, but where is this information coming from? It’s from the Honor Code Office, provided to the Faculty Center as important Q&A. Whether or not you think they’re really hokey (I don’t disagree with you), these represent a reality on BYU campus that faculty and students have to face every day. The fact is BYU Provo is going to start looking a lot more like BYU-Idaho soon.

    2. If hokey is all you make of the FAQs, you might be part of the problem. Do you see what is at stake here or is this just awkward hokiness to you?

  2. A few years back a position opened on BYU faculty opened that had been carefully crafted by one of my former professors (who has long been a mentor and colleague) – at considerable personal effort – for me to walk in as his successor.

    When the position opened, I went through something of a personal crisis. As much as I wanted to remain in academia, I did not feel I could be happy at BYU because of things like this. I also did not feel it would be fair to my children to raise them in an environment where they would be in a religious majority and would be surrounded by the attitudes that engender things like the FAQ above. I felt it would actively harm their faith to go to BYU. We had lived internationally and elsewhere in the U.S. where they understood that others could believe and look differently and be equal to us and good people.

    In the end I did not apply for the position created with me in mind. It created some friction with my mentor, who felt somewhat betrayed, but in the end it turned out to be good I wasn’t there for other reasons beyond my personal qualms.

    But I do wonder how many other people look at BYU and things like this and say, to quote Monty Python, “On second thought, let’s not go there. ’Tis a silly place.”

    1. Although it is one of the Brigham Young University campuses it was Ricks College prior to being taken in under the BYU umbrella. It has historically had a much more conservative approach to culture, dress, the academy, and religious perspective than BYU Provo does.

  3. Wait, so one website page, which you couldn’t even identify properly and isn’t necessarily even new is evidence of where the university is heading? Before commenting, perhaps you should talk to *anyone* with first-hand knowledge of current discussions in the school leadership. As the spouse of one of those leaders, I can assure you that your prognostications have no relation to current efforts and are unlikely to reflect future realities.

  4. Student Reviewer,

    For the record, are you saying that the FAQs on an official BYU page specifically created and curated for BYU faculty is actually at odds with the Honor Code office and its trajectory going forward? This would probably be news to the BYU Faculty Center, the faculty, and Uni administration. Or are you saying that what the faculty is currently being directed to do is already out of date and that the original poster is wrong to read forward from this out of date material? Any case, I think your frustration should probably be aimed at the Honor Code office or Faculty Center rather than at a reader who can only read what is offered. If you have behind the scenes info and can safely and ethically share, then share. Otherwise I think it best to take BYU official websites at their word. Also for the record, what do you make of the FAQs?

  5. Despite the BYU Honor Code proscription of “form fitting” attire, about half the female students on any given class day are wearing yoga pants. When I compare this to how students dressed 40 years ago when I was a student, it’s pretty clear that BYU is moving away from, rather than toward, BYU-Idaho.

    1. Yes, the culture of the students at the Provo campus have clearly moved away from how students were dressed 40 years ago, but that is not what is at issue. The information provided on the website represents a push by the Honor Code office and the Faculty Center to get faculty (and implicitly staff) to do more about the Honor Code. This isn’t the only thing that’s changing on campus, there is more already in other parts of campus that are currently shifting more and more toward a BYU-I model.

  6. As I read the Q&A I thought the questions would be more appropriate for PSU–Pharisee State University. In all seriousness though, these truly are hokey as the first commented pointed out. If I were faculty I’d read these, roll my eyes, and throw them in the trash. I think back to my time at BYU and I can think of only one or two of my professors who would have been so anal to actually take these seriously. But maybe I was lucky.

  7. You buried the lede! I was dumbfounded to read in the comments these are actual qs from actual BYU profs. Holy cow, the stupidity does not stop with impressionable and earnest students or cynical admins.

    Maybe I just read the OP too quickly but I thought these were HC office hypos posted to assist everyone in better understanding what is expected for BYU students. To learn these are actual qs from profs is alarming and sad.

    Thanks for the information.

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