“After some thinking, I think I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.”

A picture from a spring camping trip in April 2000, which some hardliners might argue was a violation of the BYU Honor Code because we went camping with boys. I chose to go on this camping trip with friends in Canyonlands National Park instead of attending my graduation ceremonies held that weekend.

There is a first time for everything.  For me, today will be my first time writing a blog post about BYU basketball. It will probably be my last time. Despite earning two degrees at BYU, I have never been a BYU basketball fan. In fact, during my time at BYU, I really had a strong dislike for the BYU basketball team.  However, events of the past few days have caused me to reassess my feelings toward the BYU basketball team and in particular, dismissed player Brandon Davies.  I have felt a net gain in positive feelings for both. First, I appreciate that BYU is an institution that cares more about principles and integrity than it does about national championships. Second, I appreciate that Brandon Davies appears to be a young man of honor, who was willing to admit when he made a mistake and face the consequences for it, at a time when it meant the consequences would most likely affect any hope of a championship season.  Brandon Davies seems like a good kid, and I wish him all the best.

Although the reaction from the news media has largely been positive in its treatment of BYU’s action, there are plenty of commentors out there in this place called the World Wide Web who are happy to mock BYU and its honor code.  Most of that criticism and commentary just causes me to shrug my shoulders because it is just background noise from people who don’t understand why people make the choice to attend a university that requires adherence to such a code.  I don’t really care what they think, because their opinions really have no bearing on the policies of a private institution.  However, there are a few things that I would like to say about BYU’s honor code more generally.

 I will make no self-righteous affirmations that I always made choices that were 100% in compliance with the honor code, when I attended BYU.  I think it is fairly safe to say that at one time or another, every BYU student broke some tenant, however small, of the Honor Code, and didn’t face any repercussion from it.  The whole point of an honor code is that it is primarily self-enforced by one’s personal committment and sense of honor.  Only for major infractions that are communicated to the university in some way, either by self-reporting or by reporting of other students are ever dealt with at a university level.  I will be honest, the reporting of violations by other students still bugs the tar out of me, but I have nothing but respect for students like Brandon Davies who reported their own violations in their bid to rectify their mistakes.  To me, that is absolutely a sign of character. I love the students that do that and I hope that students like Davies can find a way to serve out their punishment and then stay at the university.  But that is between him and the university.   I feel sorry for him that he has to have details of his personal life discussed and speculated upon by the media and the general public. 

I would never ever judge another BYU student who committed an honor code infraction.  I certainly cannot throw any stones, because I know that I didn’t live the letter of the honor code. My freshman year, I will never forget how awesome it felt to be bad and sneak up to watch Pulp Fiction with some boys who were friends during non-visiting hours at W Hall.  I am not going to lie about how cool I felt to be subversive. I watched a movie, and went home; no further nefarious activity was afoot.  However, I broke the rules, nonetheless.  That wasn’t the only time I broke the rules. I am not going to list my relative honor code infractions here, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t one hundred percent; I made mistakes and I learned from them, the same way I am sure Davies will. 

Now, I am really grateful for the honor code.  Although I wasn’t perfect in my compliance, I am quite sure that the honor code prevented me from making the bigger mistakes that I would have had if I would have attended another university.  What I really mean is that the honor code was a constant reminder to me that my central purpose at a university and in life was not to pursue my own selfish pleasure, but to pursue learning and service.  I don’t think that I would have learned that in the absence of the honor code.  I don’t completely understand complex explanations of neurological development (I will leave that to my sister), but I do know that post-adolescence seems to me a time where it is very easy to become consumed by our own selfishness.  I think about the eighteen year-old version of myself, and it would have been entirely easy for me to just completely live selfishly, pursuing my life as I saw fit.

The Honor Code won’t allow you to do that. It demands that you surrender certain opportunities for personal pleasure in the name of surrendering your will to God.  You make that choice because you are promised that if you make that committment, you will get something greater back from God.  Although I have not been perfect in the practice of that, I know that it is the case.  Because I made the choice to attend BYU, I learned and I thought more clearly.  I didn’t mind at all spending Friday nights at the library, writing essays for fun when a topic sparked my interest.  More importantly though, BYU was the place that taught me that there was more real in the world than just me.  I don’t know if I would have learned that at another university that would have demanded less of a personal sacrifice from me. 

The fact is, to most of the world, the commitment that you make when you sign the BYU Honor Code will always seem absurd.  Why would you voluntarily limit your choices, particularly when you are in college and get your first taste of freedom?  But that isn’t the way I see it at all.  I know that the choices that we make affect other people, even when we think we are just making a choice for ourselves.  Because I attended BYU, I am a different person. I want to live my life in such a way that minimizes the harm that I do to others and maximizes the good that I give to others.  And I can see the nexus between my own choices and effects on others.  Am I always perfect?  Absolutely not;  but I am trying, and for me, I don’t think that I could have learned that lesson any other way.

Finally, there is one additional lesson that I learned from the honor code.  That lesson is that it is important to belong to a community that bears one another’s burdens and supports each other.  When people voice that they don’t see the need for organized religion, this is what I always come back to. Frankly, I see that committment to each other as the reason behind some of the personal commitments that we are called to make. Why are Mormons not supposed to drink alcohol?  I don’t think there is an inherent evilness in a glass of wine. However, I think that we are called not to partake at all, because for some people, consuming alcohol would lead to problems for them.  This is my own opinion, but we all agree to that abstention for the good of the whole community.  Feeling that sense of community is important to me, because without it, it would be too easy for me to try to go it alone.  When I was at BYU, I didn’t feel a particular connection with most of the 30,000 other BYU students.  We were very different in many ways.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t make some great friends who taught me all kinds of things about being a better person. I absolutely did.  However, I felt detached and different from many of the other students.  However, in retrospect, it was a place that taught me that shared religious committment could build a community and be tolerant of our own differences at the same time, even when that community building process can be difficult.  That’s why, I hope other BYU students show nothing but support for Brandon Davies.  I expect those that understand the principles behind the Honor Code absolutely will.  Forgiveness and growth are implicitly built into the honor code.  I know it was in its practice for my imperfect moments.  Forgiveness is God’s to give, for the rest of us, it should just be automatic.

* The title to this post is a line taken from Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes.

Addendum:  Some media outlets have sepeculated what the Honor Code Infraction of Brandon Davies was.  BYU doesn’t report on these matters to the media, so all of those statements are coming from others, not BYU. BYU believes in keeping these matters as confidential as they can. Unfortunately, since BYU has been in the midst of their best basketball season ever, releasing a statement saying that a member of the team has been dismissed is generating speculation and gossip.  That hurts Brandon Davies, and frankly, it isn’t the media’s or anyone else’s business. He should be left alone to work out the situation as best for him.

Addendum 2: Playing on an athletic team at a university is generally considered a privilege.  As a result, most athletic teams have team rules that may be in addition to whatever formalized honor code (usually involving cheating) that institution may have. Many institutions aside from BYU actually enforce these rules. Here at UNC, a basketball team member was dismissed before the season even began because of violating team rules.  At the time, people were speculating he was dismissed because of marijuana use, and I have no idea what it was, but the fact is, there are other schools that uphold their standards too, and those standards are more rigorous than what an average student may face.  Not every school is Kentucky, Connecticut, or Ohio State.  However, no Division I school has the same kind of enforced standards as BYU, so that makes it unique.  Plus, the media loves a sex story.  Even talking about the expectation of no sex seems pretty sexy to them. 

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