Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Liberate your Face

I write as a BYU student; one who loves the place where he studies and the people who surround him. But I grow weary of the consequences of a pervading self-righteousness that emphasizes image over substance. I talk of course of the Honor Code; and more specifically, one of its sections which I will refer to as the beard clause. The Honor Code is a troublesome document, because it couples standards of character with social standards of appearance. The latter, equates Honor with appearance, an ideal which stands in the way of our progress as a people. For the some two years I have attended this university I have been kicked out of the LRC in the library over five times. Why you ask? For the simple reason that I don’t like to shave my face or cut my hair as often as the aforementioned document prescribes. Once, the police were even called, as witnesses may recall, because I had committed the most heinous of acts; I refused to leave after an LRC employee asked me to.

Our campus, as you may have noticed, is drenched in Honor Code propaganda which decries the abominations of facial hair and shaggy hair. One video that is frequently played in the library commons portrays a scruffy young man who is desperately lonely. A self-propelled razor comes out of nowhere and shaves his scruffy face, the root of all evil in his life. Then, magically, a beautiful, white, and obviously righteous young lady catches a glimpse of his shiny face and they are happily joined by hearts and songbirds. This social norm, arbitrary as it is, is portrayed as the key to success and happiness.

I am not arguing that the Honor Code should be done away with; true and sincere honor is what defines us as a people. But the beard clause, created in the 1960s to distinguish us from radicals and hippies, is out of date. Just as women can now wear pants, and sandals can be worn without socks—both very socially conditioned norms—facial hair and the length of a male’s locks are arbitrary markers of our affection for conservative culture. The “you signed it” logic just does not hold. Of course I signed it; I had to in order to get in. But I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that everyone who signed it fully agreed with its restrictions. These are not immutable laws written by the finger of God in stone, they are flexible social norms; and as history has shown, they evolve.

What is the point of denying me use of the library computers, humiliating me in front of my peers? Do they think that makes me want to run home and grab a razor or some scissors? No, it makes me angry and loath the restriction even more. Thus, the question I pose to us all is where do we draw the line between persuasion and coercion? D/C 121:41says “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (my emphasis). What powers then are we maintaining by enforcing the appearance standards of the Honor Code by force? If there is no place for descent in our community there is no room for growth. When we enforce our morality in secular ways we are no better than a Taliban, or a lynch mob. Has BYU become a bastion of Mormon fascism? A Mormon Taliban? Is intolerance our creed? As a potent example, I remember someone seriously suggesting to Cecil Samuelson at a Q and A that we begin to enforce the Honor Code with police! This is exactly my point! Elements of character such as cheating on tests, and plagiarism, are easily enforceable because they have direct consequences on our characters, and most schools have these types of requirements written into their respective Codes of Honor; but mixing arbitrary social norms with moral integrity misses the point of Honor and falls squarely on the side of fascism.

The time has come to strike the beard clause from the Honor Code!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

At what point did our University turn into an Orwellian nightmare?
It was a typical day of attending classes, and I was in the LRC writing a paper before I headed off to a weekly BYU club meeting. I was minding my own business when a rather ominous LRC employee stooped down at me, eyes on the floor, mumbling what appeared to be a request to leave the premises, for I had committed the all too common but grievous sin of allowing the hair on my face to grow a little too long. After a clarification I informed the young man that I refused to leave, seeing as I only had about half an hour before the meeting, and my stubble was only about two days old anyways. The typical discussion ensued, where the words "you signed it" came up several times. I was firm in my decision; I refused to subject myself to this ludicrous clause in the honor code. Not to be defeated the young man told me he was going to call the police. THE HONOR CODE POLICE!

Before I go on with the story, I seem to remember a certain Q and A, where a zealous young man asked President Samuelson if the honor code could be enforced, and after this author yelled at the top of his lungs, "are you suggesting an honor code police?!" President Samuelson responded very professionally, assuring me that surely the clean cut student did not mean that at all. President Samuelson's response was indicative of the wisdom of someone of his experience. He said that the honor code should not be enforced because that would defeat the purpose of it. The honor code is just that, a code of personal honor, not to be enforced by a secret police, a Mormon Taliban.

Anyways back to the story, as I said, the young LRC employee was seriously threatening to call the police on me for not shaving. The amazing part is that they actually showed up, and after escorting me out of the LRC, I received the third degree from a companionship of real police officers (they had guns and everything). I couldn't help naming off, in my mind, the handful of religious figures in the history of our own church, not to mention practically all artists' renderings of Jesus Christ himself who sported the handsome facial hair being demonized here. I received an official warning from the Provo Police department and was told that if IT ever happened again I could go to jail for six months. Imagine the laughter that would arouse in jail! What are you in for? Well actually I forgot to shave one time too many over there at BYU, ya well they take appearance very seriously. The police calmly explained that one could obtain a beard card by having a skin condition, or a cultural one I suppose. What does that say about beards? They are for the "other," the sick people, if one needs a special permission slip to wear one then one automatically interprets anyone on campus as an outsider, one who does not belong or know the rules. This is severely distressing to me. If we are judging people solely based on their appearance, what will come next, the number of LDS pop-films in their collection? I left the ordeal furious; I felt violated, harassed, only at BYU could someone have the cops called on them for not shaving! Our emphasis on honor has been misplaced and those of us who don't fit the BYU mold are suffering the brunt of the discrimination, which is exactly what it is!
The purpose of the honor code is to uphold the moral standards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the core of our convictions as Christians. The problem with legislating appearance within the frames of an honor code is that it then becomes a measure of righteousness to those who choose to conform to contemporary conservative fashions, however fickle and fluid they may be. Many people have said to me well if you want to grow a beard why did you come here? I came here to be with my people! I am LDS. I came here to make the spirit an essential part of my liberal education. Are we not, as LDS people trying to perfect the saints? If we impose an arbitrary system of dress and grooming standards on those that come here, are we not saying something about the type of Mormons we want to feel at home here? President Wilkinson's decision to outlaw facial hair in early 1960's came as violent reaction against the vibrant youth culture that was developing in opposition to the conservative establishment of the times, a culture that has since died out and the stigma of beards has long since past. The time has come that the Beard Clause be removed from the Honor Code, beard lovers of BYU UNITE!

Winston Smith,
BYU Anarchist and beard lover