There are five things you should know about the BYU-Idaho dress code. The first thing—that BYU-Idaho has a dress code—is probably redundant, since that seems to be the only thing that people outside of Rexburg hear about BYU-Idaho. And if you do visit the university, the dress code is the one thing you can’t help but notice, thanks to the many reminders posted around campus in the form of unwaveringly cheerful placards, seemingly designed by George Orwell while popping valium in the lotus position. In case you missed all that, now you know: BYU-Idaho has a dress code.
The second thing you need to know is that the dress code serves the university’s institutional mission. BYU-Idaho sees its mission as including pre-professional socialization (no bib overalls!), while another part is the education of Mormon students in the environment of Mormonism, and Mormons have some fairly clear ideas about what constitutes proper attire. The dress code is one way of reinforcing students’ Mormon identity, so it isn’t going to disappear—and arguably shouldn’t disappear—because it helps BYU-Idaho do the things that the university sees as most worth doing.
The third thing you need to know about the BYU-Idaho dress code is that it helps keep tuition low. If we think of the BYU campuses not as private universities but as the public university system of the Mormon nation, what stands out is how financial support for the BYU campuses remained strong while it was declining precipitously at most state colleges and universities. Higher education in the U.S. has come to be seen primarily as a private good, with most benefits accruing to the college grads in the form of higher salaries and access to better careers, and so the primary beneficiaries have been asked to shoulder more and more of the costs. One could alternatively look at higher education as a public or community good, with benefits that accrue to society at large in the form of increased innovation, a more efficient work force, and a more capable citizenry. That seems to be the view taken by the church concerning its universities, at least to judge by its continuing support for them. One reason that the church continues to take that view is that when church leaders visit the campuses, they see students who look like community members whose educations will benefit the community as a whole, rather than opportunists looking to grab the benefits of a subsidized education and then disappear into the sunset, galloping toward Babylon. As following the dress code is an observable sign that students are intending to remain within the community and follow its norms, the BYU-Idaho dress code is one way to keep funding from SLC flowing towards Rexburg, keeping the university in business.
You need to know the fourth thing in order to understand the fifth thing. Personally, I found the dress code to be mostly a minor annoyance. I usually didn’t notice if students were in compliance with all the details of the dress code. Were socks required? Sandals forbidden? I never could remember. The only time I ever said anything to a student involved asking a young man to hitch up his trousers, which had slipped to an unseemly depth (if you’re relying on underclothing to cover your plumber’s cleavage, you’re doing it wrong). I don’t particularly enjoy wearing ties, but BYU-Idaho is far from the only employer that requires male employees to wear a tie, and the slight annoyance of finding a tie each morning wasn’t worth worrying about. I do wish that the campus would end the pointless prohibition of very normal items of clothing like capris or shorts, as it was sometimes aggravating for my wife to feel like a rule-breaker if she came up to campus on hot days.
The fifth and final thing you need to know about the dress code at BYU-Idaho is this: if you can’t possibly adapt to it, then do not apply to BYU-Idaho. There are other options. As part of the student honor code, the dress standards have consequences. If your eyes roam to your neighbor’s exam during a test, of if your approach to essay writing includes culling paragraphs from Wikipedia, your professor or another student might notice and say something; the dress code is no different. For most students, the dress code won’t ever be an issue. For most students who do brush up against it, rolling their eyes and saying, “Whatever, dude,” twice is all that’s required. For a few students, investigating the 3,999 other providers of higher education in the U.S. may be a better option.
Thanks for a refreshing article and an interesting viewpoint…
I’m not convinced that your third reason is a major player. I would suspect that the powers that be have reams of data–mission rates, temple marriage rates, activity rates, etc.–for BYU-I students that are looked at a lot more closely than hemlines in order to determine whether BYU-I is fulfilling its mission.
Hooray for #5. I’m not a fan of BYU’s Honor Code or dress code or, frankly, much about it. So guess what–I didn’t apply! For students who freely choose to attend a Church institution, it’s a bit perplexing to hear them whine about the rules or culture after they get there.
Having said that, I’ve heard more stories than I’d like about parents telling their kids, “I’m only paying for your education if you go to BYU/BYU-I.” I think that’s pretty rotten. At the very least, if a limited offer of assistance is given, it should be something like, “I can only afford to help you out at the going rate for BYU tuition, so if you want to go somewhere else, you’ll have to find a way to make up the difference yourself.”
The sixth thing you should know is what the actual code is.
The seventh thing you should know is that Rexburg is very very cold, and it can get quite chilly in mornings and evenings even in the summer. The bans on shorts, tank tops, flip flops and casual sandals don’t seem so bad once you recall this fact. The requirement that you wear a tie (and ideally jacket) to evening dances also seems okay in this light (since if nothing else it reduces the risk of neck frostbite).
The eighth thing you should know is that the university does not claim that there is anything inherently “un-Mormon” about wearing shorts and casual footwear. It is just that for all things there is an appropriate time and a season, and not all of these seasons come to the campus of BYU-Idaho.
The ninth thing you should know about the dress code is that it saves lives. If students were allowed to wear skimpy clothing then some of them would do so (since the need to feel sexually attractive frequently overrides common sense in all cultures), and many would die of exposure.
The tenth thing you should know is that BYU-Idaho actually do look remarkably attractive in their slacks, dresses, sweaters, and neatly groomed hair. Talk a walk around the campus some time and you’ll see. But do dress warmly.
I wonder how all of these reasons apply to BYU-I, when BYU Provo should have the same reasons and has a much more liberal dress code.
