Debating Brigham Young University'S Honor Code

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Brigham Young University has a long standing reputation of having, as a whole, some of the most well behaved and respectable students in the nation. This legacy may be due in part to the university’s Honor Code, to which every student must adhere in order to be enrolled. This strictly enforced code’s purpose is to, “... assist the BYU Community in their individual effort to emulate the Savior by honoring their commitment to the principles of the Honor Code”. The code includes standards that require students to remain chaste, dress modestly, and follow the LDS Church’s Word of Wisdom.

Contrary to the beliefs of many of the university’s administrators,  I believe the Honor Code is ineffective and unnecessary. Rather than its intended purpose, this Honor Code has no positive effect on a community where morals are already present and rules are abided; it only serves to limit agency in a time and place in students’ lives where agency is most vital. Before I start, I recognize that many times disagreement with the church and BYU policies often comes across as an attack. As a Mormon from the 7th most liberal city in the United States, I have often defended the church and its teachings from such attacks. It is not my intention to disrespect BYU nor the Church in general.

As a student here at BYU, I am merely voicing an issue on which I, and many others, seem to share the same opinion. In an attempt to help students choose to obey the Lord’s commandments, the Honor Code challenges an idea that is central to the gospel: agency. Having this set of rules in place doesn’t totally take away our agency, however, it dramatically impacts it. The problem is that many students at BYU follow the Honor Code not because of their desire to do good and obey, but out of fear of breaking the code and facing the consequences thereof. My understanding of Jesus Christ’s gospel includes the idea that obedience must be completely voluntary in order to produce its intended outcome. The pressures of conformity to the honor code and our limited agency to choose otherwise, more often than not, leads to hypocrisy rather than righteousness.

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Additionally, at this time in our lives, it is especially vital that we learn how to choose right from wrong. Many of us will go on to pursue careers in locations where the LDS community is very much a minority. It is important that we learn to stick to our morals in those types of environments. I grew up outside of Detroit, Michigan, where only one percent of my high school was LDS. Although it was often hard being surrounded by those who didn’t share the same beliefs, I really appreciated all the good and the bad I was exposed to. I had the opportunity to see drastically different lifestyles, and how those lifestyles affected the individuals leading them. Perhaps most importantly, I was constantly standing up for what I believe in and defending my standards. Having the experiences in my life where I could use my agency to make mistakes, learn for myself, and strengthen my testimony is honestly why I’m here today.

I believe every young adult should have that opportunity. Brigham Young University is the perfect place to practice our newfound freedom from home. BYU is arguably the safest college campus in the world; so much so that Business Insider rated BYU the safest university in the United States. A safe place such as BYU is a great environment to remove our training wheels and learn how to successfully ride on our own in the real world. The Honor Code only serves as an overprotective parent in this picture, hindering the growth of the youth. Furthermore, the Honor Code has no positive effect on BYU’s community of Latter-day Saints.

People in favor of the Honor Code argue that the code filters out the types of students who we don’t necessarily want on campus. However, may I suggest that it is not the Honor Code that does this, but the ecclesiastical endorsement. Students can only be admitted into BYU if they have an ecclesiastical endorsement. The endorsement is obtained by the student from their bishop after he interviews them to make sure they are living in accordance to the gospel. In order to pass the interview, the student must truly believe in the Church’s teachings and precepts. If this is the case, a student does not need an Honor Code to tell them how to act. If a dishonest student passes the interview, which undoubtedly and unfortunately happens, an honor code will not stop them from continuing the kind of lifestyle they have been leading.

Here we can see that effectiveness and necessity, and thus importance, lie with the ecclesiastical endorsement, and not the Honor Code. Finally, I can see how some might say, “The Honor Code keeps people honest”. I do not find that argument compelling in the slightest. The fatal flaw in this argument is the implication that if the honor code didn’t exist, everyone would turn into lying, stealing, cheating, drug dealing, chain smoking, counter-culturists. If the honor code’s existence is justified by the fact that is it instills virtues, then the argument only holds ground if those virtues would be absent in the community were it not for the honor code.

If that is true, then this argument is a terribly grim commentary about a community who wishes to be defined as adherents of the gospel of Jesus of Christ, but somehow feels it needs require a compulsory list of rules to maintain those morals. I am fully in favor of promoting wholesomeness and virtue on campus, it’s just that I find it somewhat saddening that a community that prides itself on inherent virtues and strong morals feels the need to establish mandatory legislation to enforce something it apparently already claims.

In closing, I respect the Honor Code’s original intent to better its students and the university as a whole, however, I fail to see evidence of this improvement. From my experience, I can only see how the code manages to curb our agency in a time where our agency is most vital. Perhaps we as students of this university have the responsibility to voice our beliefs and to work towards a solution that allows us the freedom of choice this community of saints cherishes, the same freedom of choice that we so greatly need.

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