BYU students respond to updated CES standards

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Students study on BYU campus. BYU recently updated some of its policies as part of a larger update from the Church Educational System. (Marissa Lundeen)

The Church Educational System recently updated the student ecclesiastical endorsement interview questions, the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming Principles to “help students grow closer to Jesus Christ and strengthen the overall student experience,” according to an Aug. 24 news release from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The recent updates align Church institutions with the principle-based approach of the recently updated For the Strength of Youth and create consistency among CES schools.

The language of the ecclesiastical interview questions has been modified to better reflect the ecclesiastical responsibilities of priesthood leaders and “focus on a student’s efforts to grow spiritually and meet ecclesiastical standards,” as stated in the Church’s news release. A student’s commitment to “striving” toward certain religious principles is now part of the interview, allowing space for the unique and varied faith journeys of students to be discussed and represented.

The updated ecclesiastical endorsement questions can be found below.

  1. Are you striving to deepen your testimony of God, the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?
  2. Are you striving to deepen your testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. Are you striving for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior?
  4. Do you obey the law of chastity?
  5. Do you sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators?
  6. Do you support or promote any teachings, practices, or doctrine contrary to those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
  7. Do you regularly participate in your church meetings and strive to keep the Sabbath day holy?
  8. Do you strive to be honest in all that you do, including keeping the commitments you have made?
  9. The Church Educational System is supported and funded by the tithes of the Church of Jesus Christ. Are you a full-tithe payer?
  10. Do you obey the Word of Wisdom?
  11. Are you striving to live the teachings of the Church and keep the covenants you have made to this point in your life?
  12. Are there serious sins in your life that need to be resolved with priesthood authorities as part of your repentance?

Ben Turnbow is a BYU student who appreciates how the updated questions focus on an individual’s spiritual progression.

“I think individual spiritual progression is the goal of the gospel and the Church Educational System,” Turnbow said. “We come to a Church university to grow and develop both intellectually and spiritually, so the opportunity students have to meet with their priesthood leaders and discuss in-depth their spiritual progression is another step closer to achieving the goal of building covenant keeping individuals who will make positive and lasting impacts in the world.”

Another modification to the CES standards is found in the Honor Code below:

  • Maintain an Ecclesiastical Endorsement, including striving to deepen faith and maintain gospel standards
  • Be honest
  • Live a chaste and virtuous life, including abstaining from sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a woman. Living a chaste and virtuous life also includes abstaining from same-sex romantic behavior
  • Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, vaping, marijuana, and other substance abuse
  • Participate regularly in Church services
  • Respect others, including the avoidance of profane and vulgar language
  • Obey the law and follow campus policies, including the CES Dress and Grooming standards
  • Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming standards

The addition of abstaining from same-sex romantic behavior to the updated honor code has some members of the queer community worried about its implications, especially after the February 2020 updates to the Honor Code removed language addressing homosexual behavior specifically and focused more on both heterosexual and homosexual couples “living a chaste and virtuous life.”

The RaYnbow Collective, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering and uplifting queer BYU students, shared their thoughts on the updated CES standards in an Instagram post on Aug. 27.

“We are grateful for this transparency that comes with a clear prohibition on same-sex romantic behavior because it allows one to make an informed decision for their future,” writes the RaYnbow Collective.

While the LGBTQ organization appreciates the clarity of the updated CES standards, they continue to oppose any prohibition and disciplinary measures against same-sex romantic behavior.

During his first devotional address as president of BYU on Sept. 12, President C. Shane Reese expressed his support for the updates and his appreciation for the BYU Honor Code.

“The Honor Code also underscores the primary mission of a Church-sponsored education, which is to develop disciples of Jesus Christ,” President Reese said. “While many institutions of higher learning have codes of conduct that prescribe standards of acceptable behavior, I love the distinctive nature of our Honor Code, beginning with its name.”

Although some of the CES updates added language to certain policies, the shift to a more principle-based approach has simplified the language of the dress and grooming standards. The updated dress and grooming policies now read:

Each student, employee, and volunteer commits to:

  1. Represent the Savior Jesus Christ, the Church and the Church Educational System
  2. Preserve an inspiring environment, without distraction or disruption, where covenants are kept in a spirit of unity so the Holy Ghost can teach truth
  3. Promote modesty, cleanliness, neatness and restraint in dress and grooming
  4. Maintain an elevated standard distinctive to educational institutions of the Church of Jesus Christ

BYU student Quinn Christensen is happy to see students gain more freedom over their physical appearance. He said he is excited to keep his hair a bit longer during the semester.

“It’s fun to see that there’s a lot of alignment across the Church with For the Strength of Youth and principle based standards. Now instead of including strict length requirements for hair or things like that, it talks about being neat, clean, organized and representing the school well. I agree with all that,” Christensen said.

While having long hair or a beard may have once been considered immature or part of counterculture, Christensen believes public perceptions on such physical aspects have evolved over time.

“Having long hair or a beard isn’t really considered unprofessional like it once was,” Christensen said. “And honestly, even if long hair is considered unprofessional, I’m actually not a professional right now. I’m a 22-year-old university student, so it’s kind of okay for me to have long hair for a year or two.”

Izzy Searcy is another BYU student excited about the updates to the dress and grooming standards, although its ambiguity makes her cautious.

“I was excited at first because it meant I had more freedom with my wardrobe and appearance,” Searcy explained. “The more I’ve talked to friends and faculty, however, I’ve felt some caution again. Making the rules more vague feels like it allows students and faculty to bend them to personal understanding, and there’s always a little danger that comes with that.”

In his devotional remarks on Sept. 12, President Reese encouraged students to be “open to conversations” and to “speak with civility and listen with soft hearts” as BYU students and faculty alike commit to the updated dress and grooming standards.

“It is clear to me that the changes to the dress and grooming on campus represents an elevated approach, not a reduced standard,” President Reese said. “If we are to be principle-based, then we have to be open to conversations about the principles. Our campus unity will be magnified as we personally commit to principles and make individual choices with respect to dress, grooming and honor.”

President Reese continued by encouraging all BYU students and employees to participate in conversations surrounding dress, grooming and honor and “to make adjustments, as needed.”

More information regarding the specifics of the updated Honor Code can be found on the BYU Honor Code website. The full news release from the Church can be found on the Church’s website.

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