At Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, beards have been banned on campus since the rise of the counterculture movement when it was thought to be associated with hippies and expressed anti-war sentiments. by many young people in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Men are supposed to be clean-shaven; beards are not acceptable,” the school’s dress and grooming standards state.
Sideburns are permitted, but they “must not extend below the earlobe or across the cheek.” Mustaches should be “neatly trimmed and should not protrude or extend beyond the corners of the mouth”. These styles, the standards advise, are “consistent with the dignity attached to representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any of its institutions of higher learning.”
Every few years, a group of students band together to try to change that, for the purpose of self-expression or for religious reasons. Now Warner Woodworth, professor emeritus of Brigham Young University, has taken over. What is new in Mr. Woodworth’s approach is his argumentation.
“Beards are clearly prophetic,” he wrote in a Change.org petition. “They have been used by righteous men from Adam down through the ages.” Having a beard can show righteousness, he wrote – moreover, “millions of men around the world” wear them.
He added that “even though Joseph Smith”—the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—”couldn’t grow a nice beard, most of his leading brethren could and did.” . Almost all the prophets, apostles and others have done so with righteousness and pride.
Beard Waivers and Financial Obstacles
Perhaps the university’s beard ban was never meant to be permanent. “Our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic,” Dallin H. Oaks said in a 1971 address to students when he was president of Brigham Young University. (He is now the first counselor in the first presidency, or higher governing body, of the church.)
In the same speech, Mr Oaks added that beards indicated ‘protest, revolution and rebellion against authority’ and called them ‘symbols of hippie and drug culture’.
But he understood that wasn’t always the case. “The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they weren’t changed at some point in the future,” he said.
Over the years, the policy has relaxed following pressure from students. In 2015, the school began allowing exceptions for religious reasons.
The move followed a study by Ray L. Huntington and Shon D. Hopkin, professors at Brigham Young University, in which Muslim students on campus were interviewed to understand their views while attending school.
Two male Muslim students said they ‘struggled to reconcile BYU’s beard ban with their own cultural expectations about facial hair, but still followed the rules and were clean-shaven “, wrote the researchers. (Some observant Muslims take religious vows never to shave their beards completely, and culturally, Muslim men with facial hair are considered more enlightened and respected.)
The university also now allows exceptions for those who perform roles in theater productions as well as for students with pseudofolliculitis barbae, or ingrown hair bumps.
But the process of getting a beard waiver is tedious and there can be financial hurdles.
“I would get really bad ingrown hairs from shaving so much, so I finally was like, ‘OK. I’m done with that. Let’s see how easy it is to get that waiver,’ Ethan said Walker, currently a graduate student at Brigham Young University.
Last fall, Mr Walker said he had to go to the student health center and shave every day for three days in a row to prove he had the disease. He couldn’t get a note from his own doctor and he had to pay about $70, after insurance. “There are a lot of hoops for something small, but also boring and painful,” he said.
Banning beards has other unintended, albeit less serious, consequences. “Being clean-shaven is kind of a defining trait of being a BYU student. But then after they left, a lot of my students lost their facial hair,” said Brigham Young’s School teacher Kevin John. of Communications.” A beard then becomes a defining trait of a BYU graduate, because he couldn’t do it before.”
Mr John said he thought the “negative stigma” of beards had really disappeared. Now, Mr. John said, beards have “a little air of distinction about them. I think they have a bit of professionalism.
A supporter of pandemic beards
During his nearly 40 years of teaching at Brigham Young, Mr. Woodworth was on several occasions an advisor for unofficial student beard clubs.
“Every five to seven years, a group of male students would come up to me and tell me that we wanted to change the culture on campus,” Woodworth said. “I would meet them from time to time, encourage them and listen to them as they described their wishes, interests or passions for facial hair on this campus.”
In recent months, Mr Woodworth has noticed that many men in the congregation at church meetings have beards. Several homeschooling teachers had also started growing facial hair. “I finally said ‘OK, I’m going to start a petition,'” Mr Woodworth said.
He was always one to stand up for what he believed in – even if that meant clashing with the university – so it was no big surprise to many of Mr Woodworth’s colleagues that he got the ball rolling this time. “Beards are just one piece of a bigger campus openness issue,” he said.
The professor is a longtime advocate for cultural and racial diversity on campus. Earlier this year, he published an opinion piece supporting critical race theory, in a state where lawmakers were organizing to ban it.
In 2007, he publicly questioned the choice of Dick Cheney as the keynote speaker, and as a student of Brigham Young in the 1960s, Mr. Woodworth participated in marches against the Vietnam War.
“We launched several successful campaigns against various US interventions, including Reagan’s invasion of Grenada, GHW Bush attacking Panama, and the young Bush, whom we called ‘W’, regarding his invasion of Iraq, whom we dismissed as a threat to innocent societies,” he said.
Regarding anti-war rallies on campus, Woodworth said: “Unlike most American universities where huge protests are staged across college cultures, BYU has mostly suffered from opposition to any criticism national level on the part of its faculty and/or its students”.
“Now, if we can still get the beard policy changed, maybe I can stop being a disrupter,” he said.
A month ago, his petition was posted online: “Prayers and pleas to restore the beauty of men’s beards have accelerated at Brigham Young University,” he says.
“Fortunately, the LDS manual and church newsroom do not have negative guidelines regarding facial hair,” he says. “Leaders have long known that becoming a global church involves multiple cultures, realizing that a beard has different meanings around the world.”
Carri Jenkins, spokesperson for Brigham Young University, said in an email response to the petition, “The dress and grooming standards, which describe how BYU has chosen to represent itself, reflect the highest standards of the university and the Church. Everyone who comes to BYU voluntarily agrees to uphold these standards out of concern for personal integrity and respect for the university and those who make it possible.
The question remains: is the beard prophetic?
A prophet is defined as a person considered an inspired teacher or announcer of the will of God. Technically, this designation could be enjoyed by a person of any gender.
But as is the case with other religions, all of the prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been men.
“The LDS Church is a patriarchal church, and it has been led by men throughout its history,” said Quincy Newell, professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. And “as something usually only men are capable of,” Dr. Newell said, beards are associated with masculinity.
In religions where gender is viewed differently, beards may not have the same symbolic value. “The Shakers, founded by Ann Lee, saw gender in very different ways, and I don’t think they would say beards are prophetic,” Dr. Newell said. “They had a board of both men and women, so women had a lot more say in the movement.”
Of course, most church members probably don’t try to sport a beard to look like a prophet. They probably like them.
Today, there is an effort to be more mainstream within the church, according to Michael E. Nielsen, professor of psychology and religion at Georgia Southern University. “There’s this tension between being part of society but not too much,” he said.
This tension is particularly acute for some female members of the faith. For example, BYU women fought to wear pants in the 1970s, and today some women in the church are pushing for better-fitting and more comfortable sacred underwear.
But the rules can extend to more arbitrary things: In 2017, the sale of caffeinated sodas was finally allowed on BYU’s campus after more than half a century of sales bans.
Beards may not have enough respect to be fought against or accepted as a norm. But “if we wait another two years and a bunch of new students come on campus and say ‘we want to do this,’ I’ll try again, and I’m sure someday change will happen,” Mr. Woodworth. . “It’s just one more attempt.”