The intent of BYU’s Honor Code appears to be back where it was before Feb. 19 updates that removed language prohibiting expressions of homosexual behavior.
But BYU is finding there isn’t a simple reset button that puts things back where they were.
Events in the two week void between the language change and a March 4 clarification from the commissioner of the Church Educational System that “same-sex romantic behavior” is “not compatible with principles included in the Honor Code” sparked immediate protests and fueled controversy on campus and online.
During that void, BYU students in the LGBT community claimed a dating victory; the university tweeted that the notion of a gay-dating sanction might misconstrue the Honor Code language’s intent; questions about that to the university were deflected to the Honor Code office; surreptitious recordings made during Honor Code Office meetings show officials there understood same-sex dating was no longer an Honor Code violation; and a now-viral video by a BYU finance professor that corroborated the message in the recordings has caused trouble for the professor.
Since the March 4 clarification, LGBT supporters have started a gofundme campaign to help LGBT students who say they want to leave BYU pay costs associated with transferring to another school.
Students demonstrating same-sex romantic behavior during that two weeks were also left to wonder whether they are now in trouble with the Honor Code. University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told The Universe that “Any student who was confused by earlier interpretations of the policy will not be disciplined by the Honor Code Office for that behavior.”
The Universe began researching the Honor Code office’s role and counsel to students during the two week void after students began sending the newsroom recordings purportedly made with Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt, Honor Code administrator Ben Schilaty and others. Voices on the recordings clarified repeatedly that gay marriage and breaking the law of chastity are still violations about the Honor Code but said “We don’t have any rule or policy that prohibits” gay dating.
According to Jenkins, neither Utt nor Schilaty were aware that they were being recorded. “Meetings between students and Honor Code administrators are meant to be personal and confidential,” she said. Going forward, the Honor Code Office will “assist our students based on the clarification we have received” on March 4.
BYU finance professor Jim Brau had been in the habit of posting videos of his lectures on YouTube for an audience of about 1,200 students. He described an interpretation of the Honor Code the day after the Feb. 17 announcement in a lecture where the video went viral in the following days. Last week he emailed his students informing them that he would no longer be posting his lectures online. “My family and I have been receiving threats from alt-right online groups and other online posts,” he said. “No other business pre-req class that I am aware of does YouTube, so now we will be consistent with all of them.”
Finance student Austin Smith is one of Brau’s students and attended the first class this professor had since sending the email. Smith said the professor was emotional throughout his lecture.
Following the March 4 letter from CES Commissioner Elder Paul V. Johnson, students complained that they were still confused. Yet to be seen are what methods the university will use to manage its message in this issue going forward.
BYU public relations professor Christopher Wilson said press conferences in general are hard to pull off from a PR standpoint. “It’s kind of a high risk, high reward move,” he said. “You kind of create a feeding frenzy in some ways if you’ve got a big group of people who want answers.” He also teaches his students to be aware of a single-group mentality that could arise in a press conference. “It would prevent people from asking questions you want to answer,” he said.
According to Wilson, the general role of a senior communications officer is changing and becoming increasingly difficult. Wilson said these officers “have to know what each department is and is trying to do and integrate that into a consistent message” while “the speed and velocity of communication is constantly increasing.”