Last summer, my husband and I — along with about 30 other BYU students — participated in a multi-university study abroad. More than 200 students from universities including University of California schools, Yale and Arcadia University participated in the program. As a small group of Mormons among a larger group relatively unfamiliar with our culture (outside of South Park and Big Love), it seemed most of us couldn’t go a day without being asked some question about our faith or school.
Did people actually follow the whole “honor code” thing? Was there really only one bar in a college town? Wait, people don’t drink? What do you guys do for fun?
Last Fall, I went to the Love and Fidelity Network’s annual conference with BYU’s Fidelio club. The group, consisting of college students across the country, promotes and supports arguing for traditional values on campuses where their voice is usually the minority. There, we were asked a different spectrum of questions.
Wait, people actually go on dates at your school? Like, real dates with dinner and a movie?
For better or for worse, BYU is different — extremely different — from any other school.
Full disclosure: Originally, I never wanted to come to BYU. I only applied to make my mother happy. Thoughts of BYU conjured images of Mrs. degrees and singles ward clichés. On my list of prospective schools, it was at the bottom.
But then, I ended up coming to BYU and loving it. I learned the same cultural microcosm which enraged my ire became a quirkiness I grew to love.
Let’s be honest, BYU can sometimes seem to be a college-age Disney Channel movie.
We go ice blocking in the summer and celebrate Homecoming Week with a giant blue foam Slip ‘n Slide. Instead of college bars, Provo has frozen yogurt shops on every corner. BYU hosted not just one but two attempts at the world’s largest water balloon fight. Scavenger hunts and dessert nights are alive and well. No one’s shocked (or at least surprised) to see someone randomly breakout in song or dance while walking across campus. Easter pranks result in the re-carpeting of a living room with sod and furnishing it with accompanying chicks and rabbits.
On a more serious note, you don’t need to worry about your roommate coming home drunk at 3 a.m. or inviting his or her significant other over for the night. While we complain about the dating culture at BYU, at least it’s a dating culture and not a hook-up culture. Religiosity is supported and encouraged, not sidelined.
As with any culture, we have many areas in which we can improve. Those issues, however, should not overshadow the good aspects we already possess. In fact, those issues can often be off-set simply by adhering to the brighter aspects of the existing culture.
Personally, the biggest issue I see on campus is our tendency to judge one another (ironic, I know, coming from the opinion editor). In the Readers’ Forum, we see letters complaining about each other’s dress, grooming habits and dating schedules. Either someone is too righteous or not righteous enough, and, unaware of an individual’s background or circumstances, we think we are able to judge the best course of action for that individual’s life.
I don’t believe it is coincidence that recent conference talks, such as Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s “Stop it,” have focused on the topic of judgment of both ourselves and others.
However, at BYU, I have also been the recipient of random acts of kindness and charity. People have returned my wallet (numerous times). They’ve left free candy on tables during finals week, lent signature cards to print papers due two minutes later and opened doors.
This is the brighter side of BYU culture we can all enjoy and one we can use to change the less seemly aspects.
So grab some frozen yogurt, join the world’s largest water balloon fight and revel in the quirkiness that is BYU.