Let’s talk about Skinny-Jean-gate.

BYU-Idaho is in the news for all the wrong reasons right now. In the last 24 hours there are over 600 results for “BYU-Idaho skinny jeans” on Google. And while some media outlets have done a good job trying to get the facts straight, the one that basically first reported the story on the internet hasn’t gotten it right.

On December 6, The Student Review, an independent newspaper run by BYU students, posted an article titled “BYU-Idaho bans skinny jeans.”  I’m not going to try to get into whether or not skinny jeans should be banned or not. I’m also not going to try to define what constitutes “skinny jeans.” Instead I’d like to try to clarify a few things. My primary sources will be quotes obtained by Gawker from two BYU-Idaho Vice Presidents, and an article from the front page of the December 6th issue of the Scroll, the school newspaper, titled “Testing Center disapproves of tight pants” by Dan Sisco, a Scroll staff member. (Sadly, as of writing, the Scroll article is not published online, so I’ll be quoting liberally from it instead of using shorter quotes and linking to it.) The Scroll article is now online here. Please go read it because it provides a lot of additional information and context on the skinny jeans issue.

The Student Review article alludes to the story of a student who was asked to leave the testing center for wearing skinny jeans. The Scroll article goes into detail about a story of a student who was asked to leave. (Whether the two stories are the same incident will probably never be known.) I quote from the Scroll article:

Self-described as “curvy,” Rachel Vermillion, a senior studying psychology, took a test in the afternoon of the day that the new rule was implemented. [November 8th, the day a Testing Center campaign began to remind students of the CES Dress and Grooming Standards.]

Afterwards she attended another class, studied for her second test of the day and attended a leadership meeting with her bishop as a member of the ward’s Relief Society presidency. From there she went directly to the Testing Center.

At 8:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the Testing Center was scheduled to close, Vermillion entered the facility prepared to take her test and was told by an employee there that she would not be permitted to enter.

“I got in line and the guy said that I couldn’t take a test because my pants were too tight,” Vermillion said. “I thought he was joking at first.”

Vermillion wasn’t given a warning, despite the Testing Center’s history of issuing warnings to students, such as to boys who show up unshaven, or with long hair.

“I thought it was going to be like, ‘Next time, wear a different pair of pants,'” Vermillion said. “I’d never gotten a warning. I pointed out to him girls around me who had gotten in who were wearing jeans much tighter than my pants, but he just said, ‘It’s at the discretion of the Testing Center employees.’ He got very angry and was very rude.

“When I told him that I lived 20 minutes away from Rexburg and that if I went home to change and came back the Testing Center would be closed, he just said, ‘That’s not my problem.'”

Even when a fellow employee attempted to persuade him to allow Vermillion to take her test, he did not relent.

“Another girl who worked there told him that the pants I was wearing were looser than hers,” Vermillion said. “It was really frustrating because there were skinny girls who were wearing tight pants who were getting admitted, but I’m curvy and my regular fitting pants were a little bit tighter on me and he wouldn’t let me in. It was offensive and humiliating.”

So moving on to the sign posted at the Testing Center, the Scroll quotes what the sign says (I have not been able to verify the sign wording myself, as I haven’t had to take a test at the Testing Center since the sign was posted):

Last month, a sign was posted at the Testing Center that read, “If your pants are tight enough to see the shape of your leg, your pants are too tight. The CES Dress and Grooming Standards state that: ‘Clothing is inappropriate when it is . . . formfitting.’ Skin tight clothing is NOT appropriate attire.”

Concluding this notice was a short paragraph that read, “If you have an argumentative attitude about the dress code, you are not being a disciple and you need to go home and pray to ask the Lord how to be a better disciple.” The sign was replaced three days later.

. . .

Today there stands a similar sign, but with the concluding paragraph reading, “If you don’t understand the Dress and Grooming standards, we invite you to go to the Lord ‘and ask in faith, nothing wavering’ for approval of the clothing you wear. The Spirit will tell you whether what you are wearing is appropriate or not.”

However, the policies of the Testing Center do not necessarily represent the policies of the school as a whole. Gawker picked up on the story reported by The Student Review and reached out to university vice-president Henry Eyring, who brought in fellow vice-president Kevin Miyasaki to help answer the question posed by Gawker author Maureen O’Connor. Quoting from Kevin Miyasaki’s response:

We have not identified “skinny jeans” as a specific violation of the dress and grooming standard. We are aware of the incident and the Student Honor Office is working with the Testing Center to address the issue.

So to clarify for everyone: “skinny jeans” are not prohibited by the dress and grooming standards of BYU-Idaho. The director of the Testing Center, John Dexter, has chosen to make “skin tight clothing” impermissible in the Testing Center, and seems to include “skinny jeans” as a part of that standard. However, there doesn’t appear to be established standards among the employees of the Testing Center as to which clothing is appropriate or not.

But why don’t we let John Dexter speak for himself. From the Scroll article:

John Dexter, manager of the Testing Center, acknowledged that some staff members have been more zealous than others in enforcing the dress code.

“I do have a couple of staff who have inadvertently sent people away on their own,” Dexter said. “That isn’t something we enforce. That’s because of poor communication. We’ve struggled with this and figuring out how to do it without embarrassing people unduly.”

However, Dexter does stand by the signs posted. He admitted that the first sign was too harsh and said, “I tend to be a little bit rash.” He does stand by the newer version of the sign, and believes that formfitting jeans are absolutely inappropriate.

Hopefully these quotes help frame the conversation about this debate and provide some more clarification and facts.

Notes and Helps:

  • You can read the original Student Review article at http://thestudentreview.org/2011/12/06/byu-idaho-bans-skinny-jeans/
  • You can read the Gawker article and the full emails from Henry Eyring and Kevin Miyasaki at http://gawker.com/5865693/mormon-college-bans-skinny-jeans
  • “CES” stands for “Church Educational System,” the LDS Church organization over the church’s schools, including BYU-Idaho. The CES Honor Code and Dress and Grooming Standards can be found at http://besmart.com/admissions/apply.honorcode.php
  • Unfortunately the Scroll article is not online, but if it does get posted, I will link to it here. The Scroll article is now online at http://www.byuicomm.net/blog/2011/12/07/testing-center-reminds-students-of-dress-and-grooming-standards/ I’d encourage readers to go read the article for themselves. It provides a more complete picture of the issue.
  • BYU-Idaho has been described by former school President David A. Bednar as a “Discipleship Training Center,” which was probably the inspiration for the first Testing Center sign’s references to becoming a disciple.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ doctrine teaches that we can each receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit through prayer.  To read more about that, see http://mormon.org/faq/the-holy-ghost/
  • Henry J Eyring is the Advancement Vice President at BYU-Idaho. Kevin Miyasaki is the Student Services and Activities Vice President.
  • Anything you feel I didn’t explain clearly? Ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! I have grown up in the Church all my life, so there are some things in Mormon culture that I simply take for granted and don’t realize need further clarification.
Post edited at 12:56am MST December 7 to include links to the Scroll article and change wording about the Scroll article not being online.