Readers’ Forum 4/16/19: Honor Code Edition


Reporter Opinion

Reform the Honor Code Office, not the code itself

The Honor Code is an essential part of the BYU experience. It teaches discipline and creates an atmosphere that attracts so many students from around the country and world. Leave the Honor Code alone. This is coming from a guy who thinks the shaving rule is outdated and over-enforced.

However, the Honor Code Office has not been as positive and does have a history of malpractice. This has become harder to deny with each new allegation against it. While it’s impossible to verify the truthfulness of many of the claims against the Honor Code Office, I can vouch for the truthfulness of claims from people I know. The sad truth is that their stories align with those told on social media. Because of this, the Honor Code Office does require reform.

In a student body of more than 30,000 students, there are bound to be a few people who fall short of the admittedly high standards of the Honor Code. The intent of the Honor Code Office’s reform should be to help students who intended to keep the Honor Code but fell short. Perhaps they slipped up with a romantic partner. Maybe while recovering from a devastating injury, the student developed a substance abuse problem. Students who are trying their best to make amends and remain at BYU should be embraced, not spurned. Included in this reform should be the improved treatment of sexual assault victims. While false reports and accusations of sexual assault are a reality, the overwhelming statistical evidence shows these are rare and highly unlikely occurrences. All claims should be taken seriously and investigated. If someone has been found to have committed this grave crime and sin, they should be put in jail. On the off chance of a false accusation, the false accuser should also be disciplined for attempting to ruin an innocent life.

The student body also requires reform. BYU is a religious institution and reserves the right to have and enforce a code of proper conduct among its students. Since BYU is an educational branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s only natural that its code of conduct is derived from (though not identical to) the Church’s doctrine.

While I understand the sentiment of students who believe the Honor Code can be improved, I do not understand or sympathize with the BYU student who never intended to keep the Honor Code in the first place. If you never intended to live the Honor Code, perhaps BYU isn’t the best fit for your college education.

— Robert Jamias

Universe Sports Reporter

The core mission of BYU “is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.” All the policies BYU implements and the institutions it upholds should aim toward this ideal. However, recently a staggering amount of publicity has been given to the Honor Code Office for events that would stand in stark opposition to this ideal. The Honor Code Office as presently constituted seems to do little to “assist” individuals; it exists to punish and intimidate.

I realize the recently-published stories on the Honor Code Stories Instagram account are purely anecdotal, unverifiable, undated and maybe simply false. I also realize that Kevin Utt, director of the Honor Code Office, responded in a Q&A to many of the complaints brought forward by students. Despite his response, and despite the lack of verifiable evidence of misconduct, I’m left feeling the Honor Code Office hinders repentance and personal progress more often than it promotes it.

Repentance is between an individual and God, and when necessary, a bishop that holds the proper priesthood keys. Arbitrarily punishing students for accusations against them doesn’t foster a positive environment where students can learn from their mistakes; it fosters resentment and mental illness.

— Payson Ashmead

West Haven, Utah

Living by the Honor Code, like attending BYU, is a privilege. Tens of thousands of students who also voluntarily signed the Honor Code in full knowledge of its precepts and enforcement at time of application were denied acceptance. Many of these students would rejoice at an opportunity to attend BYU without complaining about the code.

This situation is similar to the thousands of American teachers who went on strike last year. The teachers know exactly what they are signing up for when they become teachers — low pay, summers off, etc. Only after time do those teachers gain a false sense of entitlement and begin to think the conditions they agreed to no longer apply to them.

If viewed as a personal sacrifice and not a voluntary obligation, abiding by the Honor Code is an exceptionally small price to pay in return to an institution that grants to each student $150,000 worth of subsidized tuition and a world-class education. Signing one’s name to a contract and then fighting that contract is the opposite of honor. Entitlement and strike are enemies to progress and dialogue. Do not be so quick to bite the hand that feeds you.

— Tyler Marlowe

Idaho Falls, Idaho

Speaking generally, we struggle as a culture with judging unrighteously. This tendency serves as a stumbling block for many, both inside and outside of the Church. I believe we inadvertently promote this judgmental culture with the Honor Code as currently constituted. The benefits of the status quo pale in comparison to the corrosive judgmental patterns it entrenches.

Every year, we send thousands of students throughout the world who have spent the last 4 years viewing, and often participating in, patterns of superficial judgement based on arbitrary standards that go beyond the gospel of Christ.

For this reason the Honor Code must be reformed. If God doesn’t require something for entry to the temple, how in good conscience can we require it to attend a university? Do we not feel cognitive dissonance in preaching the restoration of all things and the higher law, while creating our own pharisaical standards? Are we not pained by how often individuals feel estranged from the church because they feel judged?

Let us strip away the arbitrary rules and focus more fully on the principles of the gospel. Some will say this isn’t enough, that the nit-picky rules are necessary. I imagine the Pharisees said the same.

— Tyler Smedley

Layton, Utah

I completely support the BYU Honor Code and its enforcement. It seems as if people are having difficulty in understanding the difference between the two separate entities of Church and University.

If a member of the Church were to commit a serious crime, they would need to seek full reconciliation with the Lord through their ecclesiastical leader. Regardless of the repentance process they undergo, they would still be subject to the laws of the land in which they live. Two entities were involved here: the Lord and the laws of the land.

Similarly, when a BYU student who is a member of the Church transgresses in a way that is contrary to the laws of God and the mutually agreed upon Honor Code, two different entities are involved: the Lord and BYU. The repentance process to regain reconciliation with the Lord requires seeking the counsel and direction of the student’s ecclesiastical leader, independent from the process to regain reconciliation with the university. The latter process must be done by confiding with and adhering to the policies and decisions of BYU via the Honor Code Office.