I’d argue that our tithing is what keeps tuition low, not our dress. One’s willingness to eschew flip-flops is not a good indicator of their commitment to the church. I find the stress on outward appearance to be misguided.
Your point #4 almost contradicts your point #3- it’s important to show how people can conform to a norm and all follow the rules because it’s an observable sign, yet you yourself couldn’t remember all the rules and rarely found a need to enforce it. And I think you hit the nail on the head with this one:
“I do wish that the campus would end the pointless prohibition of very normal items of clothing like capris or shorts, as it was sometimes aggravating for my wife to feel like a rule-breaker if she came up to campus on hot days.”
EXACTLY! I’m not against the idea of a dress code, and I honored the dress code at BYU provo while I was there (though I never applied to BYU-I and had no interest in going there after my sister’s experiences), but both dress codes desperately need an update- they need to figure out exactly what they are trying to accomplish and set the rules accordingly. I’d love to know what a prohibition on capris is trying to accomplish, or why a well-trimmed beard on otherwise clean-cut adult men is so problematic.
Hee hee, the BYU-I honor code saves lives? Cause, you know, students at those heathen universities in places like Michigan and Maine are always dying of over-exposure;). And if we are truly concerned about keeping students warm, why not let men wear beards? Why not allow hats in the buildings?
And I’ve been to Rexburg in the summer. It can get up to the 90s in the summer. It can be cold but it can also be hot.
Whatever happened to “teach them correct principals and let them govern themselves”?
Again, I’m not being snarky because I’m against the idea of modesty or dress codes (though I’d argue one does not necessitate the other). But I do think there is harm in stressing outward appearance and external conformity so much. I have a really hard time thinking Jesus would care about sandals, capris, and beards. It’s just one more way we can make nice easy-to-read labels on people; it’s much easier to judge a person because they have two earrings than it is to judge their heart (I’d argue unless we are stewards over them in a way where worthiness is pertinent, we don’t need to do either)
“if nothing else it reduces the risk of neck frostbite”
Very funny, Tim. It undoubtedly also reduces the risk of vampire attacks.
Weird. The only “opportunists looking to grab the benefits of a subsidized education and then disappear into the sunset, galloping toward Babylon” I’ve met wear Brooks Brothers and Allen Edmonds.
“The dress code is one way of reinforcing students’ Mormon identity, so it isn’t going to disappear—and arguably shouldn’t disappear—because it helps BYU-Idaho do the things that the university sees as most worth doing.”
Indeed. But will it be modified? The dress code at BYU-I is stricter than that at BYU-Provo. I can only imagine that as the university expands and attracts a more diverse number of students that there will be some pushback against the dress code, and there already is. I would think that with enough pushback, general failure to comply with or observe minor things, and failure to enforce would lead to some minor modifications in the dress code. Perhaps the administration will dig in its heels and insist on maintaining a specific policy, but perhaps it may decide to relax the policy. That has been what has happened at BYU-Provo over time.
Another valuable function the dress code serves is to be sure that the BYUs attract students who are conformists and discourage attendance students who think that the dress codes often are “straining at gnats” (like prohibiting beards). Since dress nonconformists may well be disproportionately free thinkers, this also lessons the need for restrictions on academic freedom of teachers and students. Because of the dress code, the BYUs may not attract Albert Einsteins (whose hair often went over his ear), but thankfully they won’t attract too many Spinozas, Luthers, or other nonconformist thinkers either.
Julie, the effect size is admittedly hard to measure. I suspect that general visual impression isn’t entirely unimportant, however, and that it particularly helps with members who are skeptical of the value of university degrees. A widespread perception that BYU students were spending their time in idle debauchery on the church’s dime before going inactive would in the long term threaten the continued existence of the church’s universities.
Bro. Jones, gifts often are not fungible. We’re happy to invest a certain amount in a book one child wants, and a different amount in an electronic device he wants, and nothing at all in a game console. If adult children reject a gift from their parents, they’re free to pay for their own educations. Lots of people figure out how to do it.
Jenn, you’re focusing on the wrong things – the small details, the things that few people care about. And I suspect that a willingness to eschew flip-flops and adhere to other details of the dress code correlates quite well with a willingness to follow the more important things, which the university cares about a great deal. Since it’s impossible to be entirely certain which students are the best fit for the university’s mission – the best investment of the institutional subsidy, so to speak – betting on the students who are willing to dress the part seems like a reasonable approach.
Steve S., at some point the dress code will undoubtedly be modified, but a few changes at the margins (capris, perhaps) aren’t going to change much. It’s not true that there’s a general failure to comply; quite the opposite, actually. Compliance is probably on the order of 99.9% obedience and .1% enforcement.
DavidH, it is true that the church universities want to admit students who will follow the church’s teachings, and not admit students who won’t. That seems like a good thing. One might also say that they prefer to admit students who won’t blow a gasket when someone asks them to wear a tie. Beyond that, your comment doesn’t make much sense. Luther lived in a time when the codified dress and propriety codes were far stricter than anything at BYU, and he seems to have done OK.
Also RE DavidH’s comment, I’m pretty sure BYU-I’s mission doesn’t have a whole lot to do with breaking new ground in any intellectual field. And besides, the idea that “dress nonconformity” correlates with the ability to think original thoughts sounds like the sort of thing my Goth friends and I used to say when we were 15 and so certain we were better than everyone else because we were all being different in the same way. I’m pretty sure Einstein wasn’t making a statement with his hair, and I’m also pretty sure BYU looked the other way as Brother Nibley’s grooming deteriorated a bit with age.
I’ve always liked the Mormon look. A little WASPy, a little preppy.
