BYU Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt released an online statement April 10 addressing common complaints about the office’s procedures, which have come under fire recently on social media and on campus.
The statement came two days before the student-led demonstration on campus lobbied for Honor Code Office reform and the same day a similar demonstration took place at BYU-Idaho.
Students organized the demonstrations shortly after the explosion of the Instagram page Honor Code Stories, which had over 34,000 followers as of April 10. The page has ignited an ongoing discussion by sharing anonymous stories about students’ negative experiences with the Honor Code Office.
Many stories mention the office’s negative treatment of LGBTQ students, the merit given to anonymous reporting, the relationship between ecclesiastical leaders and the Honor Code Office, and a “tattle-tale” culture that encourages students to report fellow students who do not keep the Honor Code.
Utt’s statement refutes some of the page’s complaints, stating students cannot get in trouble for not reporting an incident to the office, and students who self-report comprise “the majority of cases” the office investigates.
“One of the nine Honor Code principles states: ‘Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code,'” it says. “Encourage is not synonymous with ‘turn someone in.’ Encourage is a verb that means to give support, confidence or hope to someone.”
According to the statement, the Honor Code Office does not investigate anonymous reports unless students’ physical safety is involved, though this is inconsistent with many of the anonymous stories shared on the Instagram page.
A common concern on the Honor Code Stories Instagram page involves the connection between ecclesiastical leaders and the Honor Code Office. The statement acknowledges students can sign a privacy waiver to allow ecclesiastical leaders to reveal confessional conversations to the office, but said “the HCO respects a student’s right not to give written consent if they do not want to so.”
“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,” Utt wrote.
Other Instagram stories detail experiences in which students resolved a sin with their bishops but still faced detailed questioning and consequences from the Honor Code Office.
The statement does not deny this practice and says “universities have to operate differently from churches” and that the office and ecclesiastical leaders handle behaviors differently.
“The bishops’ process addresses repentance, sin, forgiveness and worthiness,” it says. “The HCO’s process addresses principles, integrity, recommitment and good Honor Code standing.”
According to the statement, the Honor Code Office invites bishops and stake presidents of YSA and married wards and stakes to meet every winter semester. The meeting reviews “pertinent policies, purposes and other information ecclesiastical leaders might find useful.”
The Daily Universe reached out to university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins asking for an official response to the concerns about the office and the changes Utt has implemented since assuming his role as director. Reporters also asked about a “priest/parishioner” release form circulating on social media, which presumably gives the Honor Code Office consent to speak to a student’s ecclesiastical leaders about confidential matters. Jenkins responded to the email with a link to Utt’s statement.
Restore Honor — the student group who led the demonstration on April 12 — posted a response to the university’s statement on Twitter.
“We are excited about this progress and about what it means for the future,” the tweet says. “While the answers provided do respond to many of BYU students’ concerns, they are also inconsistent with many student experiences with the HCO, as seen in the recent wave of stories shared on social media.”
— Restore Honor BYU (@restorehonorbyu) April 10, 2019