Okay, so I get a lot of questions about some more serious issues that I think deserve a bit more attention. I'm talking about issues like diversity, religion, rebelion, and - yes - Brigham Young University. Now, I realize that most people are SO over the "BYU thing", but for those that want to know THE WHOLE story, here it is. So welcome to the first issue to debut my ISSUES page. If you don't want to hear about BYU (and I don't blame you), click back to planetjulie. Otherwise, here's the whole mess - BYU, MTV, and Julie uncut...
Brigham Young University is a predominantly Mormon university located in Provo Utah. I was raised in a Mormon community where BYU was considered the epitome of academic achievement. Because of this fact, and because my parents are both BYU graduates, I set my sights on BYU at an early age. I worked very hard in high school to obtain a 4.0 GPA that would make me competitive for admission into the selective University. My scholastic achievement coupled with my extracurricular activities (sports, early morning religious seminary, foreign language, and musical studies) got me into BYU. I turned down scholarship opportunities at other schools, and entered BYU wide-eyed and ready to learn about the world outside my small WI town.
Unfortunately, BYU did not provide the diverse institute of higher learning that I had envisioned. Provo is a small town built around a big, predominantly Mormon school that caters to a select group of students. During my sophomore year, I began to feel frustrated. My classes provided information, but lacked intellectual stimuli. It was hard to question things in large lecture halls, and when I did, I often felt pressure from my peers - especially in my religion classes. I kept hearing people say, "Pray until you get the right answer," and "The prophet said it, so it's true."
College life outside of the classroom was frustrating as well. In a school of 35,000, I often felt that everyone was the same. I had a hard time meeting people whom I felt were open minded. Often, the friends I made would leave for religious missions, or even to get married. As a 19-year-old girl, I began to feel pressure to follow suite - to either go on a mission, or to pursue marriage. I could feel myself getting sucked into a culture that I didn't necessarily agree with. My hunger for diversity, both intellectual and social, became overwhelming.
As I started my junior year, I felt that I was suffocating. I made plans to defer from BYU in January. I was so unhappy that I even thought of transferring. (The funny part is that I thought I wanted to transfer to - get this - BYU Hawaii. I'm SURE that would have fixed the problem.:) Then, one day I was walking across campus and I ran into a friend that I hadn't seen since my freshman year. Tiffany's room was next to mine in the dorms. We talked for a minute and caught up on each other's lives. She was carrying a copy of the school newspaper, The Daily Universe. On the front page was an article about MTV's real world coming to Provo for a casting call. Tiffany said she was going to try out the next day and invited me to come. We joked about it being our ticket out and I said I'd meet her there. It was such a random meeting. Weird how that kind of stuff proves to be life altering.
I got up early and put on my favorite T-shirt, some baggy pants, and my annoying colored glasses that I, for some reason, love. The line at the casting call was already forming, when I walked up. Tiffany was there and together we stood in line. Tiffany gave me the 411 on the show. (BYU doesn't allow MTV on campus and my parents forbade it from our home.)
The interviewers took us in groups of ten or so. Tiffany and I walked into a musty room and sat around an old table. Then Michelle walked in. She was dressed in black jeans and a black T. Her blonde hair was pushed back from her face and her demeanor was fun but professional as she started the interview. "What does it mean to be Mormon?" "What's your attitude toward sex?" "What's your biggest secret?". It reminded me of a bishop's interview without the pressure. What intrigued me most about the interview weren't necessarily the questions, but the interviewer herself. Something about Michelle seemed very familiar. I felt chemistry with her that I couldn't explain. I answered her questions as best I could and the interview ended. I said goodbye to Tiffany and Michelle and didn't think about it again until I received a call from Rob at the casting office. This proved to be the first of many conversations I would have with Rob.
