Saturday, May 21, 2016

What I Told BYU About Sex Crimes and the Honor Code

This is a hot topic in the news and bloggernacle these days, and rightfully so. Without dealing with the negatives of any particular situation you may read about on other sites, let me offer here the solution I proposed in response to the LDS Church and Brigham Young University soliciting comments on the bigger issues of sexual assault and the Honor Code.

As for my own bona fides, I am a graduate of BYU, B.A. '82, as is my wife. Four of our children have attended the Y with a fifth to follow (we have one wonderful, red sheep who graduated from the University of Utah which we also respect). I am currently a continuing-education, evening student for my Welsh language audits and am under a current ecclesiastical endorsement to attend the Y that I will have to renew some time this summer.

I wish I had remembered to cut and paste my comment before I clicked "send" and it disappeared into the ether of the interwebs. But here's the gist of it:

First of all, Brigham Young University is a private, religious school and has every right to have an honor code and expect high ethical and moral standards of its students. That being said, I've never been comfortable with a school bureaucracy dealing with matters of sexual behavior or even the rather restrictive dress code and grooming standards. Again, I'm not saying they can't or shouldn't have them, I just think this can be much better addressed.

My idea is to separate the personal worthiness aspects of the code from university enforcement and leave that solely to the ecclesiastical endorsement by local clergy (LDS or otherwise) in their ministerial role. For instance, in the current hot issue of allegations of rape or sexual assault, let law enforcement deal with the alleged perp, and with the victim only as the informant or witness as necessary. The Honor Code should have a provision that anyone convicted of a sex crime is ineligible to enroll and could even suspend a suspected perpetrator during an investigation - but not the victim!

Any issue with any individual's personal worthiness with regard to sexual behavior should be addressed by the individual and clergy through the annual ecclesiastical endorsement process. The student's bishop, branch president, or minister of any other religion can endorse or not based on the individual's commitment to a chaste life with the kind of self-certification we do in Temple Recommend interviews or in ministerial counseling to address mistakes, sin, or any other difficult issue. A University, even a religious one, need only know if a student is in compliance with religious standards. I don't really see how a university bureaucracy should be dealing with the specifics of an individual's situation. Leave that to properly authorized clergy.

I've heard anecdotal horror stories that I will not repeat. There do seem to be stories or at least a perception that BYU Idaho is "stricter" in enforcing the Honor Code and that BYU Hawaii may be a bit more culturally lax. (Not to mention the allegations of double standards applied to athletes).

Of course there are incidents that come up during a school year, but let the University request an update on an endorsement or the withdrawal of such from a current ecclesiastical leader rather than its own bureaucratic process for "worthiness" infractions.

I'll deal with the dress code some other time.

Enter to learn, go forth to serve.


  1. Yeah, the problem is the honor code office punishes students to varying degrees based on the offense. Since when has punishing someone ever made someone correct their mistakes? More likely it shames them and they change their behavior to avoid getting caught and so forth. Yeah there needs to be consequence and accountability, but with a kinder and more compassionate approach. But I don't know what that is. Therapy? Counseling? A grace period to get together?


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