UPDATE: Students held a demonstration on Friday. Watch here.
PROVO, Utah (ABC4 News) – The director of Brigham Young University’s Honor Code Office released a Q & A Wednesday addressing key issues raised by students at the Latter-day Saint-owned university, including allegations of abusive practices.
The controversy began last week after ABC4 News first reported on students who were airing their grievances anonymously on an Instagram account called @honorcodestories.
Hundreds of stories poured in claiming the school’s Honor Code Office dealt with certain infractions without evidence, acted on anonymous reports, and expelled students due to what many called minor infractions. Users also claimed the school coerced them to sign waivers of their priest-penitent privilege in Honor Code investigations.
Wednesday, Honor Code Office director Kevin Utt refuted most of the claims made on the Instagram account in his Q & A release.
Utt, who became the office’s director in January, said the Honor Code Office exists to help students reach their full potential at Brigham Young University.
“The HCO does not evaluate sins or determine worthiness and forgiveness. It certainly incorporates God, spirituality and the Church into conversations it has with students, but it is not with the intent to help students seek forgiveness or become worthy,” Utt said. “Rather, it is to help students reflect and evaluate their behavior within the framework of the Honor Code commitment that they have made as members of the BYU community.”
“Our goal is to help students come back into good standing as quickly as possible,” Utt also said. He said on average, 10 to 15 students are expelled per year at the school of nearly 33,000 students. He said that number was lower in the last 12 months.
“The HCO does not investigate anonymous reports, except where the reported behavior could impact the physical safety of members of our campus community,” said Utt. “Ecclesiastical leaders are NOT permitted to reveal confessional conversations to the HCO unless the student has voluntarily signed a privacy waiver. A bishop does not share any information with the HCO, and the HCO does not share any information with a bishop or other ecclesiastical leader without a student’s prior written consent. The HCO respects a student’s right not to give written consent if they do not want to do so.”
BYU also said there were no set consequences for certain actions, and that “context matters.”
In 2016, BYU added an amnesty clause for sexual assault survivors who may have been breaking Honor Code rules at the time of the assault. There have been calls for more amnesty for students with other problems, such as drug abuse.
Some students reacting on social media said the Q & A did not do enough to address the issues raised by students.
Wednesday, a protest was scheduled at BYU-Idaho, with students marching to demonstrate what they call problems with that Latter-day Saint-owned university’s Honor Code Office. Friday, BYU students are planning a sit-in to protest the office’s alleged actions there.