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BYU promises to change honor-code probes after protest

May 14, 2019
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FILE - In this April 12, 2019, file photo, Tyler Slade and Zoe Calcote stand for a moment of silence, as they gather on the campus of Brigham Young University, with hundreds of BYU students at a rally to oppose how the school's Honor Code Office investigates and disciplines students, in Provo, Utah. BYU will change the way it enforces its honor code following protests calling for more compassion at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned institution. The Tuesday, May 14, 2019, announcement doesn't change the code itself, which bans drinking, premarital sex, beards and piercings. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)
1 of 2
FILE - In this April 12, 2019, file photo, Tyler Slade and Zoe Calcote stand for a moment of silence, as they gather on the campus of Brigham Young University, with hundreds of BYU students at a rally to oppose how the school's Honor Code Office investigates and disciplines students, in Provo, Utah. BYU will change the way it enforces its honor code following protests calling for more compassion at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned institution. The Tuesday, May 14, 2019, announcement doesn't change the code itself, which bans drinking, premarital sex, beards and piercings. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Brigham Young University promised Tuesday to be more transparent in how it enforces its honor code, though some who protested their treatment at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned institution wonder if the changes go far enough.

The announcement doesn’t alter the code itself, which bans drinking, premarital sex, beards and piercings, but Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt promised to be more transparent in investigating alleged violations.

The office will now identify who made the report, unless there’s a safety concern, and give the accused a fuller explanation of how the process works and resources available during what can be a nerve-wracking experience for students, Utt said in a statement.

“You will know at the start of our first meeting why we have asked you to come to the Honor Code Office and the nature of the reported violation,” he wrote. “I want students to be respected and treated fairly throughout their interaction with this office.”

Officials will also give students clearer explanations of how to return to good standing if a violation is self-reported or confirmed through an investigation. Utt said his office will continue to hear and address concerns.

The group Restore Honor said they’re very happy with the “baby steps” announced Tuesday, and optimistic more will happen down the road.

“We definitely want to see more, we’re going to keep pushing for more changes, but these are definitely on our list of what we want to see changed,” said spokeswoman Riley Madrian.

Letting students know what they’re being investigated for upfront is important, since students have reported being asked to admit transgressions rather than being told what the meeting is about, she said. Utt’s confirmation that students are presumed “innocent” prior to an investigation also key.

The changes come a month after Instagram account called “honor code stories” yielded a flood of reports from students who had negative experiences with how the college handled reports of transgressions and punishments. Nearly all students are members of the faith.

It also sparked a protest that brought several hundred current and former students to the Provo, Utah, campus holding signs like “If God forgives me, why can’t you?”

While some called for alterations to the honor code, which also bans same-sex dating by LGBTQ students, others said they were only pushing for changes to the tactics used by investigators.

Current punishments for violations range from discipline to suspension and expulsion.

One of the protesters was Brayden Smith, a 2018 graduate who was suspended from the school after turning himself into the honor code office for an unspecified transgression with his girlfriend. He said he was left spiritually damaged by his experience with the office, which required him to do community service and banned him from social media and dating apps.

He said Tuesday he was glad to see the school responding and the changes appeared positive, but they don’t go far enough.

“The damage I suffered had nothing to do with lack of resources, the school basically threatened me and my dignity with education,” he said. “We’re good kids, have more mercy. We’re trying to do the right thing.”

The protest marked the latest unwanted attention for BYU’s honor code, which was criticized in 2016 by female students who spoke out against the school opening honor-code investigations of students who reported sexual abuses to police. The college changed the policy to ensure that students who report sexual abuse would no longer be investigated for honor code violations.

Utt has said 10-15 students are expelled due to honor code violations each year, with the rest remaining enrolled. The college has about 33,000 students.

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Associated Press journalist Morgan Smith contributed to this report.

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