Groups pushing for changes to the BYU Honor Code Office believe they have made progress, but say they want more.
Changes announced May 14 include notifying students why they have been asked to come to the Honor Code Office during their first meeting, explaining the investigation process to students on the first meeting and telling students the name of the person who reported them, except in situations where the safety of those on campus could be affected.
Additionally, the university announced on May 15 that Vice President of Student Life Janet S. Scharmann is retiring after 19 years. She will be replaced on Aug. 1 by Julie L. Franklin, current BYU director of residence life. The office of student life vice president has the Honor Code Office in its chain of command.
Both changes come in the wake of protests led by student-run movement Restore Honor, which aims to “restore honor to the Honor Code and its enforcement,” according to the group’s Instagram page. The movement spearheaded the student-led protest that took place at BYU on April 12. A similar student-led movement, Restore Honor BYUI, held a protest at BYU-Idaho on April 10.
Restore Honor BYU
BYU student and new Restore Honor leader Liz Ericksen said the Honor Code Office’s new policy changes are “definitely progress.” Ericksen is among the movement’s new leadership that joined after many of the former leaders graduated from BYU after the April 12 protest.
“Obviously it’s not as much immediate progress as we’d have liked, but … we are in ongoing negotiation talks about some of our steps going forward,” she said. “We’re really excited about (where) this is taking us. We have a lot of big plans.”
Many of those “big plans,” she said, are outlined in the group’s extensive policy proposal found on their Instagram account. Ericksen said Restore Honor is working with BYU administration to improve and formalize Honor Code Office procedures, and they’re taking things a step at a time.
“The administration genuinely just wants what’s best for the students,” Ericksen said.
When Restore Honor was just a few students meeting about a protest, Ericksen had some fear that the university would punish her for being involved with the group, she said.
However, “Now I really don’t think that’s the case,” Ericksen said. “In my experience, I don’t believe that any of the administration would actually go out of their way to find something on me just because of my involvement.”
Restore Honor’s Instagram story and Twitter page posted a press release on May 15 in response to the Honor Code Office policy changes, expressing gratitude to those in the BYU community who have spoken out and to the university for the changes.
“The administration has expressed a desire to work with us in revising the HCO to work strictly on student conduct, and not students’ spiritual well being,” it reads. “We hope this will create a culture wherein personal matters of repentance are handled by students’ ecclesiastical leaders and not the university.”
The press release also states this is the first of many advances and says the Restore Honor movement has been “regularly involved” in conversations with the administration from which they’ve received “nothing but support” for their proposals for further change. The statement also says the Restore Honor movement has a timeline to continue rolling out “further clarification and reform,” and asks for patience from the community as they move forward.
“This is not an end, but rather a great beginning for continued positive improvement,” the press release reads. “We hope the ongoing conversations amongst the community will be positive, supportive and uplifting in the quest for change.”
Restore Honor BYU-Idaho
Former BYU-Idaho student Grey Woodhouse, who helped organize the April 10 student-led protest at BYU-Idaho, said leaders of the Restore Honor BYUI movement met with BYU-Idaho’s Honor Code Office on May 17.
However, Woodhouse said she found out shortly before the meeting that she would not be allowed in the room because she’s not a current BYU-Idaho student.
Woodhouse said Fredericka Thomas and Leanne Larson, both current BYU-Idaho students and Restore Honor BYUI leaders, attended the meeting and reported a positive experience with understanding administrators.
The administrators, Woodhouse was told by Thomas and Larson, want more credibility to the negative Honor Code Office stories the Restore Honor BYUI movement has been sending to their office. They also want to put faces to the stories by having students come into the office themselves to share their experiences.
“They understand that it’s scary for students to go in, but they don’t want it to be scary anymore,” Woodhouse said. “It’s just to go share your experience with the dean.”
Woodhouse said they had been planning a rally and another march for the beginning of May, but they postponed it when the Dean of Students agreed to meet with them. They have decided not to protest for now because they’d rather work with the Honor Code Office.
Woodhouse said they’ll now focus on getting students to share their experiences with administrators.
“They really want to hear us out, but we don’t think they’re going to make any changes unless students are willing to go in,” she said.
Additionally, Woodhouse said she has mixed feelings about the policy changes implemented at BYU. Although she likes that the university acknowledged a need for change, she said she doesn’t feel like any changes were actually made.
For example, she referred to the new policy which reads, “(Students) will be told the name of the person who has reported the violation, except in situations where it is a matter of safety to a member of our campus community.” Woodhouse feels this provides a “loophole” for administrators to not provide the names of those reporting a violation.
However, Woodhouse said she’s happy BYU students are making progress.
“I know that this is a big step forward,” she said.
Honor Code Stories
Instagram account Honor Code Stories was created in early January but gained followers in explosive numbers starting in April. It features anonymous stories of people’s negative Honor Code Office experiences and has over 39,000 followers as of May 17.
