The first meetings of Restore Honor BYU were held at night, at the neighboring Utah Valley University and under the fear that simply questioning their university’s honor code would get its founders into trouble.
But months later, the group is seeing its work with Brigham Young University’s administration pay off.
“It has gotten to be a really good relationship,” said Liz Ericksen, a senior and vice president of Restore Honor BYU. “We are still going to keep up with the pressure and there’s still a ways to go, but it is nice to have that foundation to work with.”
The movement got off to a raring start in spring after the Instagram account Honor Code Stories exploded in popularity, spurring the creation of several groups intended to reform BYU’s honor code and how it’s enforced.
Restore Honor BYU emerged as the predominant student-run group, hosting both a social media campaign and a university-approved, on-campus sit-in that drew hundreds of students.
Then the movement went quiet over the summer. Social media posts from the group have been scarce, and its website is currently deactivated.
BYU released a handful of incremental changes during the same time, with the most recent update posted about two weeks before the start of the academic year. The code itself stands as it did during the spring, but changes have surrounded the Honor Code Office, including a new software that allows students to know what they’re being called in for before their first appointment, banning anonymous reporting in cases where safety isn’t a concern and changing the title of Honor Code Office employees from counselors to administrators.
Students at the university, which is owned and run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agree to abide by BYU’s honor code in order to attend. The code bans actions such as the consumption of alcohol, premarital sex, beards, being in the bedroom of someone of the opposite sex and homosexual behavior, including sexual relations and “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
Although the group has been externally quiet throughout the summer, Ericksen said weekly discussions have continued with administration.
“I feel like we’ve fixed a good handful of actual policy things that needed to get fixed,” Ericksen said.
The group looks to involve more students in the movement in the fall, but doesn’t anticipate another sit-in protest.
“Quite frankly, we don’t want to have to use that again unless we run into a serious blockade with negotiations, but right now we have a really great relationship with administration,” Ericksen said. “They are fully cooperating and we are just working together now on what is best for students.”
The group’s leaders received negative feedback online in its early days. As students returned to classes on Tuesday, Riley Madrian, the group’s public relations director, said the negativity has decreased.
“I think it is happening less now that more changes have been rolled out and people are seeing this is a real thing that is happening,” she said.
Ericksen said the group is looking forward to more discussion. It is putting together other items it’d like to see changed, such as adding a clarification about the item stating “respect others” to include items about bullying, cyberbullying, and discrimination, along with clarifying it in an effort to curb racism, sexism and homophobia.
“All of those are definitely not being respectful towards others and are technically in violation of the honor code,” Ericksen said.
The group expects to approach issues lesbian, gay and bisexual students who have had encounters with the Honor Code Office.
“That is a tricky subject, but we need some kind of clarification on that,” Ericksen said.
That work is also expected to eventually address transgender students, who are not mentioned in the code.
“It will be brought up,” Madrian said. “It needs to be talked about.”
Overall, both leaders said they went into the movement with no expectations, and have been pleasantly surprised with the results.
“BYU is invested in making changes that will positively affect students’ lives,” Madrian said.