I didn’t say there wasn’t a failure to comply, but pushback. And what I meant by pushback was the occasional expression by the students, staff, and faculty of frustration over the some of the dress code rules. I haven’t been to BYU-I, but I have been to BYU in Provo, and my general impression of it was that there were three prevailing, and often competing, attitudes towards the rules:
1) The rules have an enlightened source and must be defended.
2) A rule is a rule, they aren’t all enlightened, but should be abode by to show respect.
3) The rules are often nitpicking and are the product of shortsightedness. They only need to be abode by to placate the type 1s. They often ridicule many of the rules and only comply begrudgingly (this is what I mean by pushback).
Already in the comments to the OP we have seen all three types of attitudes expressed. The administration likes the type 2s the best. They don’t sanctify the rule, but they don’t ask questions about it. They can sometimes be uneasy with type 1s because they can tend to get preachy and push issues, sometimes to the extent of pushing type 2s to type 3s. The administration tolerates type 3s but doesn’t really like them and continually tries to turn them into type 2s. However, sometimes the type 3 attitude begins spreading among the students, faculty, and staff to a specific rule. As it spreads so does pushback from type 1. Type 2s decline in number as members of the university become polarized over the rule. If the type 3s manage to find enough allies in the administration, the rule will be relaxed.
Given the rapidly changing trends in Mormon society and its concomitant diversification, I can’t imagine that BYU-I will maintain such a rigid dress code much longer. My prediction is that 15 years from now the dress code at BYU-I will be practically the same as that at BYU-Provo.
Two results of the dress code from my personal experience:
1) The dress code saves them money. I had a full, 4-year scholarship at BYU (Kimball scholarship). During my first year I had to go to standards several times for things as inane as not wearing socks to take a test. People would say comments like above – “if you don’t like it, leave”. And so I did. After my mission, I transferred schools for the rest of my undergraduate education, for my graduate school, and for my allegiance the rest of my life.
So … they saved at least 3 years of tuition and some extra cash for living expenses in my case. I suppose I wasn’t the type of student they wanted. It makes me wonder why they actually offered to give me all that money in the first place.
2) The dress code plants seeds. One thing I did get out of my time at BYU was a profound distaste for the conflation of one generation’s societal preferences with actual gospel principles. That seed was planted at BYU, and has likely directly contributed to my attitudes since that time – including the majority of my posts on Wheat and Tares.
Jonathan, I think Jenn’s question deserves to be answered by someone like you who has spent time at BYUI. All of your points are interesting and thought provoking, but all of your justifications equally apply to BYU Provo. So why is Idaho’s dress standard more strict?
And, referring back to my obviously over the top characterization of Idaho as the modern Mormon madrassa in your previous post, why does BYUI see itself as the most righteous of the righteous? Why does it seem to consistently go over the top when it comes to things like these dress standards? There seems to be an attitude of religious superiority that is bred on that campus, not just superiority to the lost and fallen world, but superiority to other members. I admit, I haven’t attended BYUI, I haven’t even been on campus. I base my opinion solely on what I read and what I observe in BYUI graduates that I’ve come across. Do you think that characterization is accurate? If so, what is going on in Rexburg that creates it? My free opinion, worth its price, is that the it is a legacy from David Bednar.
I bemoan the lack of a dress sword requirement. An armed society is a polite society, and surely encouraging politesse fits the Mormon image to a T?
I like Adam’s idea. Dress swords would also give the student body at BYU-I a strippling warrior identity– yet another way of likening ancient scripture to ourselves.
I could add I’m not the only one in my circle to feel this about Idaho. I was just at Provo to leave my freshman son. At the parent/student convocation they held the first day of orientation I was sitting next to another parent from my stake. He had gone through orientation with an older daughter a few years ago at Idaho. He leaned over and said, “When we did this in Idaho I got the distinct impression that the Rexburg experience is mostly church, with a little education thrown in.”
From an article on CNN today, I think these quotes from Pope Francis might apply here.
“The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things,” the pope said, “in small-minded rules.”
“The people of God want pastors,” Francis continued, “not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”
With no varsity athletic teams to recruit for BYU-I can have a stricter dress code whereas BYU would have trouble attracting some non-member athletes. Can you imagine Jim McMahon going to BYU-I?
Steve S., wait, you’re only talking about the dress code becoming like the one in Provo? I’d be surprised if it took five years. The existing differences are mostly minor points.
KLC, the idea that BYU-Idaho students are just a bit more righteous is at least 50 years old, and probably older, judging by discussions with one Ricks alumna. Leaving that aside, there really are some differences in how BYU and BYU-Idaho position themselves with respect to the church. BYU-Idaho moves the church closer to the core of its identity and mission. Every class started with an invocation, for example (even as the rest of the hour was mostly identical to what I might do anywhere else).
Adam, unless it is useful for filling one’s tag for the season, it doesn’t count. Longbows or nothing.
I’m with Hugh Nibley on this one.
“The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism…. [T]he haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.” – Hugh Nibley
Having lived in Idaho Falls (which is warmer than Rexburg, which is further upslope toward Yellowstone and gets thick fogs in the winter from the Snake River), there were consistently two weeks each February when the low temperature was MINUS 20 degrees Fahrenheit. A real incentive to dress warmly.
dress code are not limited to LDS schools. many international and private schools at both the academic level of BYU-I and BYU have dress codes that reflect their mission statement, their founders, or the culture surrounding the campus or even pass history. The dress code is a subject for discussion at these school too. just part of the university experience. Seems like first world problem
KLC (16) I have made a few similar observations.
