I have to admit that embarking on this blog post has had me shaking in my boots for days. Some of that could be from all the lunges I’ve been doing in Zumba class lately, but mostly I think it’s because I’m afraid this might spread around an already-opened can of worms, and worms are gross. What’s worse is I can’t quite come to a full-fledged conclusion. Perhaps you all can help me with that. At any rate, full steam ahead.
In the last few months, members of the Church have been placed in a somewhat unflattering light thanks to a couple of BYU/BYUI student-created molehills that the media has turned into mountains. It’s not the first time we’ve seen something like this. In fact, my mom told me of one incident that occurred while she was a student at BYU.
For one of its important events, BYU invited a famous non-LDS musician to give a concert on campus (“famous” as in a very well-known, non-LDS artist). Unfortunately, some BYU students saw it as a violation of the Honor Code to allow him to perform at a school-sponsored activity when he did not adhere to the rules of the Honor Code in his personal life. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t LDS or that he wasn’t a student. These students weren’t bashful about making their thoughts known. Naturally, he was offended, but he was graceful enough to go on with the show. If only the students had exhibited the same social graces…
I doubt most people have ever heard this story. Thirty years ago, there was no internet to spread it to the four corners of the earth. (And I think we may safely say that we would never exhibit that behavior today.) It all simply blew over, and if the story still exists, it’s most likely in a file somewhere collecting dust. That’s how these things went down in those days (not that thirty years ago merits the expression “those days”). The rest of the world either took no notice or just rolled their eyes at our “quaintness.” How quickly things change.
You’ve probably all heard this one, so I won’t rehash it in detail, but this past Valentine’s Day, an Honor Code uproar managed to make national and even international news when a student at BYU was handed a harsh letter of criticism by a boy she had never met, wherein she was chastised for breaking the Honor Code with her choice of attire. She promptly took a picture of her outfit and posted the picture alongside the note online, and the story spread like wildfire. Some people were outraged over the note, and some, like the author of the note, were indignant over Brittany’s outfit (which wasn’t exactly in keeping with the Honor Code, but a far cry from “immodest”).
As for the other event, only a few months ago, based on some of the Facebook status updates I read, one would think BYUI was on the brink of civil war. Some students all but seceded from the university over the attempted abolition of skinny jeans. One reliable source informed me that there was even a lockdown at the testing center that banned any students wearing skinny jeans from taking tests there.
This reliable source, Wesley Tingey, is a senior at BYUI and also happens to be a clever writer. In fact, Wesley wrote a letter to the school paper that may have played a large part in events leading up to the testing center’s ban. Wesley says, “[The skinny jean uproar] started as a topic of conversation in the opinion section of the school paper…I think they caught wind of the skinny jeans banter, went a little too far, and then imposed their interpretation of the dress code by making the blanket statement ‘No Skinny Jeans.’ And that’s when all heck broke loose.”
The letter Wesley wrote was in response to another letter written by a fellow student that labeled men who wear skinny jeans as effeminate. Wesley says, “I just thought it was pretty ignorant and figured I’d say something.” Wesley’s letter included a comedic case in point illustration of why skinny jeans are not effeminate, drawing upon iconic tight-pant-clad figures such as Disney’s Gaston to make the case. Wesley explains, “The letter was something of a hit on campus and its reception may well have been a straw that broke the camel’s back because a week later the Testing Center got involved.” After that, social media forums quickly became flooded with students’ cries of outrage, and soon the story had made big news.
I am amazed when I consider how much attention these two events received within the LDS community and without. Heck, Brittany’s story made it into London papers! And interestingly, both stories have something in common: students telling other students what not to wear. This is probably the point where I could go off on a tangent about not judging one another, or modesty and how it’s defined in the Honor Code, or the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law, or even a rhetorical attack on the BYUI Testing Center (which could be fun…it is a testing center, after all…), but the more I think about it, the more I begin to think that there is something bigger at stake here. Much, much bigger.
When you’re in the Church, you get to see the whole spectrum. You see the individuals—the kindness they exhibit toward others, and you see the beauty of a religion that is centered upon the teachings of Christ. But when all you see of the Church is what people say about Mormons or BYU students in their Facebook statuses, it can bring, as my friend Wesley puts it, “a lot of embarrassing, negative press to the school and, consequently, to the Church.”
I am not raising a battle cry in defense of Brittany, and I’m not about to take a stand on the skinny jeans issue (although I am rather fond of them. Heck, I’m wearing them right now). I am, however, raising a question: What really matters here?