Mar 6, 2011

Human Sexuality 101

News spread recently that Brigham Young University had suspended Brandon Davies from its basketball team for violating the school's so-called honor code.  Davies' infraction, having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend, is the type of thing that is generally regarded as a rite of passage on most college campuses.  But not at BYU.  Many upon hearing the news quickly jumped to defend the Mormon university for choosing to uphold its principals over potential wins on the basketball court.

Davies was considered the second best player on a team that is having a great season.  Jimmer Fredette, the team's star is enjoying an all star campaign and the Cougars are gunning for a potential number one seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.  So dropping Davies was perceived as an act that upheld the school's standards, while seriously appearing to jeopardize the team's possibilities for a deep tournament run.  The team quickly lost its first game after the Davies' suspension.  In a culture where college sports teams constantly come under scrutiny for displaying a "win-at-all-costs-mentality," many read BYU's decision as one where principal trumped the bottom line.

BYU, it appears, was embracing honor over potential wins, along with the prestige and money that tends to follows such wins in the marketplace of college athletics.  As the thinking goes, students who attend BYU know what they are getting into when they sign up.  These students know that they must follow the school's honor code or face repercussions, be they elite athletes or just regular co-eds.  Thus Davies got little sympathy from the masses when his suspension was revealed, even though many counted among these masses are not members of the Mormon church.

Yet for all the self-righteous co-signing of BYU's decision, few questioned the impact of such a decision, particularly as it pertains to Davies' overall development and well being.  Davies, a sophomore, engaged in sex with his girlfriend.  Considering that sexuality is an integral part of one's personal development, and that college is often the time when this development takes off in earnest, Davies is guilty of nothing more than being a human being.  The repression of one's sexuality at such an age cannot be a good thing, in spite of whatever religious beliefs one may ultimately identify with.  Further, the public humiliation that goes with being kicked off the team and possibly expelled from school serves no educational purpose and does nothing to help Davies in his development as a young adult.

We live in a country that loves to see certain people be punished  and taught a lesson as a way of proving a larger point.  This zero tolerance policy has helped to create a prison nation in America, where the nation's prison-industrial complex now warehouses countless young black and Latino males.  While Davies isn't being sent to jail for his actions, the sentiment that co-signs BYU's draconian act is the same sentiment that has made prisons such a profitable venture in this country since the 1980s.

But what point is ultimately being served here?  None, other than the narcissistic satisfaction that comes from upholding such a morally self-serving philosophy in the first place.  Davies' personal and intellectual development has a bigger chance of being stunted than elevated by such a harsh decision.

One wonders if Davies is the only BYU Cougar to violate the honor code?  Would the university have acted the same way if its star Fredette had been guilty of violating the code?  To what extent does Davies' suspension serve to make an example out of the rare black student athlete who dares to wear the Cougars' uniform?  Does the fact that Davies' girlfriend, Danica Mendivil, is white play a role in the suspension? 

While there is thus far no evidence that the university would have acted differently were it Fredette or another white player, or that race played a role in this at all, the questions are appropriate nonetheless.  No one would mistake BYU for being a diverse campus, nor would anyone confuse the Mormon's Church with being even remotely progressive, having only admitted blacks to the priesthood in 1978.  On a extremely conservative campus and in the racially charged climate of America post Obama's 2008 election, one can never really know what thinking transpired in the decision to suspend Davies.

Interestingly enough, the Davies' suspension came during the same week when another college-related sex story broke out at Northwestern University.   Psychology professor J. Micheal Bailey came under intense criticism for staging the demonstration of a live sex act involving an engaged couple and a "fuck saw" in an optional section of his Human Sexuality course.   Though Bailey advised that the demonstration was graphic beforehand and the students in the course had the option not to attend the extra session, many still complained that this particular representation of sex went too far.

Yet Bailey's optional demonstration is precisely the type of event that colleges and universities should be providing for their students.  Such is par for the course at an educational university.  One of the reasons people should go to college is to learn that there is a bigger world out there, above and beyond the one that they grew up in.  It is the job of a university to educate its students, not indoctrinate them.  I, of course, realize that BYU is a private religious school and that Northwestern is a private school with no religious affiliation.  That notwithstanding, education, not ignorance, is what should define both school's mission.  On this note, BYU receives an especially failing grade.

Unlike others, I am not going to co-sign BYU's decision, because I don't believe in their honor code.  Such a ridiculous social contract does nothing to educate college students who need to be learning about their sexuality, both in class and out, during this pivotal time in their lives.  BYU's decision is about power and control, not intellectual and emotional development though.  And this is why so many people both consciously and unconsciously agree with the decision.  More than anything else it plays to a climate of punishment in regards to black athletes that many feel is necessary in order to keep the these perceived black bucks from potentially running amok. 

BYU should not be applauded, instead they should be given the serious side eye treatment.  While it is their right to create and enforce their own code of conduct, it should be noted that there is nothing honorable about the decision to kick a kid off the team and potentially expel him from school for having sex.  Were we living in the Middle Ages such a position might make sense, but in 2011 this decision reflects some very misguided principals on the part of BYU and those who co-sign their counterproductive act of sexual repression.