2020 in review: The ‘rona, protests, tragedy and some good news

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2020 will certainly go down in history as an eventful year, and Daily Universe reporters have covered it all. On top of the pandemic, The Daily Universe wrote about protests about race and the Honor Code and kept track of BYU’s reactions to all these things. In addition to that important coverage, they also found moments of good news amid 2020’s craziness.

Here are universe.byu.edu’s 10 most viewed stories from 2020:

Two BYU hikers carry a paralyzed man up Grand Prismatic trail in Yellowstone

David P. Fulmer
Two BYU students helped a paralyzed man view a popular sight in Yellowstone in July. (Universe Archives)

On July 23, three lives were changed forever. Long-time friends Joe Wheat and Dane Coles took a last minute trip to Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone National Park. Coles, an outdoor photographer, wanted to do the overlook trail to the hot spring. 

The hike was between a mile and a mile and a half to the top. The first half was fairly flat, and the second half was uphill. As they walked along the trail, they saw a man with crutches that didn’t have full use of his legs.

After hiking to the top themselves, they began their descent. On the way down, they noticed the man had taken a break under some trees and decided to help him up the rest of the way.

“Honestly, once we got up to the top, and just seeing the look in his eyes of like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is so cool.’ And they are seeing the beauty that’s all around them. It was just really, really special to be a part of that,” said Wheat. 

Car-train collision claims lives of three BYU students

Tanner Davies, left, Brielle Hatch, middle, and Jacob Cottle, right, were traveling home from Mona when a train hit their car. (Photos from GoFundMe and Facebook)

Three BYU students have died after the car they were traveling in was hit by a train Saturday, June 20, near Mona, Utah.

A statement from the Juab County Sheriff’s office said Tanner Davies, from Spanish Fork, died at the scene and public relations student Brielle Hatch, from Gilbert, Arizona, was pronounced dead on arrival at Utah Valley Medical Center.

The driver, Jacob Cottle, from La Plata, Maryland, was hospitalized in critical condition. According to a GoFundMe page for Cottle, he died from his injuries at 12:50 a.m. Wednesday, June 24.

BYU community not happy with changes in university’s COVID reporting

Students sit in the Wilkinson Student Center on Aug. 31 — the first day of BYU’s Fall Semester. Since then the university has moved from reporting COVID cases every day to once a week. (Preston Crawley)

Members of the BYU community came out on social media to voice their displeasure following BYU’s decision to move from daily to once-a-week reporting of COVID cases.

The change comes at a time when both Utah County and BYU cases are skyrocketing and the county’s infection rate is the highest in the state. BYU reported 218 active cases and 258 total cases on Friday, Sept. 11.

Following BYU’s decision to move to weekly reports, the university also announced it was rolling out a new COVID dashboard that shows the total number of cases as well as how many are active and how many are no longer in isolation. The dashboard also has weekly totals and daily averages for each week.

But professors, students and alumni were not impressed with the dashboard. Instead, various individuals questioned the motivation behind BYU’s decision, with theories ranging from more mild ideas like a need to decrease any anxiety that could come from viewing daily reports to suggestions that BYU was trying to hide case numbers or save face.

Honor Code controversy still expanding

Sam Bigelow
Students protest Honor Code procedures at a Restore Honor demonstration outside the J. Reuben Clark Law Building on April 12. (Sam Bigelow)

Ambiguity continues over the intent of BYU Honor Code changes announced Feb. 19.

The wording changes to the Honor Code eliminated any mention of homosexual behavior, including the clause prohibiting “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” Members of the campus LGBT community interpreted it as allowing gay dating. A university statement in a tweet on Feb. 20 seems to imply that’s not the case. And groups are forming to take shots at the university for either being too liberal or too vague.

“We have removed the more prescriptive language and kept the focus on the principles of the Honor Code, which remain the same. The principles of the Honor Code align with the doctrine and policies of the Church,” university information manager Todd Hollingshead said Monday, Feb. 24, echoing what the university had said almost a week earlier in a tweet about the wording changes. “We will support and guide each student according to the principles outlined in the Honor Code.  As we have said so often in the past, we will handle questions that arise on an individual, case-by-case basis.”

Former BYU professor charged with sexually abusing a student

Former BYU associate professor Michael James Clay, 45, was charged Thursday with sexually abusing a student during Winter Semester 2020. (BYU Photo)

A former BYU professor was charged June 25 with sexually assaulting a female student during his time as a professor.

