Hundreds of students and alumni filled Brigham Young University’s Cougar Quad with chants of “hey hey! Ho ho! Bring honor to the H-C-O!” “God forgives me, why can’t you?” and “students made it, we can change it,” Friday afternoon for a sit-in demonstration urging for a reform of the university’s honor code and how it is enforced.
Students agree to live by the university’s honor code — which bans actions such as the consumption of alcohol, premarital sex, homosexual behavior and growing a beard — in order to attend. Violating the code can lead to probation, suspension and expulsion.
The code has received increased attention after photos from the Instagram account Honor Code Stories began circulating around social media. An online petition to reform the honor code had gathered more than 22,000 signatures as of Friday morning, and those asking for an updated code have flooded social media with the hashtags #ReformTheCode, #ThatsNotHonor and #RestoreHonor.
The group behind the movement to reform the code, Restore Honor BYU, has posted that it is in support of standardized procedures and policies in the Honor Code Office, certified counselors to deal with sensitive issues, the right to record and receive transcripts of meetings with the Honor Code Office, the protection of legal rights, equal treatment and standards for all students and for a third-party student advocacy group to work as an intermediary between the student body and the Honor Code Office.
Grant Frazier, an organizer for the sit-in, hopes the event applies pressure on BYU’s administrators to bring about change.
“We need to be reminding them that this is something students really care about,” Frazier said.
With the end of the winter semester two weeks away, he said the movement will continue in the fall. He expects change to take time and for the current conversation to be ongoing.
He’s spoken with the Honor Code Office about the group’s wants.
“We love some of the compromises we have been coming to,” Frazier said.
Frazier said he wants the code to change to provide equal enforcement of the code for LGBTQ students to allow them to have relationships.
BYU posted multiple answers to questions on its website on Wednesday, stating that the university expels about 10 to 15 students annually for breaking the code, that students can’t get in trouble for not reporting another student’s violation to the Honor Code Office, that the office only accepts anonymous reports in instances where the behavior could impact the physical safety of the campus community and that ecclesiastical leaders aren’t allowed to reveal confessional conversations with the office unless a student has signed a privacy waiver.
BYU cares for its students and wants them to have a positive experience at BYU, Carri Jenkins, spokeswoman for the university, said in an emailed statement. She said BYU has met with students regarding the honor code since last week.
“These conversations have been very constructive, as students have shared with us their concern for certain processes within the Honor Code Office,” she said. “In some cases, these concerns do not reflect current practices; even so, we recognize that it is our job to help students understand what processes are in place.”
She pointed to the question and answer post the university published Wednesday.
“Our goal has been and will continue to be to help our students succeed at BYU. The students we have met with are committed to the Honor Code and ongoing dialogue, which we believe will lead to a better understanding of how the Honor Code Office can best serve our students.”
Riley Madrian volunteered at the sit-in Friday to help with crowd control. Madrian, a senior at BYU, said she became interested in the movement after seeing the Honor Code Stories account.
“I felt that now was the time to be involved,” she said.
Madrian said she’s had to educate others on what the group wants, and explain that the group doesn’t want to eliminate the honor code, but wants to reform it.
Holding a sign that read “judgement is for the Lord only,” Drew Crawford said he was expelled from BYU last year for breaking the university’s honor code. Crawford said he was reported to the Honor Code Office out of spite after sharing personal information with someone he didn’t want to date.
“My experience was very traumatic and spiritually abusive,” Crawford said.
He said the office asked him sexually-explicit questions and that he didn’t get to see the text messages that had been shared with the office until we went through the appeal process.
Crawford said he became so anxious during the process that he began harming himself.
He wants the university to eliminate policies that allow students to report on others.
“It’s not their job to see if people have repented or not,” Crawford said.
Students held up handmade signs and sang hymns such as “Love One Another” for the two-hour protest. Signs included messages such as “let gays date” and “what would Heavenly Mother do?”
Jake Dayton, a freshman, stood in the crowd with a rainbow flag tied over his shoulders. Dayton, who is gay, wants the honor code’s policies on gay students to match the policies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the school.
“I don’t want to fear giving a friend a hug and worrying about the honor code,” Dayton said.
Chandler Mesarch, a senior at BYU, came with a sign stating “more counselors, more equality, less HCO” to the rally Friday.
“I just felt like the Honor Code Office enforces things in a not-Christlike way,” Mesarch said.
Students held the demonstration in a university-approved area near the Wilkinson Student Center, where dozens watched from the balcony. Mesarch said she was there to support her LGBTQ friends, who she said are afraid to sit by students of the same sex out of fear that someone could report them to the Honor Code Office for homosexual behavior.
“An LGBTQ student can’t hold hands with someone they care about,” Mesarch said.
Emma Lynn, a graduate of BYU, said being allowed to report others makes it possible for students to use it as a revenge method against each other.
“There’s definitely a culture of ratting people out, which is divisive among students,” Lynn said.
She said that the movement to change the code is about protecting students, especially those who are LGBTQ.
The event included five minutes of silence for those who had been harmed by discrimination. The hundreds there went quiet, with only the sound of a clocking ringing out that it was 1 p.m. audible until an onlooker shouted at the group that those who don’t like the code should go to a different school.
Students stood and shared their stories about the Honor Code Office, including one where a black student said he was reported for having an unnatural hair color after dying his hair blond, and another student who said his brother was given a letter of expulsion in class after being reported for being gay.
Addison Jenkins, a student who is gay, addressed the crowd and referenced when the honor code was changed to allow students to be openly gay.
“We can change the honor code again,” he said.
He told the crowd there is nothing dishonorable about being LGBTQ, about men growing beards, about leggings or about using the bathroom in the apartment of someone of the opposite sex.
“It’s called the honor code,” he said to the crowd. “We want it to be honorable.”