Brigham Young University has poked the first few holes in its controversial ban on beards, announcing a handful of exemptions that allow Muslims and Sikh students to imitate its famous founder — while continuing to restrict actual Mormons.
The flagship school of the Mormon faith has mandated that men go clean-shaven since the 1970s, when a beard ban was implemented to reassert the school’s socially conservative identity in an era of hippies and student radicalism. Then-president Ernest Wilkinson once declared in a speech that there was “no place at B.Y.U. for the grimy, sandaled, tight-fitted, ragged-Levi beatnik.” The beard ban is even enshrined in the school’s honor code, right after pledges to avoid alcohol and abstain from premarital sex.
Beards aren’t the only fashion choices restricted by BYU. The school’s wide-reaching Dress and Grooming Standards prohibit men from having long hair or wearing sleeveless shirts, while women may have no piercings other than one in each ear and cannot wear skirts or shorts that end above the knee.
Now, students will be allowed to sport facial hair, but only if they meet a narrow set of requirements. Students may have beards if their religious beliefs require it (not all BYU students are Mormon), if they have a medical condition that makes shaving difficult, or if they are playing a bearded character in a play.
Students claiming any of these exemptions will be expected to produce a note from a chaplain, doctor, or the theater department, respectively. While a few students have received beard exemptions in the past, this marks the first time the school has explicitly created entire categories qualifying for a free pass.
While the policy is more liberal than what came before, it still leaves most campus Mormons out in the cold. While campus namesake Brigham Young had a mighty beard himself, the school specifically said that Mormon students could not cite their faith in order to evade the ban.
“A beard is not something that is mandated by the LDS faith,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said in a statement. “[Being LDS] would not be a legitimate reason.”
A protest campaign by students has sought to persuade the school to abandon the ban. Since the students can’t grow beards without punishment, they instead have paraded while wearing fake beards made of cardboard. Despite their efforts, the school insists that it will go no further in changing its standards.
“The dress and grooming guideline that men are to be clean shaven has not changed, and I do not foresee it changing,” said Jenkins.
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