BYU-I is essentially a Mormon community college which awards 4 yr degrees. Are there community colleges with dress codes?
There are many, many schools much better than BYU-Provo which BYU people believe BYU has surpassed, Notre Dame, Georgetown (lol) et al. Those schools seem to do just fine sans a dress code. Walk around their campuses and by the way the kids dress you might think you are on a BYU campus. Those kids seems to do just fine w/o being commanded in all things. Why can’t we trust our Mormon kids to do the same whether they are at our large community college or the Provo campus?
All this defense of juvenile dress codes distracts from the bigger question of why don’t BYU Admins trust their student to even figure out simple things like dressing themselves-even in bitterly cold weather. lol.
“The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules”
— Hugh Nibley, “What is Zion? A Distant View”, Chapter 2 in Approaching Zion.
No need to beat a dead horse, Kent L. Everybody already knows that BYU-Idaho is populated by the worst sinners possible. To be fair, I guess there’s some debate about whether having a dress code is worse than the Holocaust.
“Adam, unless it is useful for filling one’s tag for the season, it doesn’t count. Longbows or nothing.”
Oh, to be sure. And all tights must be green. Or scarlet.
Rb: “BYU-I is essentially a Mormon community college which awards 4 yr degrees.”
The university is accredited through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the regional agency in charge of accrediting universities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. I don’t have time to go through the documents myself, but here is a link to the accreditation documents for the university:
I would be curious, Rb, to know what part of the accreditation you find faulty.
Also, according to numbers I’ve just seen, the university has recently increased its enrollment to 25,000 students on campus each year, which would make it one of the ten largest private universities in the United States. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong on the numbers.)
Amy T-way to read literally what was clearly meant figuratively. I understand BYU-I is a 4 year university and its grads go on to grad schools in a variety of disciplines and some even do very well. The fact it is among the largest private schools in the country is all well and good but entirely irrelevant to any part of this discussion.
My community college reference is to the fact it is essentially open enrollment for good Mormon kids. If a Mormon kid has completed Seminary and is willing to abide the various “honor” code rules, she gets in. I doubt many BYU-I kids are sweating their SAT results or loading up on AP classes and extracurriculurs in order to be admitted to BYU-I. Not that it matters one bit, I don’t think there is a thing wrong with that. BYU-I serves a Mormon niche-albeit a large and influential one-and does so very well, nothwithstanding the sacrifice of free agency the kids must make to attend the school. Their Pathways program is clearly inspiration driven and I am blown away at the impact it is having in people’s lives and attitudes. BYU-I should keep doing what it is doing and more power to them.
Not every institution is perfect and BYU-I has its problems. One big problem is its influence beyond the borders of its campus. Kids leave there and enter the larger Mormon world with the idea the BYU-I is the way to live and everyone should live those artificial (being figurative here, not literal) standards. Those kids end up as YW Pres, RSPs, EQPs, YM Pres, Bishops etc and create unnecessary friction when they try to impose their artificial modesty standards in the real world.
BYU-I is also very entertaining when students and faculty go to honor code excess. The embarassment those Mormon pharisees cause does not, imo, outweigh their entertainment value, at least to me. Keep the zealots coming. Also entertaining are some of the defenses of the honor code like the earlier comment the honor code “saves lives.” Since that poster was clearly a BYU-I supporter we should probably understand he/she mean that comment literally. More entertaining comedy gold from BYU-I.
Jonathan, there is a huge leap from BYUI/Ricks students believing they are more righteous for 50+ years and the institution believing it. Your example of prayer in each class and my friend’s perception of the Idaho freshman orientation are not the vain fantasies of college students, they are calculated attempts by the institution to position themselves as more righteous than you. Has that also been the case for 50+ years?
Rb, if you’re going to ask for a charitable reading of your own exaggeration as humor, then you should be willing to grant the same to others. And it’s not quite the case that students dress the same everywhere, or that students will make the right choice without any guidance. Sometimes the adults have to step in and say to the campus nudist club: no, you may not agitate for your cause in the library – not a hypothetical case, by the way.
KLC, I don’t think the institution sees itself as more righteous, and I certainly don’t see starting class with an invocation as a calculated attempt to perform superior righteousness. It’s the local tradition, done without any sense of comparison with other BYU campuses. If one wanted to promote one’s image as particularly righteous, praying behind closed doors 250 miles from the people you’re trying to impress seems like an odd way to go about it.
Rather, the university takes note of its mission and looks for ways to implement it. It has its standards that promote its mission, and it expects people to follow them.
“No need to beat a dead horse, Kent L. Everybody already knows that BYU-Idaho is populated by the worst sinners possible. To be fair, I guess there’s some debate about whether having a dress code is worse than the Holocaust.”
Don’t think I said anything at all before I posted Nibley’s quote. I didn’t even claim that I agreed entirely with Nibley (although I do to a degree). It hard to see this as “beating a dead horse.”
[For the record, I did NOT read all the comments and didn’t see the previous quote of the same statement.]
Once again, Adam, you are extrapolating WAY beyond what was actually said.
I do think Nibley probably goes too far (likely for effect). My own view is that there are many, many more important spiritual truths to learn than any such truth you can find in how you dress.
Sure dressing modestly is a social good. And certainly looking attractive to others in your society has a social value (one both Nibley and I don’t value much). BUT, is it really more important than kindness and courtesy? than NOT being judgmental of others? than scripture study and meditation and prayer?
I don’t think so.