Michael James Clay, 45, was charged with two second-degree felony counts of forcible sexual abuse in Provo’s 4th District Court.

Clay still appeared on the BYU’s Geography Department website on June 24 when the charges were filed, but his bio has since been removed. The Deseret News reported Clay has not been an employee of the university since about mid-April.

Clay was in charge of the accusing student’s program of study between January and March 2020, according to charging documents.

Large gathering and mask enforcement not starting well at BYU

Students gather in on-campus housing areas before the semester starts. Some are concerned about BYU’s lack of enforcement regarding COVID-19 safety protocols. (Lisi Merkley, Thomas Fekete, Luke Romney)

BYU outlined its expectations of students regarding COVID-19 protocols for Fall Semester, but how it would enforce those guidelines was less clear — and it seemed students were taking advantage of this.

Large gatherings where individuals were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing occurred in the week leading up to classes starting on campus despite BYU’s encouragement to avoid such gatherings and follow safety guidelines.

On Tuesday, Aug. 25, the same day BYU posted an Instagram story warning against parties and large gatherings, there were two separate gatherings of 100 to 200 people at Helaman and Heritage Halls around 9 p.m. Neither group practiced social distancing and most individuals were not wearing masks.

Racism continues to surface in the Church and at BYU

Clockwise from top left: Rachel Weaver, Grace Soelberg and Tendela Tellas listen to panelists at a Black History Month event on Feb. 6. (Rebecca Nissen); A man holds a sign at a protest in Orem on June 2. (Preston Crawley); Protestors demonstrate outside of a burning fast food restaurant, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)Marcus Roberts plays at a special forum on Feb. 25. (Emma Willes); Protestors gather in Orem on June 2. (Preston Crawley); President Russell M. Nelson speaks at NAACP’s 110th annual convention in July 2019. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

COVID-19 has cleared BYU of its student population, but the reality of what some students have dealt with in the past and will likely face when they return hasn’t changed.

Both Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and BYU President Kevin J Worthen issued statements on Monday, June 1, condemning racism in any form and calling for change.

They acknowledged that racism is a continuing problem in the nation and on campus, after nationwide protests over the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd became catalysts for nationwide protests and violence.

BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have experienced issues with racism for years, and people of color are struggling to find the respite and refuge that the majority find in these places.

BYU religion professor reconsiders Church history with new book

Anthony Sweat is a religion professor at BYU and an artist. (Anthony Sweat)

BYU religion professor Anthony Sweat released a book in November that has been seven years in the making.

“Repicturing the Restoration” shares 25 original paintings depicting art from Church history in new ways. Sweat had the idea in 2013 to create a book full of his artwork to aid in understanding the history and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“As I taught our church’s history and doctrine, I just started to notice that there were a lot of really important scenes of the restoration that had never been visually depicted or had not been depicted consistent with historical record,” Sweat said.

BYU student apartment complex says resident tested positive for COVID-19

Liberty on Freedom management announced via an email to tenants that a resident tested positive for COVID-19. (Liberty on Freedom Facebook)

The management of the Liberty on Freedom apartment complex at 865 N. 160 West in Provo sent an email to residents March 18 announcing a resident tested positive for COVID-19 and that additional precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of other tenants.

The email says the resident was likely exposed to the virus while on a cruise they returned from on March 9. The resident reportedly began showing symptoms last weekend and went into self-isolation before being tested. The resident is no longer on the property and their roommates are currently self-quarantined.

In the email, management encouraged students to take precautions to keep themselves safe and healthy.

BYU students clash over honor code changes, seek clarification

Tensions over changes to the BYU Honor Code have flared up online and on campus since BYU officials announced changes to the honor code concerning wording on homosexual behavior and feelings.

Those affiliated with BYU have taken to Twitter to express their opinions over the Honor Code using hashtags like #SaveBYU, #TakeBackBYU and #DezNat.

Wednesday, Feb. 26, students also gathered on campus to participate in, observe or oppose a reading of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

A handful of students stood outside the Joseph F. Smith Building and read the proclamation. Halfway through the reading, other students with pride gear started singing hymns in an attempt to drown out the reading, with one student playing the ukulele. The proclamation is an official statement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that emphasizes the importance of gender and the differing roles of men and women in God’s plan for his children.

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