Censorship at the BYU Store

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A student browses the textbook section in the BYU Store. Some items on the BYU Store's shelves have received controversial comments from students worried about appropriateness. (Elliott Miller)
A student browses the textbook section in the BYU Store. Some items on the BYU Store’s shelves have received controversial comments from students worried about appropriateness. (Elliott Miller)

The BYU Store is no stranger to controversy. It, along with other organizations on campus, often faces difficult situations when it comes to what it sells and promotes.

“We do not want to be in the business of censorship,” said Gordon Brown, sales manager of the BYU Store. “I can just say that we are aware of the fine line that exists between being an academic partner on campus as well as being a partner in BYU’s unique position as a Church school.”

That fine line exists with the “Game of Thrones” book series and DVD collection.

BYU student Matt Cowley wrote a letter to the editor after he found a “Games of Thrones” book set in a clearance bin at the BYU Store in August.

“I know the bookstore would never sell the DVDs of the show, but somehow it is OK to sell the books with the same content?” Cowley asked.

Cowley claimed that not carrying the DVDs but carrying the books lacks consistency, and he asked the store to better manage what it puts on shelves. In response, fellow student Conor Hilton responded and said the BYU Store should not “more heavily police the materials sold” because “appropriateness … should be left up to the readers.”

Brown said there’s a balancing act that takes place between reader popularity and book appropriateness.

“There’s broad interpretation of what’s appropriate.” Brown said.

The BYU Store has several departments, and each department buyer carefully chooses what merchandise will make it to the shelves. Cowley, in his letter, said this was the case for DVDs and music, but the book section could use stricter screening.

“(The book selection) is a lot of the time based on what’s new. We have buyers that go through those releases, and it’s really quite a process,” Brown said. “They’ll often read the book, or portions of it, or they’ll read reviews and decided what makes sense.”

The process proves easier for DVDs because the store can use the film ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America. The store does not carry R-rated DVDs or similar TV ratings, and the store takes caution as to which PG-13 DVDs it stocks.

Brown explained that often books stand on their own and are independent of their film/TV show counterparts.

“(The book) is a creative work made by that author, and it is independent of the movie,” Brown said. “We would most often say that’s fine. It contributes in literary ways where that movie is really a totally different creation.”

The BYU Store receives complaints like Cowley’s regularly, and it takes each one seriously, reviewing on a case-by-case basis.

Brown gave an example of a complaint the store received from a professor about the children’s book “Little Black Sambo.” The book was originally written in 1899 about a south Indian boy and does not carry any racial undertones. In later years the word “sambo” was used as a racial slur, and the book was banned in many locations.

Brown said the department buyer wrote the professor a letter explaining how the book was a children’s classic and the store would continue to carry it.

Other items have been taken off the shelves and removed from the BYU Store.

For example, in August, a Hallmark vendor delivered and stocked a shipment in the store containing wedding cards for same-sex couples. The cards were quickly removed, but pictures surfaced on the Internet and the BYU Store responded to the media, citing the Honor Code as grounds for removal.

Other products in the store, like clothing, undergo a high level of scrutiny as well. All fashion apparel purchased for the store is expected to follow Honor Code guidelines. The emblematic clothing, and other products sporting the BYU logo, must first be approved through the licensing office on campus.

“There’s a licensing agent, and his responsibility is to make sure that everything that has a BYU emblem on it represents the university in a positive way,” Brown said.

The same goes for all BYU clothing and products sold at stores like Walmart and Target, which causes some people to wonder how BYU wine glasses ended up at Harmons.

BYU is in a unique position as a university, and many people have charge of protecting that image and position, the BYU Store included. The store doesn’t currently carry the “Game of Thrones” DVD sets, perhaps because the DVDs have a Mature Audience TV rating; but by no means does the BYU Store intend to be the last moral word for students.

“It is really impossible to give you a formula. Each book, product or situation must be weighed based on its own unique significance or contribution,” Brown said.

Students like Cowley can rest assured that any complaints they have will be carefully examined by the BYU Store.

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