Change your life, not the school.

— Dayson Malie Damuni

Kula, Hawaii

During my freshman year at BYU, I made some mistakes contrary to what the gospel of Jesus Christ had taught me my whole life. That summer, I met with my childhood bishop and told him about the mistakes I made. I never considered that in that moment I was jeopardizing my education at BYU. We met consistently together for four months, as he informed me that he might take away my endorsement for my sophomore year. As devastating as that was, it didn’t matter much. What was more important was making myself right with a Heavenly Father who I know loves me so much despite my imperfections.

I’m really grateful that my bishop saw my heart in that moment, but I’m even more appreciative for a code of honor, at a school that I love, that desires for me to be honest and faithful in the person God intends for me to be. Today, I am a doctoral candidate at BYU and I know the Honor Code has played a role in the person I am, coming from that little freshman girl all those years ago who made a mistake and chose to live up to more.

— Melanie Serrao

Aiea, Hawaii

There has been a lot of debate recently about whether or not the Honor Code should be updated. Many people have posted their personal experiences with the Honor Code on Instagram and other social media outlets. One of the major issues with the stories that have been posted is that the Honor Code Office cannot tell their side of the story because of student privacy laws, so the issue has become a very one-sided debate. That said, the Honor Code should be updated because enforcement of the code is based upon a tell-tale system which promotes one-sided enforcement.

To ensure that a student is not unjustly placed on academic probation, I propose that enforcement of the Honor Code extend only to behavior on-campus, not off-campus. The funds of the Church pay for nearly 70% of the tuition that covers classes which the student takes on campus; without question, BYU may fairly enforce specific behavioral expectations while the student is on-campus. However, to avoid one-sided enforcement of the code, accountability for actions taken outside of campus should be held by the student’s ecclesiastical leader and should not affect whether or not the student be placed on academic probation.

— Ashlyn Earl

Las Vegas, Nevada

I am so proud of my fellow cougars. The April 12 Honor Code rally and associated movement really excites me. As an alumnus, I wasn’t there in person but was in spirit.  Plus, I’ve shared my thoughts with the administration.

There’s great investment in the BYU community, and that is why high standards are important. The Honor Code needs to stay, but it along with its enforcement need to change. 

Props to BYU for recent changes that protect sexual assualt victims and the religious freedom of Muslim students to grow beards. More changes are needed to make it less nit-picky and more compassionate.  Further, thank you administrators for engaging with the Restore Honor group.

I am excited for the day when the LGBTQ among us will feel more comfortable, we can more freely express our individuality through broader dress and grooming guidelines, those who are struggling with their faith can seek help more openly, those who are struggling with addictions can seek help more openly, people with a bone to pick with others can’t weaponize the Honor Code, those who desire to repent are greeted with more compassion, we can focus on improving ourselves while not looking for things to report about others and all of us will get the benefit of the doubt and chance to defend ourselves more completely.

— Steve Petersen (BA 2005)

Salt Lake City, Utah

Honor and code are a garden and its wall. When I was at BYU, we tended the wall so zealously we often forgot the garden.

People who have grown a little justice, a little temperance, maybe even a little charity always want to codify these virtues for others. This can be an act of nurture, as the shelter of a modest wall helps seeds to sprout sooner, spares shoots from trampling. Or it can be an act of fear, vainly striving for invulnerability by thickening the wall even if it means robbing land from the garden. But rules are an awkward substitute for justice, a worse one for temperance, and no substitute at all for charity.

We are commanded to receive a living Holy Ghost because even God could not write enough hard, dead rules to make people good. We must consider that perhaps BYU can’t either.

— Nathan Rasmussen (BA 2005, MA 2009)

Columbus, Ohio

There is nothing difficult about the honor code. Shaving may be an irritation, but that’s subjective. And if not being able to have a beard is an issue, priorities should be reevaluated. I feel that the horror stories are few and far between when compared to the 30,000 +/- students that attend BYU. Not to mention that anonymous, embellished, selectively edited, anecdotes carry little value other than to inflame the uninformed, the uninitiated, and the casual “keyboard warrior”. All people have issues, but there seems to be an ongoing trend with my generation and those after to adopt social “pseudo-moralistic” views with the intent to divert attention away from their own problems and place accountability on anything other than themselves.

If there are egregious punishments handed out relative to the violation of the honor code, I would agree that those should be reformed. However, there is a consequence for every action; that fact is concrete, unavoidable and unforgiving. People should seek to get themselves in order before they feebly attempt to change the world around them, no matter how weak-willed they are.

— Drew Thurman

Heber City, Utah

BYU is a premier school in which students from all over come to receive an excellent education. It has many benefits, including high performing students, top-tier professors or the positive atmosphere. Although it is a strong school, it isn’t free from fault. Many students struggle to live by rules enforced by an honor code that could be considered unnecessary by some. Students at Brigham Young University are punished daily for honor code violations, therefore, many of these punishments should be altered or removed because they are restricting repentance.

Severe punishment can inhibit some students desire to repent. The gospel is a beautiful thing that can allow people who mess up to change their lives. The honor code has proved hazardous to God’s plan. Many people are scared to bring up their struggles to leaders because of the punishments of an honor code violation. If the fear of punishment continues among the student body, people will continue to choose not to start the already scary process of repentance.

As we work to improve the quality of BYU and the experience of students, eliminating the honor code could help. It could give people a clearer path to repentance as well as eliminate some of the unneeded fear. As we follow the prophetic counsel that is repeated over and over again we can eliminate these issues and cause a happier, safer, place to excel in the most important aspect of school, our studies.

— Kyler Kennedy

St. George, Utah

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