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Bearded man a BYU oddity

Only a few exempt from university's clean-shaven rule

Published: Tuesday, June 1 2004 11:46 a.m. MDT

Corey Sherwin is allowed a beard at BYU because of a medical waiver. Although he sometimes gets crazy looks from students, his "beard card" proves the hair is OK.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

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PROVO — He is a single white male returned Mormon missionary attending Brigham Young University, yet part of an unusual minority on campus.

How so?

Facial hair. Corey Sherwin has a beard.

"You can (have a beard) anywhere else," Sherwin said. "It's totally normal for a dude to have a beard. You come here and it's, 'Aw . . . bad.' "

Whiskers are a no-no at the school, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, except for medical or religious reasons. Frequent shaving nicks and cuts don't qualify as an exception. Nor does pointing out that Brigham Young himself wore a bushy beard.

Men are expected to be clean-shaven, according to the university's dressing and grooming standards.

Finding a hairy face on campus isn't easy. Mustaches, which are allowed if trimmed above the corners of the mouth, are uncommon. Beards are downright scarce.

"You don't see too many," said Honor Code Office director Steve Baker. He estimates there are 20 to 45 students a year legitimately sporting beards.

Though he doesn't keep track, Baker has some idea of the number because his office issues what is called a "beard card." A request for a medical waiver, for example, must be accompanied by a doctor's note explaining the condition. If it's granted, the student has his college ID photo taken wearing whiskers, hence a beard card.

And it must be a full, well-trimmed beard. Goatees aren't allowed.

Sherwin, who had bad acne in high school, spent his first year at BYU clean-shaven and, due to medication, dry-skinned. He didn't know he could let his face sprout. The Honor Code does not mention exceptions.

It wasn't until Sherwin, 23, returned from a mission that he learned through a dermatologist that there are exceptions to the rule. The doctor jotted him a note on a prescription pad.

Sherwin, who works at the Harold B. Lee Library information desk, has had facial hair ever since. "I'm a psychology major, so the beard fits nicely."

Having started shaving at age 13, he clearly enjoys his standout status.

"I love having a beard," he said. "I have a real thick beard so it hurts quite a bit to shave. And the ladies like it."

But sometimes others on campus don't like it. Professors and administrators, he said, don't pay much heed, but peers look at him sideways.

"I get crazy looks from students," he said. "I want to say it's almost a negative reaction, like, 'What's going on with that guy?' "

When Sherwin moved to a new apartment, some of his neighbors figured him for a student at nearby Utah Valley State College or someone who worked full time.

Sherwin's friend Jared Green, 21, says people are just jealous, himself included. He said he would grow a beard if he could. He'd settle for a "scruff" card.

"It is sweet," he said of Sherwin's fuzzy face. "There's no denying its sweetness."

The university testing center, where exams for many classes are administered, doesn't find it so sweet. It usually "cards" Sherwin. It has the right as do other services on campus to turn away students whose appearance defies the Honor Code. A sign in the library reads: "Thank you for observing the Honor Code so that we might serve you." Similar signs are posted throughout the university.

Baker doesn't know exactly when beards were banned at BYU. The Honor Code dates to 1949. But facial hair likely didn't become an issue until the 1960s when men starting letting their hair down — and out.

A university committee in the early 1990s reviewed the dress and grooming standards but didn't make any substantive changes. Baker doesn't foresee BYU's Board of Trustees making any changes in the future.

Meaning Sherwin will continue to be part of BYU's facial minority.


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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