Dear 100 Hour Board,
I apologize in advance for the length of this question and how long it will probably take me to get to the question. I am currently finishing up my 2nd year here at BYU and will probably graduate in 2-3 years. My friends all thought it was a joke that I came here because I was out to most people as gay in high school and don't really have a testimony in the Church of Jesus Christ. One specific moment that I remember is a teacher that I was very close to, telling me that he was worried about me coming to BYU and that while he probably shouldn't say anything to keep track of my emotional health and leave if I need to.
But nevertheless, I came. Why did I come? I thought that by coming to BYU I could show everyone in my life that I had least given being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ a fair shot by going all in and forcing myself to decide if I believe or not. Also, like most everyone here, I recognized that it was a high ranked school and wouldn't force me to go into too much debt.
However, while being here, I think that I, unfortunately, have lost whatever testimony I had before and am planning to leave the Church of Jesus Christ when I no longer attend a CES school. I continue to date people of the same-gender because it's been very difficult feeling so alone here, especially when all of my friends are getting married and that's one of the things I want most. Basically, I'm not the student that BYU wants here and as I already had mental health issues before attending BYU, they've only seemed to get worse with my time here.
The problem is that I've already made connections and plans based on a future where I graduate from BYU. I like the programs that I am in and the opportunities that I am offered and plan to take advantage of them to the fullest. And although it's been hard and I still feel alone with no friends, I've been able to find places in Provo where I feel safe and can cope with my situation.
My first question: is it ethically wrong for me to stay at BYU despite no longer believing in the Church of Jesus Christ, having full intentions of leaving after graduation, and occasionally dating people of the same gender? Even though I do not believe in the system, is it wrong for me to be taking advantage of it so much? Am I taking the spot of someone who wants to be at BYU and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ?
And second: is it worth it for me to stay here? I've thought about transferring but that feels like starting over and I don't like change. Also, it would be a lot harder financially, would take longer for me to get my degree, and I would lose out on some of the opportunities I have already planned for here. How would you weight the cost-benefit of getting an education that I'm excited about (my major along with study abroad and the honors program), with the cost of not feeling like I have as much room to make the decisions that I want to make like explore other religions and date other queer people, and the mental health cost of feeling unsafe and like an evil person in my environment.
Did I just ask a group of strangers to weigh in on my future? Absolutely.
Those are very complex questions, and difficult to answer without knowing you personally and what your long-term goals are. But I want to make a really, really important point.
You are certainly not evil. Not in the slightest. I sincerely hope you never think that. If anyone at BYU or in the Church ever makes you feel that way, they are the ones at fault.
Now on to your actual questions.
1. Personally, I do not think it's unethical to stay at BYU even if you do not have a testimony. BYU accepted you, and I believe that BYU could benefit from more people with diverse opinions, with doubts and concerns and even disbelief. However, it is possible that dating people of the same sex would be unethical, because you signed the Honor Code. The Honor Code does prohibit same-sex dating and you agreed to abide by it for the duration of your time at BYU. Only you can decide if doing so anyway would violate your personal sense of ethics. However, be aware that it will violate BYU's sense of ethics, and you could be at risk of suspension or expulsion if the university becomes aware of your behavior.
2. Based on that, I only think you should stay at BYU if you're willing to fully abide by the Honor Code for the duration of your undergrad program. But be aware that my advice is coming from someone who inherently avoids risk. I don't like uncertainty, and I don't like the unexpected. I like to have a plan, and to execute that plan with no interruptions. So from a personal perspective, I wouldn't want to live in fear that the Honor Code Office could crack down at any day. I wouldn't want to have to drop classes I was excited for in the event of suspension, or scramble to apply to other universities in the event of expulsion.
I also believe that college is a time of sacrifice. Yes, you're a young adult and you can celebrate having your first taste of real freedom, but getting an education requires a sacrifice of time, sleep, a social life, and more. In my view, those sacrifices are worthwhile, because not only do you get an education and a degree, but you learn diligence and to prioritize, crucial skills that you will use throughout your life.
However, some sacrifices are not worthwhile. Your health, for instance. I don't know you well enough to say how remaining at BYU would affect your mental health. If you wake up every day sad or angry that you're sacrificing such major parts of yourself, or if you're counting down the days until you graduate and can get away, I would say it's not worth it. If your pursuit of education is overshadowed by personal and social dissatisfaction, it's not worth it.
I can't tell you what to do, but here's how I would weigh the factors of staying vs. going, in order of importance.
- Mental Health: this is the most important thing. If you're constantly unhappy or depressed, you should make a change. If you're unhappy some of the time but otherwise thriving in your academic environment, do you think you can maintain those feelings for the 2-3 years it will take you to graduate? How great an effect would sacrificing dating or religious exploration have on your mental health and sense of personal stability?
- Cost: BYU is an economic slam dunk, especially for the quality of education it provides. Few other education options will set you up for a lifetime of financial success the way BYU does, with cheap tuition and plentiful scholarship opportunities. Research other universities that offer your major and see how their overall costs compare. Are there scholarship opportunities, or a variety of on-campus jobs available? What would interest rates be if you needed to take out student loans? How would your hypothetical salary be able to accommodate loan payments?
- Time to Earn Degree: If the cost is right and your mental health would be better at another institution, consider your long-term goals and current financial situation. In the grand scheme of things another year or two is not that long. Look at potential credit transfers and see how many of your classes could contribute to a degree at another university. Explore the possibility of taking summer classes.
- Study Abroad/Honors Program: There's a good chance you can find other universities that have similar offerings. It may not be exactly the same, but many do offer these unique educational experiences.
I think if I were in your position, I would probably stay at BYU, but that's with limited knowledge of and experience with your personal struggles. I don't like change either, and I chafed under some of the provisions of the Honor Code, but the sacrifices I made to attend BYU were worthwhile for me. I graduated without any student debt, and now at the age of 24 I have savings. I might even get to retire someday, and I have BYU to thank for that.
I sincerely hope you find some reconciliation of your feelings and are able to make a decision that you're happy with.
If you stay at BYU, get yourself three sealed transcripts at the end of each semester so that if you ever have to *cough* forcibly transfer, you won't face logistical barriers. $45/semester is good insurance.
I have deep sympathy for the questions you're facing, but I also want to assure you that you're far from the first to face it and you won't be the last.
I would argue that by working hard at school and valuing your program, you're arguably using BYU more ethically than a temple-worthy, true-believing member who sluffs all their classes and ambles through with a C because they're busy having heterosexual NCMOs in their apartment complex's hot tub every night. Others would disagree with me. That's fine; the point is that of BYU's approximately 30,000 students, I think most of them have some aspect or another in which they're less "worthy" of their place than a student who is rejected. The same is true of most universities, regardless of CES affiliation. Evaluating who is or is not deserving of a spot at a university is arbitrary and difficult.