‘I feel like people went too far’: Growing concern about Honor Code movement

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PROVO, Utah (ABC4 News) – There is a growing chorus of Brigham Young University students and alumni protesting the protest against the school’s Honor Code Office; though many believe there needs to be change in how the office handles infractions, there is also concern that outsiders are infiltrating the movement and shifting the focus on changing the Honor Code itself.

Some of the BYU Honor Code rules that people want to axe include the school’s prohibition of gay dating among students and strict dress and grooming standards. Beards, “extreme” hairstyles and certain types of piercings are forbidden by the Honor Code, which draws heavily from the standards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU. 

“If you don’t like the Honor Code, go to a different school!,” yelled one BYU student as protestors Friday held five minutes of silence in honor of LGBTQ students many say are “silenced” by the school’s strict rules. 

That sentiment is expressed a lot on social media, particularly in the comments section of the @honorcodestories Instagram account. The account, which exploded with new followers a few weeks ago after students and alumni began anonymously posting negative experiences with the school’s Honor Code Office, has served to create a movement aimed at changing what many call “predatory” practices of Honor Code enforcers at BYU. 

Some students have claimed to have been investigated by the Honor Code Office based on anonymous reports of “immoral conduct,” including premarital sex and sex acts, drinking, drug abuse and “not wearing garments” – sacred underclothing worn by devout, temple-going members of the Latter-day Saint faith. Many of the investigations, users claimed, were based on unfounded accusations. Some even claimed to have been expelled based on hearsay. 

The Honor Code Office last week, now helmed by Kevin Utt, defended itself against that accusation, saying no investigation is ever conducted based on anonymous reporting. Utt also said there are no set punishments for infractions, and that “context matters” in each case. 

But many students are concerned the focus of the movement to change alleged behavior of Honor Code enforcers is getting muddled by non-BYU students who are fundamentally opposed to the church’s teachings. 

Student Kwaku El, who originally supported the purpose of the movement, said he feels Friday’s protest missed the mark. 

People with a specific agenda of changing church policy “brought perhaps a negative spirit to it,” El told ABC4 News. 

“The way that the Honor Code in the past has been enforced is questionable sometimes,” El said. “The anger and the criticisms are valid, but what a lot of students saw was people who are not perhaps members of the church, or rather antagonistic to the church … to push for narratives that are against the gospel.”

Online movements like #DezNat (Deseret Nation), described by some as “alt-right Mormons” have criticized the movement to change the Honor Code as well. “ProgMo” users (Progressive Mormons) have criticized the critics. The issue is polarizing. 

El takes a much more middle of the road approach to the issue. 

“I think the discussion around this topic has been full of oversimplifying very complex issues,” said El, who added that he believes asking students to leave who don’t agree with the Honor Code isn’t necessarily the answer. Students sign the Honor Code and agree to abide by it before they attend BYU. 

Still, he said the time to talk about gay students dating, for example, is not now. He believes it’s time to change the alleged abuses within the Honor Code Office first. 

“Don’t throw in other stuff because everyone loses…nobody wins,” said El, who remained optimistic the school’s administration will make changes to the Honor Code Office.  “They’re listening to the students…they’re meeting with them,” he said. 

BYU would not say Thursday whether changes will be made to the way the Honor Code Office operates, but last week said officials were having “constructive conversations” with students. In 2016, the Honor Code Office took heat for punishing victims of sexual assault for rules they may have been breaking when the assault occurred. An amnesty policy was implemented for those students. 

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