The account posted a statement on May 16 thanking Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt for the changes and for meeting with students.
However, it says the changes don’t fully address their concerns, including the Honor Code Office targeting students trying to go through the repentance process; discriminating against LGBTQ+ students, ethnic minorities and students of different faiths; conducting sexually explicit interviews behind closed doors; and withholding diplomas from graduated students.
It also says the Honor Code Office policy changes “do not deliver a commitment to deep-rooted change” and says students need an administrative promise that steps will be taken to provide an environment where they can be honest about who they are and seek help when needed.
“Kevin Utt is moving in the right direction. But we still have a lot of road left to run,” the statement reads.
Sidney Draughon, who runs the Honor Code Stories Instagram account, has not returned requests for comment regarding the Honor Code Office policy changes.
However, in an interview before the Honor Code Office policy changes were announced, Draughon said the account is not going to stop posting stories “until students and alum see the change we’re asking for.”
Draughon said that right before the April 12 protest, she and leadership with Restore Honor sat down with a member of BYU’s administration. She said the ensuing conversation was “very one-sided,” but she appreciated the administrator sitting down with them.
“I do know they’re continuing to meet with students from Restore Honor, and from what I’ve heard, the Honor Code director is very busy meeting students,” Draughon said, adding that the Honor Code Office told her they could schedule a meeting with her for six weeks out.
However, Draughon said it’s still hurtful, disappointing and confusing when one side of the table is “just radio silence.”
“I totally understand that implementing any kind of institutional change can take a long time, but it only takes a few seconds to say, ‘I’m sorry. Let’s figure this out,'” Draughon said. “We have enough stories to post every day for the rest of the year if we need to, so as exhausting as it is, we can’t stop until this has been fixed.”
Phone call recording
Additionally, on May 10, the Honor Code Stories Instagram account posted a phone call recording that the account says is between a BYU sexual assault victim and employees of both the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office.
However, BYU responded on May 10 with a statement on its Instagram story saying the phone call recording was “mischaracterized” as being between a student and the Honor Code Office. It says the recording is from a phone call in Winter Semester 2016 with the former Deputy Title IX Coordinator, not an Honor Code Office employee.
“We’re committed to eliminating sexual assault at BYU and helping survivors of sexual assault,” the BYU Instagram story reads, referring to changes the university made in October 2016 regarding how sexual assault cases are handled. Those changes, which came before the recorded phone call was made, included separating the physical locations of the Title IX and Honor Code Offices and ensuring that the Title IX Office does not share information with the Honor Code Office “unless the health or safety of others is at risk,” according to the original announcement.
Following BYU’s response to the phone call recording, the Honor Code Stories Instagram page posted a response purportedly from the victim’s father, which says he is “very disappointed” with the university’s response and “their attempt to invalidate my daughter’s recording.”
The purported father of the victim continues that BYU’s Instagram response “contained two deceptions” by referring to the woman on the call as a “former” Title IX officer, which implies she had been dismissed when she has actually since been promoted; and that the Honor Code Office was not involved in the call, but the purported father of the victims states that a man from the Honor Code Office introduces himself at the beginning of the recording, which was edited out to protect privacy.
“The harm to my daughter from the months of interrogation, accusation and intimidation were in many ways greater than the trauma of the sexual assault and abuse itself,” the statement continues. “This would appear to be evidence that any changes or improvements that they say have been made are not heartfelt.”
BYU Media Relations Manager Todd Hollingshead told the Daily Universe that the university has “clear documentation that confirms only Title IX employees — a male employee and a female employee — were a part of that phone call. We’ve communicated this to the Honor Code Stories account and asked them to correct the misinformation.”
Draughon has not returned a request for confirmation that BYU communicated this information to her or to anyone else affiliated with the Honor Code Stories Instagram account, and the account has not taken down the phone call recording or amended its statements about it in any way.
Hollingshead also told the Daily Universe that “(Former Title IX Office Director) Sarah Westerberg was not on the call. We know the identity of the two Title IX employees (on the call), but for privacy purposes, we will not be releasing their names.”
In the phone call recording posted to the Honor Code Stories Instagram account, a woman can be heard saying she’s asking questions not because she doesn’t believe the student, but because she’s trying to figure out what happened.
She’s then heard saying, “As I’ve been going over the report that you provided, I understand that there were a lot of complicated emotions and stuff like that. When you say he sexually assaulted you every day … do you think that every time he understood that it was not with your consent?”
The student’s voice is edited out, but captions say she responded with, in part, “Honestly, I know that he knows that I did not consent to it because we would have conversations about it all the time.”
The woman is also heard asking, “Do you think that you maybe were just consenting because you felt pressure or something but he knew it wasn’t totally consensual?”
The captions say the student responded with, “No, it wasn’t consensual at all, not even a little bit. I never gave him permission to do that and he knew I didn’t want him to.”