PROVO (News4Utah) – Michael Rafael Williamson Tabango is part of the Kichwa Nation and the Otavalo tribe, a people native to Ecuador. His family was one of the first in the country to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but now as he’s trying to attend the Church school, he says he’s being forced to choose between his culture and his education.
Tabango explained that Otavalo men wear their hair long as a mark of their cultural identity. Their hair symbolizes a root system that connects them to their culture and to each other. Tabango said, “I’m LDS so it’s [BYU] always been one of my top choices, at the end of the day I want to study in a place that respects my religious and cultural values.”
BYU’s Honor Code state’s that men’s “Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles or colors, and trimmed above the collar, leaving the ear uncovered.”
Tabango thought that the process of petitioning the code would be as simple as verifying his identity as a tribe member, but it wasn’t. He says he’s been petitioning since March when he was admitted into the University. He is the third of his family members to petition the honor code; two uncles did receive exceptions after similarly long and arduous petitioning processes.
The young student and his family have now submitted multiple letters to the BYU administration from the Ecuadorian embassy and the Kichwa Nation explaining the cultural implications of asking Michael to cut his hair; you can read them below. BYU says they are still reviewing the case.
Tabango said, “Our ancestors had pressures to cut their hair, when the Spanish first came it was usually a choice of life or death. I think we owe it to them to preserve that.”