Harmless Disobedience: Surviving the BYU Honor Code

A million years ago, I attended BYU.

It wasn’t a great time for me.

The reasons I didn’t thrive (read: avoided campus except when absolutely necessary) are many, varied, and complex; however, I think I can boil it all down to one major problem.

The Honor Code.

For those who don’t know what the BYU Honor Code is, it is a document that details the standards of behavior expected – required – of all BYU students. The basics are this: attend church, don’t use tobacco, drugs, coffee, tea, or alcohol, keep the grooming standards (no low necklines, midriffs, short hemlines/slits, or bare shoulders for women, no bare shoulders or beards for men), and keep curfew. (Curfew is as follows: women and men must live separate unless married or family; no opposite sex visitors in your apartment between 12:00 AM-8:00 AM, no opposite sex visitors in your bedroom ever, and they can’t use your bathroom). (If you want to read the full Honor Code, in all of its ridiculous naivety, click here.)

Most of the standards were something with which I was accustomed, growing up an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I didn’t mind most of it, on principle. What bothered me is this:

You have to sign the freaking honour code to attend BYU.

I resented that. Heck, I still resent that. It is a freaking HONOR CODE. I’m on my HONOR to obey it. And yet you choose to make it a legally binding document that has to be signed? (Imagine me rolling my eyes.) (When I found out that I had to sign it, I tried marking it as “signed under duress”. That didn’t go over very well.)

You know what else I resented? The curfew. Honestly? SO MANY PEOPLE turned the curfew into such a thing – at exactly midnight, everything ended. Never mind that your movie has 2 minutes until it ends. Never mind that you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation. IT ENDS AT MIDNIGHT. You could stand on opposite sides of a door frame, with the door open, but not be in the same room? RIDICULOUS.

You see, while I understand the intention of the Honor Code, the culture that it has come to espouse is hella toxic. Competitive and judgmental obedience isn’t a good look on anyone. You get this hyper-strict, ultra-obedient, robot-minded mentality that sees anything as a possible honour code breach as a reason for judgement, skepticism, and ostracism. There is no room for compassion, for understanding, or for empathy in a world where, at 12:01, you’re automatically branded as a hellion. (Which I always was.)

So your friend is having a crisis where they’re feeling suicidal, so you stay to comfort them until 1:00 AM? SLUT.

Your opposite sex friend is in town, and you want to make him breakfast before he leaves? HARLOT.

Your male friend is over and needs to use the restroom, so you let him? YOU SHALL BE THRUST DOWN TO HELL.

My last 2 years at BYU, I finally lived with a group of girls that were like me: we obeyed the honour code – mostly. We had no desire to break most of the rules. But you know what? We didn’t change our behavior to accommodate the ridiculously strict and laughably naive rules of the honor code.

We went on camping trips with male friends without a married couple present. (Because most married couples were younger than and less responsible than us.) We occasionally broke the dress code on a hot summer day. (Tank tops and shorts to the park.) And sometimes, we had men in our apartment after midnight. (Gasp.) And you know what? It never devolved into a frothing orgy. Except once. (Just kidding.)

The long and short of it is this; to survive the BYU Honor Code, you have to find your people. The people who share your values – whether that means obeying TO THE LETTER, or bending the rules, or, if it’s your jam, breaking every single rule all the time.

Otherwise, you’ll spend your time at BYU like I spent most of mine: feeling out of place, judged, unhappy, and resentful.

Hey, but at least I got my degree!…. that I’ve never used…. and that is totally useless….