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If you are a student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the same island, you might experience a cultural whiplash going from one to the other.
"Both entities are owned by the LDS Church," BYU-Hawaii professor Chiung Hwang Chen told a group of scholars during the recent Mormon History Association meetings at Snowbird, "but they have two different sets of rules."
At the Polynesian center, tattoos are "not only accepted, but glorified," Chen said. Organizers even "give tourists fake tattoos to show 'cultural authenticity.' "
Back on campus, though, the actors who are BYU-Hawaii students and sign the school's Honor Code must remove all fake tattoos and hide any real ones.
At the university, she said, "you are not allowed to show any tattoos."
Such inconsistency also extends to the dress code for students.
To be employed at the cultural center, students must be in compliance with BYU-Hawaii's Honor Code (the same as the faith's flagship school in Provo), but when they arrive for work there, Chen reported, "they are required to remove their in-standards clothes" and don "so-called traditional outfits" including bare chests on men; and tank tops and hula skirts on women.
This is an example, she said, of ways in which white Utah Mormon culture dominates and sometimes contradicts many local cultures.
"Are we an American church with many international members?" she asked. "Or are we truly an international church? ... How do international members contribute to the diversity of Mormonism ... ? How do they negotiate their cultural identities?"
The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with more than 15.6 million members worldwide, will continue to face issues of cultural diversity, Chen said, as it draws converts from across the globe.
Peggy Fletcher Stack