I am a BYU alumnus and I went to BYU for my Master and my PhD, but I was already married and I was busy taking care of my family and going to school. The Honor Code was not hard to follow, but again, I was a little older and married.
Early this week I heard for the first time about all that is happening: the protests, Instagram accounts with “horror stories”, BYUI students calling for reform on the honor code, and a march around the university.
It is almost impossible for most people to know what really happened in specific cases, but this may be an opportunity for improvement. I don’t have any other information other than what I read online, but I am interested in following the evolution of this situation. I think that good can come out of it.
Some students had bad experiences with the Honor Code office, and they decided to share their experiences publicly. Young people are usually faster than older people to feel indignation for real or supposed injustices, and gather together in person or online to ask for change. So, we should not be surprised that these protests are happening. They are relatively small, but probably big enough for a place like BYU.
At the same time, I believe that the administrators at BYU have the students’ and the school’s best interest in mind, when they go about their daily work. However, nobody is perfect, and mistakes can be made, especially when people need to make decisions in situations of uncertainty, and with conflicting information and responsibilities. This doesn’t happen only at BYU, but everywhere.
My experience at BYU was very good and uplifting, and it helped me considerably in my subsequent life and career, but I had some bad day. While I had mostly great teachers and colleagues, I can remember some less than pleasant experience with some individuals. I also felt that certain things could be improved, and I shared my ideas and feelings. Some of these ideas were received better than others.
I was one of a few international students, and as a group we were struggling more than our American colleagues to keep up with everything, and there was a time when we were asking for little changes and improvements. None of those things were as complicated as requesting changes to the Honor Code, but they were nonetheless important for us.
Change is a constant part of life, even at BYU. Some changes are less traumatic and happen with less conflict and more naturally. Others need a stronger catalyst, and may involve more struggle and conflict. This seems to be one of those cases.
I believe that the commandments of God don’t change, but policies and procedure can, and sometimes need to change. We have seen this happen in the Church recently, so it may happen at BYU, and in fact certain aspects of the Honor Code have changed over time.
BYU, for example, recently changed the way it enforces the Honor Code when it comes to reports of sexual assault.
Beards and longer hair weren’t explicitly banned by grooming standards until the 70s, and jeans were banned for women and men until 1981.
In the heat of the debate, statements are made, that may not be correct, and may even confuse people about what really happened, or what the Honor Code requires.
I believe that most of the people involved in what is happening are honest and sincere, and want to make improvements and find good solutions, while a few may try to use this situation to disparage BYU and the Church, or put down others.
For example, some have said that BYU “cares more about punishing students who violate the religious rules rather than helping them”. I don’t believe this to be the case for BYU as an institution, and these statement are not very useful. However, mistakes may have been made.
Some rules may also need to be clarified. Kevin Utt, director of BYU’s Honor Code Office yesterday issued a statement where he answered questions that may help clarify some issues.
For example, he answered this question, that seems to create a lot of problems:
Can I get in trouble for not reporting something to the Honor Code Office?
No. One of the nine Honor Code principles states: “Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code.” Encourage is not synonymous with “turn someone in.” Encourage is a verb that means to give support, confidence or hope to someone. We are all members of the BYU community – thousands of people coming together to develop faith, intellect and character, and we should always reach out in love and support to those around us.
This is an important explanation, especially in light of stories where students were told that they were breaking the Honor Code if they were not reporting roommates.
When I was at BYU I was a married, busy, and older student, so I had no experience whatsoever with these situations, but I can understand the worries and stress that they may create in those involved.
BYU officials said in a Thursday post on Twitter. “We love our students and alums and how much they care about BYU. These messages are leading to constructive dialogue between students and the leadership of the Honor Code Office.”
I hope and believe that the current challenges will be overcome and that a reasonable and even inspired solution will be found, to improve how the Honor Code is experienced by students and administrators at BYU.
Not everybody will be satisfied at the end of the process. However, as President Oaks said, when reporting about the new modified policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the children of LGBT,
“We are optimistic that a majority of people — whatever their beliefs and orientations — long for better understanding and less contentious communications.”
As he said, a “majority of people”… not everybody, but this is life. It is impossible to make everybody happy, whatever we do. But we still need to try to do our best, and come up with the best solutions, in a spirit of love and tolerance.
This is my follow up blog post BYU Announces Changes to Honor Code After Student Criticism