I liked Rob, and grew to anticipate his calls. My roommates, on the other hand, did not like the idea of my interviewing for a show on MTV. Often they confronted me about it. There was this looming attitude that MTV is "evil". I even had guys in my church ward tell me that it was their "priesthood obligation" to discourage my participation with MTV. People would tell me to "avoid the very appearance evil". I couldn't understand what was so EVIL about MTV. I couldn't understand what was so wrong with living with people different than myself. Didn't Christ love everyone? Didn't he live with sinners and with disciples? Didn't he minister to all people? Isn't diversity a catalyst to learning? I became very cautious of whom I talked to about the show. I didn't even tell my parents I was interviewing. Still, students found out and "ratted me out" to bishops and school officials (BYU encourages students to "report" other students to the infamous Honor Code Office). I answered questions when asked, but tried to stay low key, as nothing was official.
Out of 40,000 applicants, I never really thought I'd make the final cut for the Real World. It wasn't until Rob invited me to LA for a Semi-final interview that I began taking the possibility seriously. I went to the BYU honor code office before I left for LA and talked to Gina. I asked her what would happen if I went on the Real World. She assured me BYU would watch the episodes and talk to me personally. She told me that high profile students are not treated differently than other students. I didn't know if I'd want to come back to BYU, but I did know that I didn't want to burn any bridges. It was important to me to keep options open.
I knew that BYU had an honor code that prohibited co-ed living arrangements. I knew that I'd live with guys if I did Real World. I also knew that the reason for the no co-ed living rule was to maintain morality. I felt that if I stayed true to my morals, that everything would be okay. After all, even though Gina said I wouldn't be different, my situation WAS different. I was to be taped 24 hours a day. If I stuck to my guns, I could prove it.
It seems to me that principle is more important than law. When Christ came he did away with the Mosaic Law because he wanted us to learn to live by correct PRINCIPLES. The letter of the law is don't live with guys, but the principle is stick to your standards.
Rob called me back again on the last day of school. I was invited to join the rest of the Real World 2000 cast in New Orleans. I decided to go on the Real World 1) to have fun - it was the experience of a lifetime, and 2) to represent myself - not BYU, not Wisconsin, not Mormonism - just Julie. Sure, I know that those things would be represented through me, but I did not plan on acting any differently on the show than I would in my normal life. After all, everyone represents something, MTV or no MTV. I knew that those who judged me were not the kind of people I wanted to concern myself with, anyway.
Though I had talked to BYU once, I did not tell them that I had made the show. I simply deferred and left that very day. I didn't tell them, mostly because I was afraid that they would make a snap decision before I had a chance to prove myself. At this point in time, my life was a whirlwind. I didn't know if I was going to want to go back to BYU again. I didn't know if the Real World would change me. I didn't know how my friends, parents, and community would react. I just knew that I was going and I was very alone. I had support from my brother, and I clung to that.
While I was on the Real World, I felt that I stayed true and that I wouldn't have a problem going back to BYU, as I had heard nothing from the school. I had been accepted back as a counselor for the youth camp Especially for Youth (A BYU run program), which I took as a good sign. In my mind the issue was not weather I'd be allowed back, but weather I wanted to go back at all.
I struggled with my decision to return to BYU. It was based mostly on the fact that I only had one year left at BYU. To transfer would be costly. Also, my brother would be attending BYU soon and I wanted to be there with him. Finishing at BYU seemed the wisest, easiest, and most cost effective decision. Most importantly, my father really wanted me to go back to BYU. I felt that I owed him at least that.
I wanted to ensure that my return to the University would be smooth, so I called BYU from the Real World. When officials realized that the conversation would be taped, they refused to talk to me. I tried several times, but was unable to reach anyone willing to talk to me.
Finally, the taping ended and I contacted BYU again. I spoke with Steve Baker, who immediately wanted to know exactly what had gone on in New Orleans on the show. I told him that I hadn't done anything wrong. I explained that I lived with guys, my life was taped, and that the show would be airing in a few weeks. He drilled me for information, asking specific questions that only a bishop should ask. I was taken back. When the show started airing I called Mr. Baker back and asked what he thought of the show. He said that he and his panel were not watching the show. They were making a decision based on a script they had obtained off the Internet. Their unwillingness to watch the show made me angry. I asked him if I could register for classes and he said to go ahead. I registered for Fall 2000.
