By: Nicole Miller
Walking across BYU campus, people can tell there is something different about the students here than at other universities. Shorts and skirts are a little longer, midriffs covered, faces clean-shaven and fashion styles and trends are a more conservative tone.
A partial explanation for this obvious difference can be attributed to the religious beliefs and standards of the students, but many students learn to abide by a higher standard of dress and grooming embedded in the Honor Code they sign prior to coming to BYU.
“We all love the environment we have here,” said Steve Baker, director of the Honor Code Office. “Part of the reason it exists is due to the fact that so many are trying to live up to the standards of the Honor Code; the standards we have all agreed to live by. Of course dress and grooming standards are a part of the Honor Code and therefore also contribute to the great learning environment here at BYU.”
The Honor Code Office does not run around trying to find violations of the dress and grooming standards, Baker said. Instead they try to make people aware of the standards and help them live them. “Students need to do their part, and it’s the university’s obligation to make expectations clear,” Baker said. “President Samuelson has been very clear in his support of the Honor Code, including the dress and grooming standards. He has clearly explained the expectations of the university for faculty, staff and students.”
Baker said the administration, faculty, staff and students work together to promote the dress and grooming standards. He said the idea of the honor code is that each of us will voluntarily live it out of a sense of personal integrity to honor personal commitments. “The Honor Code is something we all sign and agree to do, and it is truly a community effort to have it work,” he said.
Baker said the role of the staff in the Honor Code office is to encourage everyone on campus to live the dress and grooming standards. “First look to yourself and do your very best to follow the dress and grooming standards. Then, we can help others to do the same by setting an example and, if appropriate, being non-confrontational in encouraging others,” he said. “We should always be nice about it.”
Baker said he hopes students will encourage each other to uphold the dress and grooming standards but avoid judging others. “All in all I think the students do a pretty good job,” he said.
Taking a step above following the Honor Code, some students take an active role in promoting it. Andrew Butterfield, 23, a junior from Dallas, Ore., majoring in linguistics, is the president of the Student Honor Association [SHA]. Butterfield said while the Honor Code Office is in charge of the discipline area of the Honor Code, SHA focuses on promoting Honor Code principles through a variety of activities.
One of the largest events SHA uses to reach out to students is an hour-long multimedia theatrical presentation at the New Student and Freshmen Orientation. “We like to be dynamic and address students in a way that they’ll remember it,” Butterfield said. “They’re memorable, like the song ‘That’s Against the Honor Code,’ by the Angels.”
SHA also puts on firesides for student and family wards. Through their talks and choral musical numbers, they promote the gospel principles that are embodied in the Honor Code, which are similar to the standards in the “For the Strength for Youth” pamphlets. Butterfield said they run the firesides like a tight ship – memorizing talks, with songs to correlate with the talks. “We cater to the desire of the bishops,” Butterfield said. “They ask us to address certain issues.”
He said they usually do one fireside each month and sometimes two or three. “A lot of bishops don’t know who we are,” Baker said. SHA tries to work with the fireside co-chairs to take some of the burden off the bishop, he said.
SHA also promotes the Honor Code through posters with catchy slogans, booths with giveaways, an outreach committee and roundtable discussion with BYU athletic teams to discuss the Honor Code and how it benefits each team. “The purpose is to help students remember the commitments they’ve made,” Butterfield said.
Dress and grooming standards are often the focus of SHA campaigns.
“Dress and grooming is the easiest for us to address because it is the most obvious,” Butterfield said. “You can see it.”
Jonathan Brooks, 23, a junior from Pampa, Texas, majoring in urban planning, said, “It’s more obvious when guys break the dress and grooming standards, especially grooming because there are simple things to break it. With girls – they have to dress inappropriately.”
While easy to address, Baker said only a small percentage of reported honor code violations are related to the dress and grooming standards. “Not many dress and grooming issues are brought to our attention,” he said.
Butterfield said the solution is just a simple reminder. “I don’t think that when a student is in noncompliance that it’s intentional,” he said. “For the most part we become complacent or just forget.
“I don’t remember anyone ever having so much a problem with the dressing and grooming standards that they had to leave the university.”
