Restore Honor to BYU’s Honor Code

brigham-young-university-rollins-center-for-etrepreneurship-technologyBrigham Young University has released a statement, pledging to “study” policies that open student victims of sexual assault to discipline from the Honor Code office and to possibly enact “structural changes within the university” to resolve what BYU President Kevin Worthen calls “tensions.” Good for BYU. I hope the university and its Church sponsor work quickly to devise a system that encourages, rather than discourages, the reporting of rape. In the meantime, all university disciplinary actions against victims of sexual abuse should be put on hold.

Unfortunately, that was not part of BYU’s statement. In fact, the language of the statement continues to demonstrate a belligerent tone deafness to the cultural proclivity that creates such a policy, specifically, the habit of defining worth according to a checklist.

Perhaps mortals innately quantify the value of others, and for good reason. We say to our children, “That person is a stranger; strangers may not be good; stay away from strangers.” The usual purpose of such measures is to ensure safety for an individual or a group. The Honor Code’s purpose is to protect students, and, as a BYU alumna, I attest it usually does this well.

But, as we are coming to understand, the Honor Code has weakness, as does any checklist that quantifies human worth, value, potential, or spiritual suitability for inclusion. Student victims of rape are under-reporting assaults because they fear being academically disciplined for imperfect compliance to the Honor Code. I believe BYU’s Honor Code personnel want to support student victims in the best ways possible, and I look forward to substantial, positive improvements. But the status quo cannot stand — not even while the university studies the issue — because, if a rape is not reported, that rapist remains a threat to all female students. There is no honor in that. University personnel cannot support a victim they do not know exists.

BYU seems to think it’s conundrum is about syncing its zero tolerance of sex criminals with its required Honor Code compliance by student victims. That feat is impossible. Instead, BYU’s challenge is to convert any creeping, Pharisaical  approaches to honor into one unworthy of Christ’s rebuke. Mercy must win out.

In its statement, BYU’s Honor Code office seems to see itself as the enforcer of the “ideals and principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The much more difficult task would be to become the embodiment of the ideals and principles of Christ. Remember, remember, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. In this instance, perhaps that means we look the other way. Exempt all rape victims from academic discipline.This must be the first step in supporting them.

We all want to be safe. But when safety is little more than a feeling, when it excludes while fortifying a danger, when safety means protecting the system that quantifies human worth or potential rather than healing an individual, it is not what it claims. Such safety is a menace.

The Honor Code, if it is to bring honor to BYU, must embody the compassion and mercy of Christ. It must desist from any practice that treats human beings as if they have less value than the code itself. There must be a complete disconnect between sexual assault victims and discipline under the Honor Code in order to ensure victims are nurtured and healed and that sexual predators are stopped. Please, BYU, I trust you to do what is right. Trample the code before trampling a child of God. Overturn the tables. Drop that stone. Touch the hem of Christ. Moral authority is lost when it insists upon itself.

If the Honor Code is treated like a golden calf, the sacrifice will always be human.

 …if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27

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5 thoughts on “Restore Honor to BYU’s Honor Code

  1. A Happy Hubby

    I would like to see the honor code be put back in the hands of the students where it started. I actually think the students might run it better and react quicker to the times. It just seems over and over that they are looking ridiculous on this such a this issue on sexual assault and not too long ago the “decide you don’t have a testimony of the church while at BYU and you are really screwed – extremely worse than someone that entered as a non-member”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Merry Gravett

    I agree that mercy must be implemented. But a blanket statement that rape victims will not experience academic discipline could cause as many problems as it solves. What if a female student is found out committing sexual sin, and she cries rape to prevent being kicked out of school? I don’t think the current policy works well, but I do think that it’s hard to come up with a new policy that will meet the needs of the students and the ecclesiastical leaders of the university.


    1. A Happy Hubby

      @Merry Gravett,

      I am not going to say there is no merit to your position on changing the honor code could have some consequences. I would ask you to think for a minute if your daughter was going to BYU and this great guy she is smitten over intentionally manipulates this affection to make her break an honor code “just a bit” and he knows once he has had this happen his chances of being punished for sexual assault drops quite a bit. When I think of it that way, I am more willing to think of protecting my daughter over the possibility of some abuse.


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