Meanwhile, MTV called and asked me to tape another show for them for July until September. I agreed, and called to inform BYU that I would be leaving to tape another show, so if there was going to be a problem with my returning to school, a decision needed to be made before I left. Time passed and I received no contact from BYU. I did, however, receive a call from the Especially For Youth program. I was asked not to return as a youth counselor, despite my prior acceptance. When I asked if this action was based on my participation in an MTV production, the response was an unconvincing "no". I began to worry.
I was very sad to be dismissed as a counselor. I had always loved working with youth. Around this time, I began getting mail from people who were watching the show. Some of it was really supportive, but some of it was upsetting. I received letters saying that I was a poor role model, a bad representative of Mormonism, and a disgrace to BYU. The worst response came from BYU students. There was even an article in the Daily Universe (BYU's official school paper) that called me "the devils spawn.".
One day before I was to leave to film the second show, Mr. Baker called and said he needed to fly out and meet with me. I explained that I was preparing for the second trip, and that I wouldn't be able to see him before I left. He said that he needed to speak with me in person - that I couldn't discuss the matter over the phone. I told him I was sorry, but I had to go. I asked why it had taken so long to get back to me and he said that he was waiting for an official statement.
I left for the second show a mess. I was anxious and nervous to be filming again with new people, I was confused about my BYU status, and the media was bombarding me. To make matters worse, the whole thing was putting a strain on my relationships with family and friends, and I felt shunned from my entire community. Fortunately, my teammates and producers on the show were so supportive.
As I became engulfed in the filming of the new show, I began to forget about my troubles at home. Then, one day I received word from the media that I had been suspended from school. When asked for a reaction, all I could say was, "surprised". I couldn't believe that I was getting kicked out of school and that I was finding out from a reporter. The next day I received a letter from BYU. This is what it said:
You are hereby suspended from Brigham Young University for your violation of the honor code; specifically, inappropriate relationships with members of the opposite sex including sleeping with them on several occasions…
I was livid. How could they claim that I had inappropriate relationships?!? How dare they imply that I had sex with my roommates?! I could kind of understand suspending me for the technicality of living with guys, but to claim immorality when there was none was ridiculous! The letter went on to explain that if I wanted to return to the university I needed to write a discourse of admittance and repentance and that I needed to talk to several religious leaders. I was so confused and angry that I didn't know what to do. I tried to stay low key. I refused to talk to anyone about the situation. I ignored media and pretended like the whole thing didn't bother me. When lawyers asked if I wanted to contest BYU, I knew that I couldn't. BYU is a large, rich school and I am a small, poor girl. Besides, contention is not my style.
In retrospect, while I disagree with BYU's decision, I think that it was a great blessing in my life. Had BYU not suspended me, I would have returned to Utah and might never have gained the courage to expand my horizons and go elsewhere. I would have returned to a somewhat unsupportive community and quite possibly to the unhappiness that I had left behind in Provo. Through all of the conflict with BYU, my relationship with my family has been strengthened. They have supported me through the entire ordeal. While I miss my brothers and my friends at BYU, I know that things happen for a reason. It was not in God's plan for me to go back to school in Utah. Perhaps BYU was simply a vehicle to get me to where I am now. After all, had I not attended I'd never have gone on MTV. My life is so blessed now. I have been given the most amazing opportunities!
I hope that because of my situation, BYU officials will look at its honor code and the way that it is enforced in a new light. I hope that BYU will not encourage students to monitor each other's behaviors, and that students will not be intimidated by their honor code. I hope that the Mormon community, specifically the BYU community, will learn to better respect free agency and to stop judging others. I pray that people in all communities will step outside themselves, to learn and grow outside of their comfort zone. Most of all, I hope to give others the courage to follow their hearts, despite weather or not their actions are widely accepted. Happiness is found when you are true to yourself, when you live for your convictions, and when you teach others with your example.