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 But the beard clause, created in the 1960s to distinguish us from radicals and hippies, is out of date.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


FRANK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I like most of your posts, but this entry seems so skewed my head is spinning. BYU's focus on appearances is irritating and unchristian, but the "you signed it" argument does hold, and your counterargument is illogical: "Of course I signed [the honor code]; I had to in order to get in ... I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that everyone who signed it fully agreed with its restrictions." Disagreeing with the terms of a contract does not justify breaking the contract; this is the same logic followed by those who exploit the working class: "Of course agreed to pay minimum wage and follow OSHA standards; I had to in order to get a business license. Not every business owner agrees with the laws, so my disagreement justifies breaking the contract and my workers." I've exaggerated for emphasis, but I hope you see my point. Keep up the good fight, Brother Brown.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the most idiotic thing I have ever read. I can't believe you would compare BYU with the Taliban. What ignorance.

YOU are the one who AGREED to shave your face when you entered the school. You gave your word and signed your name and then YOU broke the rule.

Regardless of whether it's a good rule or a bad rule the fact that you would compare your obligation to shave with a radical terrorist organization is about the most inane thing I've ever heard.

Jason Brown said...

Dear Anonymous 2,

If that is your real name! It sure makes me sad when people like you dehumanize bloggers and lash out at things you dont agree with. I blog to learn from others, not to be ridiculed.

Your tone reminds me of a roommate of mine at BYU who reported me to the honor code tribunal instead of actually talking to me face to face. While BYU may not breed physically violent radicals, it sure breeds a whole heck of alot of psychologically violent radicals. And while my post was written at a time of great frustration and may contain hyperbole, I sure hope that you dont talk to real people the way you talked to me.

Good luck brother or sister.

ty said...

I've never commented on a post before. When I was entering my google username and password I believed that my name would show up. My mistake. My name is Tyler Brown.

Nothing in my response dehumanized you at all. I'm curious why you would even use that word to describe my tone.

So, now that I've identified myself, I suppose I can no longer be compared with this roommate of yours. I also don't like it when people hide behind anonymity and that wasn't my intent.

And no, I can't say that I've ever had occasion to speak to someone like that in real life. As I mentioned in my response, this post was the most inane and ignorant commentary I've ever read, hyperbole or no.

Rest assured, though, that were I to hear someone speak this way in casual conversation that I would be firm in my denouncement.

Having said that, the harshest words I used were idiotic, ignorant, and inane. Upon further review I am sorry for the word idiotic as I can see how that is an inflammatory word. I stand by the other words I used, though.

Upon further review I noticed that your post was written 3 years ago and my only hope is that somewhere along the road in the last several years you've reached a place where you find it more difficult to find similarities with a voluntary shaving rule and dangerous terrorists.

barefoot anthropology said...


Nice to meet you. Now the conversation can begin. Though I don't to dwell on it too much. The post was a few years ago, but I must say, I disagree as strongly today as I did then with the parts of the honor code that equate physical appearance with righteousness.

I truly believe that enforcing the honor code through a system of peer-denouncement does not foster a true conviction to the spirit of the Gospel, but a fear of retribution. It also shifts the focus of our morality away from how we act in the world to how we appear.

I think you and others are right to criticize me for signing the honor code and then breaking it. There is a degree of integrity in keeping one's word, even in a crazy thing like the honor code. But once I was living at BYU it became clear to me that my integrity was being violated by the honor code itself. Now you can disagree with that, but that is sincerely how I feel about an enforced code of honor (an oxymoron). Just as civil disobedience requires us to break laws that are unjust, I believe that certain parts of the BYU honor code need to be challenged. There is nothing immoral about challenging a current practice. That is how progress is made. The kind of visceral denouncement that you exhibited, seems typical of defenders of a dogma that needs challenging, or at the very least discussion.

Good luck in your endeavors,

Jason B