Anita Bryan was not known for calling attention to herself until a spur-of-the-moment wardrobe malfunction in 1978 left her a BYU honor code legend.
Anita Bryan, now Anita Welch, was a freshman at BYU when she walked into the Testing Center wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a long trench coat. The dress code at the time allowed women to wear pants on campus, but nothing of denim material.
Welch was turned away from taking her test because of her jeans but wasn’t going to let that stop her. She ducked into the bathroom, slipped off her pants, buttoned up her long, mid-calf-length trench coat and sauntered into the testing center pant-less.
“I was outraged, and I didn’t want to walk all the way home. And then I thought, ‘Ah ha, I’ll just take my pants off,’” Welch told The Universe.
The Daily Universe published a letter to the editor written by Welch the next day, and responses flooded in.
“It made a huge splash and scandal, and I never guessed that would happen,” Welch said.
Welch’s story has followed her for decades and is still told at BYU. Some say Welch’s actions were defiant and rebellious, while others believe she was kicked out of BYU and later excommunicated from the LDS Church.
The truth is that Welch continued to study at BYU, met her husband during her senior year and still goes to BYU football games.
“Everyone was talking about this, and I’m sure there were people who really did find it scandalous, but I think most people thought it was just one of the odd little things that happen at BYU,” said Kerk Phillips, who was a BYU freshman in 1978 and is now a professor of political science. “If we can’t laugh at this stuff every once in a while, we are taking ourselves too seriously.”
Welch is the youngest of eight children; six of her older siblings also attended BYU.
After marrying in 1982, Welch and her husband moved around the country, having four children along the way. She spent a majority of her time living in New Jersey but recently relocated to Utah.
The intentions of the “no pants” scandal were not to defy the Honor Code or stick it to the university, Welch said. Rather, she just wanted to take her test and not walk all the way back to the dorms.
She does not describe herself as a feminist or an equal rights activist and said the stunt was just a mix of her own laziness and humor.
The Testing Center employees still defend their policies and standards vigorously each day.
“We have to be strict,” said Hannah Meek, a current Testing Center employee. “One of the responsibilities of our job is to require students to uphold the standards in the code. We act as a checkpoint for students.”
Luckily for Welch, the only repercussion she received was a short meeting with the dean of Student Life at the time, where he asked about her high school grades and her reason for only wearing a trench coat into the Testing Center.
Welch did not even know she was breaking the dress code standards.
“People wore jeans on campus all the time,” Welch said. “It kind of said that you couldn’t wear jeans, but it was also pretty vague.”
Dress code standards changed shortly after the incident, allowing females and males to wear denim in 1981.
Thirty-six years after her minute of fame, Welch still respects the Honor Code, loves BYU and keeps in close contact with those who supported her. More good came of the situation than bad, Welch said.
“Sometimes people will say (if) you’re not conformed to every single thing at BYU then you don’t have a testimony,” Welch said. “But you can express your opinions and speak out without breaking any commandments.”
And yes, she did pass the test she was taking that day in November.