Keep speeding down that slippery slope with silly and far fetched hypos. If there were (1) students brave enough at any of the BYUs to start a nudist club and (2) even more brave enough to insist on meeting in school libraries the answer is a simple no from the administration. Problem solved.
If that fanciful scenario represents the thinking of BYU-I adherants, then it should come as no surprise BYU admins have to take everyone’s free agency away to protect everyone from absurd and probably completely imagined scenarios from a few oddballs. Funny, no other schools at BYU’s “level” treat their students in such a condescending way except perhaps school like Bob Jones University. But BYU is far and away superior to BJU. Can you cite to any comparator schools/universities with a dress code which goes down to socks and shoes and the various minutaie which make up the BYU honor codes?
Unlike BYU admins, I have complete faith that in the main Mormon kids would dress just fine sans the dress and grooming standards. Sure, there would be a few outliers and people who like to push boundaries. But, with the apparent exception of BYU students who can’t even be trusted to dress themselves, we’re all big boys and girls and can probably come up with ways to handle the fringe minority in a manner that preserves free agency. (For example, we are expert at wielding the cudgel of guilt or slippery slope arguments.)
I think the beating the dead horse had to do with the fact that you are the second person to bring up that quote. See #23.
What indication do you have that the dress code is more important than these things? The fact that you’ve seen cases in the news where dress code nazis have taken the rule too far and you haven’t seen any news stories where someone took the principle of kindness too far?
Jonathan, I’m glad to see that you agree with me that BYU-I’s dress code will probably soon be modified to be like that of BYU-Provo. But I disagree that the differences are only “minor.” None of the following are requirements at BYU-Provo, but are at BYU-I, as written on its website:
“Pants, slacks or jeans should not be patched, faded, frayed or torn and must be ankle length.”
“Caps or hats should not be worn in buildings. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas. Flip-flops and other casual footwear are inappropriate on campus. Shorts are not appropriate campus attire.”
“No capris may be worn on campus.”
No one makes an issue of shorts, flip-flops, or capris at BYU-Provo (if they do, they’re looked at askance, and dismissed). But they do at BYU-I. You can wear knee-length shorts and flip-flops to the testing center in Provo and no one will say anything (they certainly will if you haven’t shaved). But according to Mike S (comment 15), they will at BYU-I. Seems like a fairly big difference to me. I expect that in 15 years (I would think longer than 5 years), that BYU-I will no longer forbid the abovementioned items of clothing.
“Once again, Adam, you are extrapolating WAY beyond what was actually said.”
“Worst sinner” isn’t superlative at all, no sir.
You also forgot the asterisk. In the part where you talk about how we should be non-judgmental and not get hung up on clothing, you omitted that it was OK to judge people and institutions whose clothing choices are stricter than yours. And also to be unkind to them.
Unless, of course, you meant to call them Pharisees and worse than whores in a kindly, nonjudgmental way.
Jones in #3: “I’m not a fan of BYU’s Honor Code or dress code or, frankly, much about it. So guess what–I didn’t apply! For students who freely choose to attend a Church institution, it’s a bit perplexing to hear them whine about the rules or culture after they get there.”
To be more charitable to those who apply to the BYU campuses, not all are aware of the details of the dress and grooming standards. I certainly knew before going to BYU about low-cut dresses, short-shorts, etc. But I did NOT know that it meant men had to wear socks! (since I wore socks, it wasn’t a problem for me — it just seemed silly and made the administration look arbitrary) I still don’t understand that part. It seems silly and unnecessary, like the 1950s and 60s and 70s reaction in the Church to rock-and-roll. In the end it didn’t work and simply makes the institution look silly.
But, as I said above, dress and grooming standards are NOT as important as the Gospel. So, when push comes to shove, I follow the standards when required.
Adam (39): “Worst sinner” isn’t superlative at all, no sir.
Nibley’s statement, not mine.
Adam (39): “you omitted that it was OK to judge people and institutions whose clothing choices are stricter than yours. And also to be unkind to them.”
I don’t believe I did that. I posted a quotation. One that, in the end, I said I didn’t completely agree with.
Bryan (37): “What indication do you have that the dress code is more important than these things?”
In the OP, Jonathan made an issue of how obvious it is on campus, posters prominently displayed, etc. Perhaps I’ve made a bad assumption, but I assume that there aren’t posters, etc. on campus promoting various Gospel principles.
When you make the dress and grooming standards something that you emphasize so prominently, it DOES seem like they are more important than everything else.
While this may have been applicable in your day I think ignorance today, when a simple Google search will answer all your questions, would have to be near purposeful. I seem to remember getting a copy of the dress code in the application process to BYU-P. It also came up in the ecclesiastical endorsement and I talked about it with my bishop.
On a side note, when you search “BYU Idaho Dress Code” a picture of the Colosseum appears. Is there a replica or something at BYU-I or is Google just being weird?
Jonathan, thanks for your insight and thoughts. Just a few final thoughts and questions of my own. Could there be a correlation between local traditions and BYUI students seeing themselves as more righteous? Is there any danger in raising a generation of students with the institutional stamp of approval for the attitude that more hedges about the law, restrictions and rules are better?
“People who criticize BYU-I’s dress code are the evillest people around, worse than Genghis, worse than Mao, even worse than Dick Cheney.
I don’t completely agree with Lennay, btw.
In fact, as a gesture of reconciliation and friendship, I’m wearing jeans right now.