When violations occur
When students do violate any portion of the honor code, a report can be made to the Honor Code office as needed. “When someone is reported for dress and grooming, we try to talk with the student involved to clarify and to answer questions about the standards,” Baker said.
Baker approaches the dress and grooming violations in a discussion form, seeing it as an opportunity to educate and then solicit the support of the student to keep the standard. If it’s the first time a student has been reported for violating the honor code, he or she will generally receive a letter from the Honor Code office. If the student has been reported a couple of times or there are additional circumstances, Baker said he will talk to them.
Butterfield said the honor code was crafted to be general and students have various interpretations of it. “Every interpretation of what’s revealing and what’s not, what’s okay and what isn’t – will be different among students because of the background they come from,” he said.
Students at BYU come from all types of families; long-time members of the Church, more active, less active, converts and members of other faiths.
“BYU is diverse in that way,” Butterfield said.
Because of students’ diverse interpretations of the dress and grooming standards, some students might not even realize their clothing or grooming habits violate the Honor Code. One popular fashion trend that violates the dress and grooming standards, Butterfield terms “the deconstructionalist look.” He described it as holes in jeans and fringe on the sleeves. “It’s a look becoming more prevalent in society at large,” he said.
So what’s the solution?
“We all need to work on it together,” Baker said. He said students should encourage their friends, staff can encourage those they come in contact with, and faculty can encourage students in their classes. Baker said the university is not trying to force people to comply with the dress and grooming standards. His philosophy about the dress and grooming standards is that everyone know and understand what the expectation is and then regulate themselves. “People are responsible to govern themselves,” he said.
Baker said the university relies on the support of BYU faculty, staff and students to uphold the dress and grooming standards.
“It has been very effective when faculty and student employers clearly set forth their feelings and expectation regarding the dress and grooming standards and the Honor Code right from the beginning of class or the beginning of employment,” he said. “Letting people know your expectations up front in a kind, Christ-like and educational way seems to be helpful.”
From the honor code, students can learn that principles and rules that govern action help us to be happier and more successful, Baker said. “The honor code is a tool unique to our university that can help them in their future.”
Answers to questions
Students can come to the Honor Code office with questions or issues about the Honor Code. Baker said he would hope students understand that the Honor Code is not really a negotiable document, but rather it is a set of standards approved by the Board of Trustees, which is based upon gospel principles and a desire for all of us to be effective ambassadors for the university and the church.
There isn’t a formal process to change the honor code, Baker said.
“It’s a living document looked at regularly by BYU administrators and, when needed, by the Board of Trustees,” he said.
Baker said BYU’s dress and grooming standards philosophically may be somewhat like the standards missionaries are asked to live by.
“While on a mission, certain dress and grooming standards apply,” he said. “While a person is a student at BYU, the honor code dress and grooming standards apply,” Baker said.
While not as strict as the standards missionaries abide to, the honor code dress and grooming standards are not general church standards either, Baker said. He said they are special standards for BYU students.
Baker said the overall objective of the dress and grooming standards is for the students, faculty and staff to be neat, clean and modest as they represent the university and the church. Students are even asked to abide by the dress and grooming standards set in the honor code while they are away from campus for summer or holiday breaks, Baker said.
Many students wonder who determines the standards for dress and grooming and why they are different at other church institutions such as the BYU campuses in Hawaii and Idaho or at the LDS Business College. Baker said although the standards might vary a little at different campuses, the Honor Code standards at each institution are based on the same basic gospel principles.
Each campus is different and the cultures are different. At BYU-Idaho, shorts, capris, overalls, sweats and flip-flops are not permitted on campus, except in the workout facilities.
Mike Lehmen, director of the Honor Code Office at BYU- Idaho, said there is an essential consistency with the Church Education System Honor Code for all church affiliated schools, but each school is allowed some diversity within that honor code. He said this is partly because of the cultures and locations of each school.
The administration at BYU-Idaho has decided to make the dress and grooming standards there a little tighter, Lehmen said. He said the president of BYU- Idaho has asked the staff, faculty and students to dress nice and to dress up when they come to campus.
“It’s more than modesty,” he said. “It’s more that they just want a nicer look and less casual.”