“WWJD” Doesn’t Stand for “What Would Javert Do”: My Musical Take on BYU’s Honor Code

I’m a Mormon. Mormons love musical theater.

I also go to BYU. Mormons love BYU – one of the reasons Mormons love BYU is that its honor code, which bans alcohol, drugs, coffee, plagiarism, and premarital sex, keeps us in a safe environment where we can comfortably live our religion and follow its guidelines. All fine so far. All things I have appreciated myself for the past three years.

But with the honor code comes a series of . . . issues. I’m all about keeping the standards included in the document I sign every year. It’s honestly never been a huge problem for me. But you know what? Not everyone is like that. BYU is made up of a diverse group of individuals from wildly-varying backgrounds, all of whom have their own insecurities, addictions, and weaknesses. None of us are perfect – some happen to be imperfect in ways that affect their standing at BYU. Some of them are even expelled without access to their hard-earned credits after being reported to the honor code office, even if they’ve expressed a desire to repent. This is sad to me.

Why, might you ask, am I saddened by people being harshly punished for not keeping the honor code that I’ve chosen to uphold?

(Now back to musical theater!)

It’s because I’m not this guy:

javert

If you’re not familiar, this is Russel Crowe. But, ya know, I’m not actually talking about Russel Crowe – I’m talking about Victor Hugo’s infamous Javert, the stickler-to-the-end that everybody loves to hate.

Just a brief recap: Jean Valjean is a petty criminal. He steals bread and breaks a window pane (which, yes, is definitely against the law, even in Revolutionary France), and gets sentenced to 19 years in prison (“Four years for what he did, the rest because he tried to run, YES 24601!” according to our buddy Javert). After Valjean gets released and breaks his parole because everyone is hardcore judging him, Javert devotes his entire life to catching Valjean because he cares that much about justice.

Let’s doubly-recap this for a moment: Javert is a guy who keeps all the rules PERFECTLY. Breaking the law is not a problem he has. He also happens to get really upset when people aren’t as good at following the law as he is, even though Valjean only stole bread to feed his sister’s son. This doesn’t hurt Javert personally; he’s just obsessed with punishment, because his personal belief is that people within a society are bound to the laws that keep said society going, and if they don’t follow those laws, they pretty much deserve to rot in prison.

And just because I can, I’m going to compare some choice excerpts from Javert’s main number, “Stars,” with common attitudes regarding the honor code.

There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from God
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
Till we come face to face

“That girl drank a beer last night. Why does she even go to BYU? She’s obviously a hopeless sinner who doesn’t even care about the gospel.”

He knows his way in the dark
Mine is the way of the Lord
Those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall as Lucifer fell
The flames
The sword

“I would never wear a skirt that short. Did she even read the honor code? I would never dress immodestly, and I’m blessed because of it.”

Stars
In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night

“I always silently stay up through the night to make sure my roommate’s boyfriend is out of the apartment by midnight. I wouldn’t want an honor code violation under my own roof!”

And so it must be; For so it is written
On the doorway to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price!

“When you sign the honor code, you agree to follow its rules. We all know that if we slip up, there’s a chance we might get expelled. It’s just how things work!”

Lord let me find him
That I may see him
Safe behind bars
I will never rest
Till then, this I swear
This I swear by the stars!

“That girl who got raped was willingly dropping acid!?!?!?!? GET HER OUT OF HERE!”

Okay. I think I’ve made my point. There is nothing wrong with the honor code. I like it! Just like I like anti-theft laws! But if someone stole a loaf of bread from my window – or, even more relevant, a completely unrelated stranger’s window – why the hell would I want to see them to go to prison for nineteen years??? This is how Javert and I are different.

If someone I know at BYU doesn’t know how to dress modestly, I’m not going to wish them gone or otherwise more-clothed. I wouldn’t even bring it up! I’d simply be a good example and dress modestly, like I always have. Would this change the immodestly-dressed person’s habits? Probably not, but I don’t care: targeting this person would be inappropriate, in my opinion.