I have to agree with Kent (40). I might add too that the potential annoyance of the dress code doesn’t usually factor very high on students’ minds when they apply for and accept admission to BYU-Provo and BYU-I. If they do consider the dress code a disadvantage, they often regard the advantages of the educational institutions to outweigh it. The problem is that many who are prone to consider the dress code a slight disadvantage go with the idea that it will not be a major issue. But when they arrive at the university they find that many of the type 1 students (mentioned in comment 14) scrutinize their compliance with the dress code (See a perfect example here: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=19248440) a la the Basij (a civilian volunteer unit in Iran who is known for enforcing the strict women’s dress code mandated by Iranian law). Many students grow disillusioned with the straining at gnats and don’t understand why other students, staff, and faculty have to force what they believe is a trivial, if not petty, issue. Some can leave and they do. For others, they fear incurring a potential cost if they leave, so they put up with it begrudgingly, all the while making occasional slight gestures of protest at the ridiculous measures and the Basij-like students, staff, and faculty who enforce them. Sometimes the administration backs the type 1 Basij, but sometimes they themselves grow tired of them and make changes. After all the dress code at BYU-Provo used to forbid wearing sandals and women wearing pants. Times have changed there. The complaining of students about the dress code is best explained not as unwarranted and weak whining, but as a reaction against others making them feel shame for behavior and dress that they regarded to be normal and church-sanctioned in their wards and branches growing up.
As a graduate of Ricks, BYUI, former full-time employee, and current spouse of an employee . . . I’d like to chime in.
While I was a student I appreciated the rules. I chose to throw away my booty shorts from high school as a way to help prepare me for the temple. In a FHE meeting with Elder Bednar one time his response to a question about the dress code, I believe he answered that the dress code had two purposes/tests: 1) a challenge to obey and 2) a challenge to see how those who did obey would respond to those who didn’t. So part of the purpose of the dress code is to make sure you don’t become a pharisee. Also the principle of dressing appropriate for the occasion, and if we have to dress up to go on campus, it should remind us of the sacrifices of those that came before for us to be there. That even the heating plant was dedicated by an apostle for building up the kingdom or something like that. The Spirit should be there and we can dress to invite the Spirit. So . . . while I was there I was fine with it.
Ricks has always exercised more institutional control than Provo, what with approved housing, curfews, stricter dress code, etc. Part of it stems from the fact it was a junior college dealing with a much lower average age than Provo. There has always been a rivalry between the two: shouting back at each other who is better in different ways. Both sides had specific identities that take pride in them. Big whoop.
After living out of Mormon valley for almost 10 years and to return to Rexburg now…. I have to tell you I shed tears for the fact my husband has to shave every day. It’s a crying shame, the man is smokin’ hot with a few days facial hair. I fully support relaxing some of the standards. When the momentum has swayed too far either way (pharisee-like or anything goes) then you know a little adjustment is in order IMHO.
There are two things that trouble me most about the dress/grooming and honor codes at both BYU and the artist formerly known as Ricks:
First, how is it that it is harder to get in and stay at these schools as a student or faculty member than it is to get a temple recommend and go to the House of the Lord?
Second, why is the emphasis at both institutions on the dress/grooming standards more than the academic honesty issues? As a faculty member at BYU for a decade, it still astounds me to discover that students cannot accomplish anything on campus if they forgot to shave or have a minor infraction of the dress code, but that students who cheat or plagiarize or commit some violation of academic policy regularly get off with little more than a slap on the wrist….despite the fact that the very act of cheating is lying, which theoretically makes one ineligible for a temple recommend.
It is really too bad that the reaction of a handful of administrators in the 1960s and 1970s to transitory socio-cultural trends has effectively suspended common sense and free agency at these two institutions for nearly five decades.
KLC, I don’t think that’s what is actually happening, at least not directly. I would put it like this: BYU-Idaho receives less funding per student than the other BYU campuses, and has always done so. It’s part of its missions, and part of its Ricks College genes. Student and faculty commitment to the university’s religious identity is what allows the university to compensate for the lower funding by motivating them to extra effort in learning and teaching. It’s a beautiful thing, but with some occasional unintended consequences (when the idea that one is putting in extra effort because of religious commitment warps into the idea that one is especially righteous).
Steve S., it would be more accurate if you would prefix your comment with “I imagine how it works is that…” Then I could tell you that what you imagine is simply not how it works at all. Overblown comparisons and generalizing from a single incident without any sense of the local context are bad intellectual habits.
SPE, I’ve heard other faculty mention the laissez faire attitudes towards academic dishonesty. It’s troubling, and one of the things that BYU-Idaho needs to look at. We’ll get to those in the next post.
But, uh, “suspended common sense and free agency”? That seems a bit overblown. University education is serious business. Asking the participants to dress like they’re serious about it is maybe unusual, but doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.
We can talk about fiddling around on the margins – letting in a little more facial hair, tolerating capris – but the dress code just isn’t the tool of oppression it’s made out to be. To give Kim Clark some more credit, he invariable responds to questions about it saying that what’s needed isn’t more enforcement, but more obedience. That seems like the right approach.
Where exactly was I making “overblown comparisons” or “generalizing from a single incident?” I have heard lots of other stories from friends who have been to BYU-I about just how much more rigid they are in the dress code and in enforcing it than at BYU-Provo. Furthermore BYU-I’s statement of its dress code on its website is pretty solid evidence that it IS much more rigid than BYU-Provo’s code, a fact which you appear to be downplaying. Or are you making reference to my Mormon Basij comments? The Basij exists. I’ve experienced it first hand at BYU-Provo (and have every reason to believe that it is a very similar environment at BYU-I) and so have a lot of others. Bear in mind, just because you attended BYU-I doesn’t make you an expert on the enforcement of the dress code. Sure, you’ve had more first hand experience than those who haven’t attended and are probably aware of the experiences of more people. But as far as I know, you haven’t conducted any in-depth research as to dress code enforcement yourself; no public surveys, no interviews with administrators and testing center workers, or other people who handle large numbers of students there. So your word is just as good as my friends’ words. And I’ve heard multiple angles about BYU-I, everything from defensive downplaying of dress code enforcement to confirmations that it is a Basij-dominated environment.
