BYU is inviting feedback on sexual assault response and Title IX compliance as part of a study announced in April by university President Kevin J Worthen.
BYU on Thursday, May 19 announced the creation of feedback2016.byu.edu, a website where people can anonymously leave suggestions for improvements in the way the university investigates sexual assaults. BYU also announced an advisory council Worthen assembled to review the relationship between the campus’ federally mandated Title IX office and its Honor Code office.
“We appreciate and value all input,” said Jan Scharman, BYU Student Life Vice President and chair of the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault.
The survey asks for suggestions, personal experiences, the date or year of the participant’s experience, additional comments and the participant’s relationship to BYU.
The survey is anonymous and all text boxes within the website are optional, so individuals who want to provide feedback but not share personal experiences can choose the kind of input they want to share.
“Some comments may not be as relevant as others, but we are hoping that most of the comments are relevant to BYU students,” BYU nursing professor and advisory council member Julie Valentine said. “We wanted to cast a broad net.”
Scharman will lead the advisory counsel. The other council members are Valentine; BYU College of Family, Home and Social Sciences Dean Ben Ogles; and BYU International Vice President Sandra Rogers, a former dean of the BYU College of Nursing.
“This group has called and will continue to call upon others inside and outside the university to provide added perspective and insight,” Scharman said in an email.
No students have been selected to serve on the committee.
“I don’t want students to feel like their voices aren’t going to be heard,” Valentine said. “We will be reaching out to students more, this is just the first step.”
Scharman said President Worthen has asked the committee to “Identify changes that will help BYU work toward the elimination of sexual assault on campus,” as well as “Determine how to better handle the reporting process for victims of sexual assault as sensitively and compassionately as possible, consistent with the requirements of the Department of Education’s Title IX program.”
Potential outcomes of the study could include structural changes within the university, how information on sexual assault is collected and used, and the relationship between the Honor Code Office and the Title IX office.
“This should not just be a look at the Honor Code,” Valentine said. “Students should be really pleased with the direction BYU is taking. They are taking this very seriously and want to have a very broad look at what sexual assault means on our campus.”
When the study will be completed has not been announced. According to Valentine, the advisory council’s work is of top priority for its members, who all have leadership roles on campus and don’t want to see the study “drag out.”
“This has been a hard time for the university, but I am confident that it will result in positive changes on campus for everyone, especially the students,” Valentine said.
Further controversy developed when LDS Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins criticized the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of BYU’s sexual assault drama in a Mormon Newsroom blog post on May 19. In a story published on Thursday May 19, the Salt Lake Tribune claimed BYU did not respond to questions the paper submitted on Wednesday May 18, and that the LDS Church declined to comment on the story Thursday morning before the story was printed.
Hawkins, however, claimed that the Salt Lake Tribune agreed to allow the LDS Church time to comment on the story, but published the story before the public affairs department could respond.
According to Hawkins, a LDS Public Affairs representative contacted the Tribune and asked why they were not given the chance to comment.
“One of the two writers acknowledged the ‘lapse in judgment,’ and said she felt that the inclusion of a reference to the Church’s leadership handbook was sufficient. Note to Tribune editors: it wasn’t,” Hawkins said in the blog post.
On Thursday May 19, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement regarding the coverage of BYU’s sexual assault issue.
“Media have published deeply personal stories of victims of sexual assault who feel they have been treated poorly when reporting their assault. They are painful to read, but we do not believe they represent the ideals BYU or Church leaders follow when responding to victims,” the statement said.
The statement emphasized a zero-tolerance policy BYU and the church has for perpetrators of sexual assault, as well as their belief that recipients of assaults should be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect.
The statement further expressed support for the university’s steps to review in-house policies.
“In instances where there may have been conflict between meeting Honor Code and Title IX priorities, BYU is taking significant steps, including forming an advisory council to explore these circumstances and make recommendations for change, as needed.”