If someone gets drunk and reported to the honor code office, I understand. They did sign the same contract that I did. But do I want to see them on academic probation, or expelled? Absolutely not! I would want to seem the counselled on how to prevent the same mistake again. I’d want to see them referred to AA if alcoholism is a problem for them. I want them to know the honor code can help them, and that mistakes happen. I wouldn’t obtain pleasure from seeing them shamed. I would want them to be able to leave BYU with all their credits if they don’t want to change their behavior.

If one of my BYU classmates is caught with chastity issues, I want to see them treated sensitively, with a Christlike approach. I want to see them encouraged to repent, not exiled for having a human moment of weakness that broke a contract they signed. The atonement is real! Let us remember that.

Most importantly this week in particular, if a girl comes forward after being raped, I don’t want the honor code office involved, period. She shouldn’t be asked what she was wearing, what she was drinking, or what room of her apartment she was in. There’s only one question anyone should be asking her, and it’s “How can we help you heal?”

Don’t be Javert. Don’t be so obsessed with rules and justice that you forget about Christ’s atonement and his expectation that we love our fellow man, even the mega-sinners: murderers, adulterers, and acid-droppers included. Be the bishop who catches Valjean in the very act of stealing from him, and sends the thief away with even more valuables than he took in the first place. That’s a good dude. And you know what? It was his love and compassion that lead Valjean to a life of Christlike charity and kindness; not Javert’s judgmental, unsympathetic justice-obsession.

One of the reasons we love Les Miserables is this message of forgiveness. It’s time we take it to heart in our own lives. These are the things that really matter; not hem lengths, curfews, or substance abuse.

If in doubt, remember this, always: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Or, if we want to quote Jesus himself, here’s a passage from John 8:

1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

adultress

I don’t know about you, but I happen to agree with Jesus on this one. I hope BYU and my fellow schoolmates can learn to follow his example of love and support as they move forward with the Honor Code policy.

P.S. If you’re interested in supporting sexual assault victims on BYU’s campus, please take the time to sign this petition ( http://www.thepetitionsite.com/503/967/285/byu-stop-punishing-victims-of-sexual-assault/?taf_id=24140919&cid=fb_na# ) requesting honor-code immunity for students reporting abuse. The difference it could make in our community would mean so much to those caught in difficult situations, and I think we all know supporting those in their greatest time of need is the most Christlike, compassionate thing we can be doing at this time. Thank you.

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Here Comes the Sun: Why Even Winter has its Purpose

These past few days, as I see the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths peek out from the ground, trees become increasingly-filled with delicate pink and white blossoms, and the grass grows faster than it has in months, I’ve thought about this beautiful earth of ours and the way it completely screws with my emotions.

Ever since I was about sixteen years old, I’ve known my brain doesn’t cope well with seasonal changes. This is actually SUPER common, and effects virtually everyone to a degree. I still remember not even realizing the depressive state I’d reached my sophomore year of high school. I was irritable, stressed, tired, and lacking motivation (which, hello, I was sixteen and never slept that year), but all that went away one particular April afternoon. I was sitting by a north-facing window, derping around on the internet, when a ray of sunlight poked through and shone in my eyes.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but LITERALLY that very moment, I felt something. It was really weird, since I hadn’t truly felt anything fully for months. Through some weird combo-emotion of hope, joyfulness, and relief, I got through the rest of that school year successfully.

Winters aren’t always that drastic, though. Last winter, for example, was one of the greatest times of my whole life, partly because I lived in England and England is my favorite place in the world. I might have even convinced myself that my post-adolescent brain had grown out of its seasonal moodiness, but GUESS WHAT? I was so ridiculously wrong.

This winter has been hard. I can’t blame my workload, or my classes, which have both been pretty average if not easier than usual. I can’t blame my social life or sleeping schedule or diet. Those have all been the same, give or take a month of vegetarianism (ha – never again). It was literally the wrath of winter, and I knew as soon as the cloud cover arrived that it was going to be a tricky time.

