With the creation of the @honorcodestories Instagram account, there has been a ton of talk around the honor code office of Brigham Young University (BYU). In the last 72 hours or so the account has surged from 80 followers to over 12,000 (15,000 at the time of posting) and the owner of the account has been interviewed by a number of news channels and is preparing to give interviews for newspapers including at least 2 out of state papers. Suffice to say it’s quickly grown into quite the topic of discussion here in Provo and may become a talking point to even larger audiences as the week continues. I obviously want to get my two cents in because I’m just an opinionated punk who can’t help himself. It’s also something that I feel very strongly about.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the ins and outs of the honor code. You can read it for yourself here if you’re curious. All I’ll say is that most of it is already in line with teachings and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and with the vast majority of students at BYU being members so most of that stuff shouldn’t be all that controversial. I don’t have a real problem with the honor code itself, if it were up to me I’d tweak a few things but nothing major. My beef is with how the honor code is enforced and the office that does that enforcing. So let’s remember that going forward. Honor code? weird but OK. Honor code office? Terrible and in desperate need of change.
Let’s also get something clear, one of the central ideas, in fact, the central idea of The Church is that Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and died on Calvary so he could atone for the sins of humanity. This means that we can all repent of sin and be forgiven. Forgiveness and mercy are what’s emphasized in Church teaching. It should follow then that an institution like BYU and its enforcement of their honor code should emphasize forgiveness and mercy, but forgiveness and mercy are not what is emphasized by the honor code office. The honor code office is one that seeks to mete out punishment and what they view as justice at every opportunity. It is not a place where merciful solutions are sought out. This massive difference in approach is at the core with my problem with the honor code office. Nothing about what I’m reading feels like they have any love for the students they’re supposed to be helping.
I should also mention that I have no personal history with the honor code office. I’ve never been asked to come in. No punishment has been given to me or anything like that. I’ve been somewhat aware of the absurdities of the honor code office, but never in a direct way. It was just this week where I started to learn more about the specifics and these stories are what’s really got my stomach turning.
One thing about the honor code office that honestly just boggles my mind are the stories of students who have done things before they attended BYU (and therefore before they signed the honor code) that would be considered against the honor code and the punishments handed out for such actions. We all get why this is backwards right? How it’s totally unfair to punish someone for doing something BEFORE they agreed not to do it? Right? So we can all agree that’s messed up.
Another frightening practice I see in these stories that very much bothers me is how honor code office will call mental health clinics and demand confidential information about students who have used their services.
That is beyond a yikes from me. It’s disgusting.
It’s just a horrible thing to try and violate the confidentiality of a patient and their therapist. For some students, their therapist may be the only person they feel like they can trust with this sensitive information regarding deeply personal and potentially traumatic events in their lives and the expectation of confidentiality is one of the things that can help these students feel comfortable enough to talk about their traumas and begin to work through them and heal. I can’t imagine how much of a setback it could be for someone working through trauma to not only find out your therapist gave away your secret but you now have the added stress that you may be kicked out of university for trusting a therapist. Not OK.
Then there’s the difference in enforcement by the honor code office between women and men. A horrific theme that emerges is of women who get assaulted by their boyfriends or guys they’re on a date with. They (The women) then report themselves to the honor code office and are punished whilst the men get off Scot-free or perhaps a slap on the wrist. It’s totally unacceptable under any circumstance. Even if you think the honor code is totally backwards you would agree that the insanity should be applied evenly to all who agree to it no? If there is was even a single instance where this has happened in a place like a corporation or other professional environment heads would roll for something so terrible.
I don’t want to just sit here and complain about all the things I think are awful about the honor code office. I want to try and offer the bare bones of what a solution would be for them. It’s really rather simple. You need a dramatic culture shift within the honor code office. Remember earlier when I pointed out that The Church preaches forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ and his Atonement? The honor code office needs to reflect those teachings, not strive against it.
Students who make honest mistakes should not worry about whether they’ve jeopardized their entire academic career because things got a little hot and heavy with their girlfriend/boyfriend or they let peer pressure get the better of them and had a few drinks. When students feel this way their instinct is going to be to hide from their actions, and this develops a culture of secrecy that can only lead to worse problems.
Students who break the honor code rules should not be immune to consequences for their actions, and I would never suggest that, but those consequences should be structured in a way that reminds these students that even though they’ve fallen down that their school is there to help them back up, not kick them while they’re down. Shaming those who are trying to do good has no place at the Lord’s university. People in need of help should be directed to their church leaders who love and care for them, and if those leaders aren’t able to show that love for them we need to find the leaders that will. The Savior taught with an unending love for all of mankind, sinners and saints alike. If BYU really is his university the people who watch over the students need to go forth with that same love.
I love so many things about BYU, but reading these stories just makes my heart ache and my stomach turn. I hope things get better at the honor code office, I hope they change into an institution that people praise for love and understanding. That’s not up to me though. I’m just one student that believes things can and should be better. Later
Image sourced from BYU, I claim no ownership over it.