The question is why must BYU-I’s dress code be preserved at the level that it is at? Why can’t it just adopt the same dress code policy as that at BYU-Provo?
The fact that BYU provo and BYU=I have different dress codes serves to point out that they are dress codes, not church doctrine. Shouldn’t be such a big deal. Just follow the dress code if you go to that school.
I heard another BYUI story last weekend. A woman and daughter from our stake were in Rexburg for freshman orientation. The daughter had to go to the bathroom and while she was gone someone, unclear whether it was a student or a university employee, began handing out papers. The mother held out her hand to get the packet and the person distributing them withdrew the papers and told her that she would not give them to her because she was dressed in shorts.
So Jonathan, while your ideas are interesting and new to me, they just address what you see to be the motivation behind the policies. I’m more concerned with the self righteous boors that these policies are creating.
Well, KLC, somebody was being boorish. Might I suggest that flouting the campus rules at an event that’s meant to instill the university’s values in a new set of students was probably a poor choice? Reminding students of the rules – or even enforcing those rules – is not by itself boorish or self-righteous.
Steve S., the comparison to the Basij is in poor taste, edging towards obscene. In addition, you should probably not confuse “stories I’ve heard from my friends” with a representative sample or the typical student experience. Like JKS, I think the diversity of dress codes is a good thing: BYU is not BYU-Idaho is not a mission is not youth conference is not Sunday meetings is not the temple; someone picks a dress code that fits the occasion, and modifies as needed.
Also, if you think that this post was based on my having attended BYU-Idaho, then you haven’t been paying attention. In my three years as a faculty member, I was one of the people who has supposed to enforce the honor code. The question of how I would feel about that was raised at my on-campus interview…and that’s the last I heard of it. In all the faculty meetings I attended, the subject never came up. That doesn’t tell us everything there is to know, but it does give a pretty good view of the overriding institutional concerns and priorities. The university cares about students following the honor code, but it cares much more about learning and teaching.
Jonathan, this was not a reminder to a student, this was directed at a non-student parent. If I’m a middle aged non-student on the campus and try to buy a pack of gum in the student store will they refuse to ring it up if I’m wearing shorts? If I’m a middle aged non-student on campus trying to find out information on the school will they refuse to talk to me if I’m wearing shorts? If I’m a middle aged non-student on campus and want to buy a Rexburger at the food court will they refuse to serve me if I’m wearing shorts? If I’m a middle aged non-student on campus and need to use the restroom will they take away the TP if I’m wearing shorts? Are all of these also examples of boorishly flouting campus rules that are worthy of punitive action in your universe?
Are you saying that you, and BYUI, see no difference between a student being honor bound to obey the dress code and providing written information to a visiting, non-student parent who is dressed well within the bounds of any church wide code of dress?
I should have added in my previous comment that this incident did not occur during the formal orientation activities, no one was flouting the rules of the orientation, no one was trying to get away with something. It occurred at the very beginning, as they just arrived after traveling and were trying to find out the schedules and other details of the orientation. If I arrive on campus for the first time and my mother asks at the information desk for help while wearing shorts is that flouting the university’s values? To not accommodate someone who is in need of direction, who is not a student, is what I would call self righteous boorishness.
Jonathan, I didn’t know you were a faculty member of BYU-I. I see now that that is what is to be inferred in your fourth point, but you still don’t make that readily apparent. But now that you mention that, your positions about the dress code and its enforcement make more sense.
One thing you don’t appear to be understanding is how enforcement works. You seem to think of enforcement as a strictly top-down function where faculty and staff are solely responsible for making sure that students are adhering to the dress code. What you aren’t acknowledging is the fact that there is a strong bottom-up current of enforcement that occurs among the students themselves. Students who are predisposed to have a more lax attitude towards the dress code, fear that not fully complying with the dress code may result in them drawing negative attention, looks of disapproval, or even verbal censure. And that could potentially place them in an awkward situation with their peers or even with university administrators, who will most likely back the censurers. Hence, they figure it is easier to just go along with the program than not. So yeah, sure, the university may care more about learning and teaching than exact compliance with every last jot and tittle of the honor code. But it does foster a type 1 (comment 14) mentality, albeit often indirectly and unintentionally, among its students who end up doing the enforcing for them.
And that is where my comparison to the Basij becomes very relevant (and I understand the Basij comparison is not applicable when it comes to the other more militant functions that it performs, and in the fact that it is an actual organization established by the Islamic regime itself). You see, because the Basij consists of volunteer citizens of Iran who take upon themselves the responsibility of commanding the right and forbidding the wrong. Hence the central Iranian administration doesn’t have to rely on its own public sector workers (bureaucrats, police force, etc.) to do the enforcing when it has its own citizens to do that. But the fact that women throughout Iran will wear the veil in public does not mean that they are huge fans of it and that they are willingly obedient.
So you can’t deny that there are resistant attitudes to the dress code at BYU-I, in spite of apparent obedience. Already in the comments to the OP several have expressed an attitude of ridicule towards the dress code rules there. Even you yourself seem to think that the rules against shorts and capris at BYU-I are a bit excessive. So why not petition administrators to relax some of the dress-code rules? Why come on the T&S blog (which has its fair share of ‘liberal’ readers such as myself) in outright defense, if not utter praise, of the rigid dress code of BYU-I? I find this quite perplexing.
