So we’ve been in the Chicago area for a little over a week now. I’ve had one day of classes in addition to all of the new student orientation activities, some of which I dragged my husband along for.
Earlier this year, after I got accepted to TEDS, I e-mailed my admissions counselor and asked him what the dress code was. I doubted that I had much in my wardrobe that wouldn’t work for the seminary—I’m really nowhere near as lascivious in person as I make it sound on the Internet—but I wanted to make sure I did not spend any money on new clothes only to find out they’d be prohibited at my new school. Much to my surprise, the admissions counselor simply replied, “There is none. In the beginning I wore a t-shirt and shorts and skateboarded to class each day. Now I wear a suit and tie, but only because I work in an office. You can wear anything in between those extremes.”
As my husband and I walked around the TEDS campus, we were surprised to find that the student body at Trinity looks and dresses almost exactly like… the student body at BYU. Minor variations abounded. There were plenty of beards, because evangelicals have nothing against beards (and I’ve always found BYU’s beard policy rather bizarre in light of whom the university is named after), but they were intentional beards. I don’t recall seeing any guys who simply looked like they’d been lazy and not shaved for a day or two, though I have less of an eye for such things. There were a few women in tank tops, but again, evangelicals don’t preach against those. I saw one woman in a shorter skirt and tank top, but the thought never occurred to me that she was “immodest;” it was, after all, a hot day. I saw a few guys with longer hairstyles than what would be allowed at BYU, and one guy with hair past his shoulders. Ignoring the beards, I would say 95% of the people there had nothing about their personal appearance which would be forbidden by the Honor Code. Without any Honor Code to monitor them, the student body was governing itself with pretty clean standards of dress and appearance.
There isn’t any kind of “ecclesiastical endorsement” system at TEDS, either. The school has a code which forbids “dishonesty, theft, pre-marital sex, abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior, and use of pornography, profanity, gossip, racism, and infringement upon the rights of others,” but you don’t have to check in with your pastor once a year to make sure you’re not doing those things. (To view Trinity’s graduate student code of conduct, see page 7 of this PDF here. BYU’s Honor Code can be found here.)
It all got me thinking: is BYU’s Honor Code system really necessary? Do yearly interviews actually cut down on the number of students breaking the Honor Code, or merely increase the number of people who lie about it? If the school simply asked students to keep the standards of the church and did not require it under threat of discipline, wouldn’t most people simply do it anyways?