Brigham Young University’s honor code is prefaced with a paraphrasing of the 13th Article of Faith from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ scripture.
“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men ... . If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
While we, too, believe in pursuing honest, virtuous and praiseworthy ideals, we do take issue with the means by which the honor code is administered, namely, the Honor Code Office and how it purports to encourage honesty, virtue and doing good to all.
While the honor code has been an issue of contention for many attending BYU over the years, it has become a recent pricking point for many students, alumni and members of the community, as stories of honor code enforcement have been shared on social media.
One student claimed they were falsely accused of cheating and once an honor code officer found out the report wasn’t true, the student was still told if they had another infraction, they would believe the reporting party over the student because the student had a “history of not keeping the honor code.”
One student claimed that she had been raped by her boyfriend before attending BYU. She confided in her bishop, who told her to talk to the Honor Code Office when she got to BYU. When she did, the counselor over her case asked deep, intimate questions and only after they found out the boyfriend was on his way to jail did they lift the intended discipline of a year’s probation.
Another student claimed he engaged in physical relations with a previous girlfriend. He told his bishop, who imposed church disciplinary actions for several months. After the discipline had passed, his girlfriend told the Honor Code Office. The girlfriend got off scot-free, the boyfriend, who’d already completed a repentant process, was expelled from school.
Hundreds of stories have been shared on social media in the last week. We understand that considering most are anonymous, they have to be taken with a grain of salt. However, as journalists, we also cannot ignore when we recognize patterns and trends. Right now, we are observing draconian enforcement of the honor code by counselors and so-called officers who may not even be more qualified than you or I to essentially decide someone’s educational fate based on sensitive situations.
Because of that, we believe the honor code needs to be made more transparent and less incoherent to better protect the honor of students who are accused of violating the honor code, whether they did or not.
We are not saying that student violations should be ignored. We understand that many of the tenets of the honor code, such as abstinence and observation of the LDS Word of Wisdom, are based around being in good standing in the LDS Church. But there are other clauses of the honor code that are frankly unnecessary. A woman isn’t going to hell because nature abruptly calls and she uses a bathroom in an all-male apartment.
Likewise, the entirety of the LDS Church is based around forgiveness. Probably the strongest pillar of the faith is that all can be forgiven and saved through Jesus Christ’s Atonement. And during this week’s general conference, President Dallin H. Oaks, of the church’s First Presidency, expressed how grateful he was for the ability to repent and try to be better every day.
We’re not advocating for ignorance when an honor code violation is committed, but we are asking for forgiveness to be exercised on those young adults who make mistakes. Instead, honor code enforcement officers, who we have reason to believe are not adequately trained to handle such matters, administer the honor code in almost Pharisaical matters, disciplining with shame and fear, rather than compassion and empathy as is so frequently taught in church doctrine.
We support revisions to the honor code to help students feel love and not fear. We support standardized procedures and policies in the Honor Code Office rather than arbitrary guidelines managed by untrained professionals. We want those accused of honor code violations to be able to face their accuser, and to have the option to do so with a supportive third party. We want honor code counselors to be trained and certified. And we want all students to be treated equally — regardless of their gender and orientation. We believe students have the right to document such enforcement meetings, whether by a recording or request of a transcript, due to the potential impact of their future academic careers. Punishment and discipline has become markedly inconsistent, and students don’t know the consequences if they violate the honor code and whether they’ll be placed on academic violation or expelled.
We believe if students are attending a church-sponsored school, they should abide by its precepts, and we also believe that if they violate said code, disciplinary action may occur. They did, after all, agree to live by the honor code.
However, we are advocating for more transparency, more consistency and compassion from the administrators of the honor code so these imperfect BYU students will find success in their college experience, rather than fear the seemingly ubiquitous Honor Code Office.