BYU needs to change its honor code, and the way its honor code is enforced.
So-called pundits, myself included, have hammered that point in the past, but now students and athletes, current and former, are speaking out about it, some of them, anyway. It’s not a handful of radicals and revolutionaries who hate the school and want to see its demise.
On the contrary, it’s people who love the school and yearn for its success.
And it’s not a general call for a lowering of the standard. It’s one of making it more human, more effective and useful and helpful in the lives of those who are trying — and sometimes failing — to comply with it.
When The Salt Lake Tribune ran a recent story about a BYU police officer tracking down private information about students from other police departments and passing it along to school officials, including the Honor Code Office, a number of former Cougar athletes took to social media, showing their disapproval. Some of those specific mentions were reported and highlighted in a separate subsequent Tribune story.
They see the problems with the code, acknowledge them, some have experienced them and want the negative aspects of harsh punishments to be reformed. Over the past week, I’ve spoken with numerous BYU students and athletes who have troubling stories to tell about the way code enforcement affected them and their classmates and teammates.
One former athlete said when he made a mistake, breaking one of the core tenets of the code as it pertains to disallowing premarital sex, he went to his bishop to confess his sin and repent. That bishop, as is the charge of every Latter-day Saint bishop, kept the situation confidential, working privately with the athlete, helping him along his way. The bishop did not report him to the school’s Honor Code Office, and no extra penalty was applied.
The same week, one of that athlete’s teammates went to his bishop with nearly identical transgressions. His bishop pushed him toward the Honor Code Office, and he was kicked out of school.
“When that happened,” the first athlete said, “what do you think the others on the team thought about it? What do you think they did? They clammed up and kept their mistakes to themselves until after they graduated.”
That’s the case with more than a few students at BYU, real believers who postpone their repentance process, as outlined by their faith, at least the confession part of it, because they don’t want to risk their standing at the school by coming completely clean. Any system that causes that delay should be altered to actually benefit those who voluntarily seek God’s mercy and approval and look for authentic help from an ecclesiastical leader who is otherwise supposed to keep such situations confidential.
Michael Alisa, a former BYU running back and a returned missionary for his church, is eager to see improvements at his alma mater.
“I love BYU, what it represents, the idea of what it could be,” he said. “That includes the honor code. For BYU to be that kind of special place, where students and athletes can live and grow, the honor code should be that — a code of honor that allows people to make mistakes, learn and progress without the fear of getting kicked out.
“When the honor code is too punitive, it’s not Christian. Everyone’s human. If a mistake is made, let students work with their ecclesiastical leader — a Mormon bishop, a pastor, a priest — to get through it. The idea shouldn’t be guilt and fear. It should be love and progression.”
It should be what it is for the greater body of members in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kill the extra layer of penalty at BYU, the threat of the extra layer, a kind of religious bullying that often raises fear and robs students and student-athletes of increased faith at a time when they really need it.
I talked to one bishop at the school who said in his entire tenure he only reported one student to the Honor Code Office. “I handled all the others myself, helping the individual make his mistakes right with God, and to move on in a productive spiritual manner,” he said. The one he did report was the case of a predator who was purposely hurting other people.
It’s worth noting that there are some students and athletes who make a mockery of what BYU stands for, who come to the school never intending to follow its basic rules. Those individuals could become, in certain rare circumstances, unendorsed. Or they could be influenced for good by those around them.
As for the dress and grooming standard at BYU, it is antiquated, born out of a bygone beatnik era in which long hair and beards, seen through a lens of paranoia, were considered menacing signs of unrighteous rebellion. Continuing such a standard now is nothing short of silly. It’s shallow, meaningless and superfluous. Even worse, it’s counterproductive for a church seeking to gain the attention and faith of an international audience, one of many different cultures, a church that sees itself as global.
Furthermore, how many times has it been pointed out that neither Brigham Young, nor Jesus himself, would have been allowed to attend BYU on account of their grooming and styling choices? They straightaway would be blocked from entry.
It impresses nobody that the entire student body at BYU is forced to take on the appearance of a 1950s family television show. One Cougar football player, a name many would recognize, told me he was informed by coaches that he had to shave his facial growth in the locker room during halftime of a game.
BYU’s powers would do themselves, the school and the church that owns and runs it a favor by listening to those who love the school and the church who are calling out for change, for thoughtful improvements. Calling for everyone at the school to be less exclusive and more inclusive, less punitive and more loving, less judgmental and more Christian, less of a police state and more of a faith-driven paradise.
Nobody’s calling for BYU to be of the world, rather for it just to be rocksteady in it — because its students, its athletes, its faculty, its administrators are, without exception, in the world. They’re human, with all the weaknesses that come with that condition, whether those in charge want to acknowledge the fact or not.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.