A group of Brigham Young University students have taken to bicycles to protest the school’s decade-long ban on beards. Last week, a group of around 50 students held a “Bike for Beards” event, where they rode around a statue of a clean-shaven Brigham Young and wore a mix of fake and real beards. The event culminated with the students revealing a petition asking the school to reconsider the policy.
BYU’s honor code, which dates from the 1940s, has specific rules for male facial hair, saying that hair must be “trimmed above the collar, leaving the ear uncovered. Sideburns should not extend below the earlobe or onto the cheek. If worn, moustaches should be neatly trimmed and may not extend beyond or below the corners of the mouth.” Under the code, beards are not allowed. Students are able to obtain exemptions to the policy, and the process involves getting a doctor’s recommendation, getting a new student ID and annually resubmitting the request. BYU’s honor code website does not give examples of appropriate exemptions to the policy, but the health center’s website says that certain skin conditions can lead to an exception, and outside sources have said that involvement in theatrical productions can also give students an exception.
BYU students have questioned the ban in the past. In the 1971, then-university president Dallin Oaks argued that the ban was necessary because beards could be connected to “protest, revolution and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of hippie and drug culture.” Students involved in the current protest argue that beards no longer have those connotations. Several years ago, a student tried to survey student opinion on the rule, and the school took down the survey.
This is not the first case of BYU students questioning the honor code rules in recent years. This summer, Keli Byers, a BYU sophomore, published a piece in Cosmopolitan speaking out against the school’s policy against sexual activity. In her piece, Byers said that policy hurts women who have been sexually assaulted and that “BYU needs to know that it’s OK for women to be sexual, and it’s not OK to punish them for it.” In 2007, the school changed its policies for LGBT students, following both requests from students and outside groups. The original policy said that “any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature” violated the honor code and could lead to possible expulsion; under the revised policy, students cannot be punished for sexual orientation but “homosexual behavior or advocacy of homosexual behavior” is still punishable. In 2012, a group of students at BYU produced a “It Gets Better” video, despite the possibility of expulsion and excommunication.
Students at other religiously-affiliated colleges have also spoken out against policies and decisions that they find outdated. At Wheaton College, which was named the third most LGBT-unfriendly college in the country this year, students have created the group OneWheaton to support LGBT students and protested the decision to have Rosario Butterfield speak on campus. Eastern University and George Fox University have both started groups similar to OneWheaton, while Seattle Pacific University officially recognized a club that discusses LGBT issues last year.