I’m lucky that I don’t have serious issues. I never want to hurt myself or abuse drugs or give up completely. Instead, I might inexplicably lay in a dark room doing nothing for an afternoon when I definitely have important things to do. I let my bedroom become a cluttered disaster. I procrastinate reading and assignments, if I end up doing them at all. I might decide I HATE UTAH AND EVERYONE IT. I might cancel plans with friends because I can’t handle that much social interaction in one day. I might choose to only attend my American Lit class 2/3 of the time because it’s a total waste of time.

I do a lot of things I WOULD NEVER DO between the months of May and November. It’s weird, and it’s hard, and even though I should probably take some vitamin D supplements or go outside more often, I’m stubborn and cope; my current method of “do nothing and complain about it until it’s over” has worked just fine. I guess.

But all this has gotten me thinking about winters. Why do we have them, and is there anything to learn here?

Something I’ll never forget is strolling down The Long Walk at Windsor Palace with my professor and a couple of my friends last February. It was an unexpectedly chilly day, and the wind was blowing fiercely. For some reason British wind has the power to physically hurt a bare face, and that’s something I still don’t completely understand. As we walked the path the storm got worse and worse, nearly blowing us over as we got farther away from the Palace. We were miserable. My professor was screaming. We were sort of concerned about his screaming, but inside we were screaming a little bit too.

We eventually decided to turn back to make sure we’d catch our bus, and the storm began to settle. Within minutes, the sun was out and shining on our frozen faces.

“You know,” my professor said, still sort of screaming but for a different reason this time, “something I love about England is that the default is grey. If you live somewhere like California, the sun is always out, and there’s no alternative, but in England, even the smallest sun-break is amazing. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world on the rare occasion that it does come out. I just love walking! Walking, walking, walking forever!”

And though I’m still not sure if he was 100% lucid at the moment, he had a point. Sun without clouds is boring. Springtime would not be nearly as incredible without the nasty pile of dank that is winter. I also know some people who, for unknown reasons, PREFER winter, but this message can be relevant to them, too.

Flowers and blooming trees are fabulous, but would we stop to look at them if they were always there? Going outside without a coat wouldn’t be nearly as amazing unless we’d spent the last 10 weeks bundled up at all times. Sometimes it’s restorative to sit in the dark and feel blue. Maybe our emotions need a break once and awhile, and they happen to follow the same seasonal pattern of invisibility and vibrance that the flowers do.

I sure don’t always understand my brain and its needs, but what I do know is that I’m a woman with creative tendencies and a likely vitamin-D deficiency; I couldn’t reach a year-round emotional plateau even if I tried. Believe me, I have tried!

And the more I think about it, the more I realize that maybe I don’t need to try so hard. As long as I can get out of bed in the morning roughly 95% of the time, I think I’m doing fabulously. As long as I can conceive of a brighter future, I’m good! So is everyone! We could all be kinder to ourselves.

Life is sometimes grey. Grey can be boring, but it can also be comfortable. Even if there is no obvious benefit to this drabbest of colors, remember that its all that grey that allows us to see the sunbreaks all the better. I know it’s cheesy and sentimental, but for me this idea has been proven many a time.

And lucky for me, the sun has arrived! My morning walk is full of UV-ray goodness, school’s over super soon, I’m accepting an awesome essay-contest award next week, I’ll be leaving Utah in a month, and I’m planning on (surprise, surprise) returning to my favorite place in the world next year. I feel happy! And motivated! And hopeful!

And you know what? It wouldn’t be so freaking exciting if I hadn’t spent the past six months not feeling any of those things. Sometimes it’s worth finding gratitude in hidden places, and you know what? I’ll say it: I’m grateful for winter.

But GOOD RIDDANCE FOR NOW. I’ve got some flowers to smell.

flowers