BYU announces changes to Honor Code Office following student criticism

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PROVO — Following student criticism of the Honor Code Office at BYU, the head of the program announced sweeping changes to the office’s policies Tuesday.

Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt promised an increase in transparency for his office in a letter to students posted on BYU’s website Tuesday.

The Honor Code asks BYU students to abide by certain living standards, including abstaining from alcohol, drugs and premarital sex. The code also asks students at the private university, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to follow certain dress and grooming standards.

Three main changes will aim to improve the transparency of the office, Utt said in the letter.

  • When students are called into the Honor Code Office, they will know why they were called in, as well as the nature of the reported violation, at the start of their first meeting in the office, Utt said.
  • Students who have been called into the office will also be told the name of the person who reported the violation, according to Utt’s letter. That excludes “situations where it is a matter of safety to a member of our campus community,” he said.
  • The third major change announced Tuesday will give students an explanation about what the Honor Code Office’s investigation will include when they are called to the office, Utt said. They will also be informed of support resources available to them throughout the process, he said.

Utt noted that the changes announced Tuesday have already been made, but he did not say exactly when the changes went into effect. He said he hoped the changes can reduce anxiety and apprehension that students have previously expressed feeling upon visiting the Honor Code Office.

In addition to the three main changes, Utt said some "confusing language" was removed from an online form associated with BYU's housing office.

Utt pointed out that since 2016, sexual misconduct investigations have been handled by BYU's Title IX Office, not the Honor Code Office. The Title IX office keeps those investigations confidential, he said.

When Utt was hired as head of the Honor Code Office in January, he was asked to review each of the office's policies, he wrote in the letter.

"The Honor Code process should serve to help students reflect and commit to the Honor Code, as they strive to achieve the high standards set forth by BYU’s Mission and Aims," he wrote.

Tuesday’s announcement comes after BYU students criticized the Honor Code Office this spring. The @honorcodestories Instagram account, which features anonymous student stories of experiences with the office, fueled the criticism.

The account, which currently has more than 38,000 followers, first posted in January. Around the same time, a petition calling for updates to the Honor Code gained traction, although the petition was first published in January 2018.

In April, students organized a protest at BYU to call for changes to the Honor Code.

A group known as Return Honor organized the protest after seeing the Instagram account and petition renew interest in the Honor Code Office. Keaton Hill, one of the group's founders, told KSL in April that the group wanted to see changes to the way the Honor Code is enforced, as well as changes to language the group believes is discriminatory to LGBT students.

"We're not taking a black marker and trying to scratch (the Honor Code) all out. It's the enforcement that's the issue," Hill said. "We want people to know their rights and know you can bring someone in, bring an advocate, create an advocacy group so people can inform you, 'Oh, you're going in the Honor Code Office? This is what you need to know.'"

Utt's letter makes no mention of the university's policies regarding LGBT students.

Utt said he has had discussions with several hundred students about their concerns regarding the Honor Code Office, and he continues to have discussions with students.

“I understand the concerns that have been raised with some of our procedures, which we will continue to address in the months ahead,” Utt wrote in the letter. “The constructive dialogue that I and others are having with students is helpful as we continue to refine our policies, trainings and practices.”

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