“To not accommodate someone who is in need of direction, who is not a student, is what I would call self righteous boorishness.”
Exactly. That is the Basij mentality at work.
Well, you know, KLC, no shirt, no shoes, no service. The campus isn’t pubic space, and in some of the examples that you mention, you may well not be accommodated. Not all college students fit the 18-24 age bracket anymore, so it’s not obvious who’s a student and who isn’t.
Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t an unfortunate incident. It’s the beginning of the year, orientation is a big event, and people do the best they can. The volunteers helping out with it have to communicate to students that university life starts right now, including all that honor code stuff. Someone could have found a better response, and fine-tuning the dress code a bit would help avoid situations like this. At the same time, the mother in question really needs to recognize her own contribution to the event.
Steve S., peer enforcement of honor codes between students much as you describe is how things are supposed to work. Making the leap from that – which is by no means unique to BYU campuses – to comparisons to paramilitary thugs is very, very strange.
Wait, are you going to start telling me what does and doesn’t fit the parameters of T&S? Get a grip, man.
“…people do the best they can.” Strange that you give BYUI and it’s representatives that benefit of the doubt yet don’t extend it to those who are visiting.
Strange you give those who are visiting the benefit of the doubt yet don’t extend it to BYUI students.
“Wait, are you going to start telling me what does and doesn’t fit the parameters of T&S?”
Well, it does have a code of sorts, so it wouldn’t be beyond the pale per se.
Bryan, I think if you’ll go back and reread you’ll see that I am not blaming BYUI students, I’ve said several times that I see this as an institutional problem. But Jonathan disagrees, according to him it isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
Jonathan, a few points:
1) You keep bringing up the honor code in general when the OP and I specifically mention the dress code. Yes, by and large having honor codes in organizations that are self-enforced can be a noble and productive thing. But what matters is the content of the honor code and its adaptability to new cultures, trends, and personalities. For if the enforcement of an honor code becomes too revolved around seemingly unimportant minutiae, such as censuring visitors who wear shorts or capris, then it becomes counter-productive and gnat-straining. The university should be helping people understand and internalize the principles behind the rules, not just insisting that people comply with every last nit-picking rule, many of which visitors are unaware, whether they understand the reason behind it or not.
2) In your OP and comments you take no thought as to why certain particular rules (such as no capris) exist and why there is resistance to changing the rules according to innocuous changes in fashion trends. You haven’t even attempted to address why the dress code is so much different at BYU-I than that at BYU.
3) Bear in mind that your rule-is-a-rule-deal-with-it mentality actually hurts you and the organization you work for. For your organization cannot exist without enrollment, and enrollment of intelligent, hard-working students at that. And the more trends and attitudes change in the Mormon world, and the more BYU-I refuses to make even minor adaptations to these changes, the more likely it is that BYU-I will be seen as Mormonism’s Wahhabist school and will be shunned by the Mormon community.
I’ve been trying to give your OP the benefit of the doubt, but the more I have read over it OP and your comments to my points (which I haven’t made with any ill-will in mind) the more it has come off as self-righteous and shortsighted. This OP and your comments most certainly do not meet the kind of intellectual rigor that I have come to expect from T&S posters.
KLC’s story illustrates difficulties that may arise when one entity within the Church sets itself up as having stricter standards than the Church in general, or even than the temple. I don’t know all the facts in the case, but there are knee-length shorts that are in keeping with temple covenants. So imagine a slightly modified story in which the student’s bearded father was told that was unworthy of being helped whenever he set foot on the BYU-I campus, because, after all, he should know better–even if he is a fully-active, temple-attending high councilor whose tithing dollars are subsidizing the education of the young, zealous enforcer of the BYU-Idaho way of doing things. It’s not a big deal in the larger scheme of things, but there comes a point when the silliness of the situation, and the self-righteousness that it sometimes leads to, is probably counter-productive. Especially when there are higher things at stake than rules for the sake of rules.
Grant, hypotheticals aren’t worth worrying about. There are situations when insisting on compliance makes sense, and situations where it doesn’t. The tricky part is finding the right balance, and making the right call in the marginal situations. That’s true of all rules. When it comes to things like dress codes, I tended to err on the side of minding my own business, but I have some sympathy for people who have to make judgment calls in tricky situations.
KLC, you can’t understand the minor bugs unless you know what the features are.
1) Your opening paragraph makes several assumptions, some of which are correct, some of which aren’t.
2) It is true, I did not write that post. I did not write many other possible posts as well.
3) Wait, you think I still work for BYU-Idaho? You really have to start paying more attention.
I was with Jonathan on these arguments until now, with the story of the parent who was denied services due to wearing shorts on campus.
Parents who visit campus are not bound by law, agreement, covenant, good sense, or even common courtesy to obey the student dress code.
If any of my kids wore a uniform to school, I would not have to put on a uniform to visit the school and take care of business in the office or the classroom.
If I visited a shop in Amish country, I would not have to cover my head to do business at their roadside stands or shops. They could probably legally deny service to me, but it would be a very bad idea.
What if this woman had showed up on campus dressed according to student standards but smelling like cigarette smoke? Would she also have been denied the opportunity to help her child register? If the answer is yes, I’d like to know why anyone would think such a petty tyranny was appropriate in any way. If the answer is no, I’d like to know why the dress code is any different.
See, Steve, one thing I’ve learned by blogging is that not all comments are worth responding to. It’s quicker to just delete the rude ones and forget about them.