As a student at Brigham Young University, Sidney Draughon committed two violations of the school’s honor code, which prohibits everything from sexual activity to drinking coffee. First, officials slammed her for wearing clothes they deemed indecent in a vacation photo. Then, in December of her senior year, an ex-boyfriend confessed the two had engaged in ‘sexual touching’, leading officials to put Ms Draughon on probation, preventing her from getting her graduate on time.
These experiences inspired Ms Draughon, after graduating last summer, to set up a social media account to share her concerns. “It was so painful and I felt so alone,” she said. “I kept thinking someone must have felt the same way.”
His effort attracted many others with similar stories and sparked campus-wide concern about the risks of the honor code being “weaponized” against students. In a sit-in last week and a large protest on the campus in Provo, Utah, on Friday, students called for changes to the system.
The very public and rare push is part of a larger effort within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the university, to balance doctrine with larger opinions. common to many of its young members.s. It also follows a decision earlier this month to allow the baptism of children of same-sex couples, reversing a controversial 2015 policy that declared church members in same-sex marriages to be apostates and subjects. to excommunication – a major decision that reported attempts by the church to bridge divisions within its ranks.
Empowered by social media and galvanized by national conversations about privacy, integrity and the #MeToo movement, the activism fueling change in the church represents a cultural shift among Latter-day Saints, Patrick said. Mason, chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University.
“This is a generation that feels their voice matters and they’re not always going to defer to authority,” Mason said. “They are getting victories in the broader culture, and we see LDS leaders are not immune. In fact, the church responds to the concerns of its members. Authority matters in faith, but community matters too.
Ms Draughon, 24, kept her worries about the Honor Code until she left school, but now her Honor Code Stories account on Instagram has attracted more than 34,000 followers and generated almost 200 accounts of punishments inflicted by the enforcement office. the code.
“Nobody talks about the honor code office on campus because they’re terrified,” Ms. Draughon said. “The code has been weaponized. This is not the culture you need in a religious university.
Every Brigham Young student must sign the school’s honor code to enroll in classes. The morality contract prohibits – and punishes – violations that include immodest dress, premarital sexual activity, beards, and the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and coffee.
Many students have defended the code itself and said it was one of the reasons they decided to attend BYU. But they also said the system should be more forgiving.
Carri Jenkins, a spokesperson for the university, said the school is aware of the honor code discussions online. “These messages lead to constructive dialogue between students and the leadership of the Honor Code Office,” she said in an emailed statement.
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This is not the first time the university has come under fire for the way the code is enforced. After Brigham Young sparked outrage for punishing sexual assault victims who violated the honor code, the school implemented a new ‘amnesty’ policy in 2017, granting confidentiality to victims and ending the practice of penalties for related infractions, such as drinking or entering. a room belonging to a member of the opposite sex.
According to Honor Code Office, all credible breaches of the code are investigated, a process that includes university staff members reviewing evidence and speaking with witnesses. During the investigation, an employee interviews the accused student, who must respond to the allegation, preferably in writing. If the student is found to have committed the offence, penalties can range from a warning to suspension or expulsion.
Punishments are not standardized, the university said, but are instead based on individual judgment calls and reviewed by a committee.
Students said other consequences of violating the code can include mandatory religious worship, community service hours and withholding of degrees, regardless of grade level.
Support for the change extends beyond campus and into the wider Mormon community. More than 22,000 people signed an online petition calling for the code to be updated, and Mormon supporters rallied around the “Y?” symbol, a variant of the university’s logo, which is worn on clothing and was posted on social media.
On Instagram, students and graduates shared stories of being suspended or expelled for violations such as kissing a date goodnight or wearing a two-piece swimsuit.
A young man, according to his brother, committed suicide less than two months after his deportation on the grounds that he had engaged in sexual acts with a former girlfriend. Another student said she overdosed on pills after being punished for revealing she had been sexually assaulted. A gay student said he was asked explicit questions about his sexuality and was sentenced to nine months probation after spending the night in a woman’s flat.
For her latest violation, Ms. Draughon said an investigator from the Honor Code Office called while she was in Atlanta visiting family over the holidays. The administrator wanted to know the graphic details of a months-old intimate encounter with her ex-boyfriend, who allegedly told the school that they broke the rules on sexual touching.
“She asked things like, was it over or under the bra, and where exactly did you touch it and for how many seconds,” Ms Draughon said. Her mother, who was listening to the conversation on loudspeaker, told her to hang up, but Ms Draughon refused.
“I have to graduate,” she recalled telling her mother, “and if I don’t respond, I’ll lose everything.”
Students must report themselves and others to the Honor Code Office. But until recently, few seemed to know how its officials investigated infractions, or that those who had been questioned felt traumatized by the experience.
Until he read the honor code stories on Instagram, Keaton Hill, 23, a junior at Brigham Young, said he didn’t understand how much of an impact it had had on his fellow students. He does not want the code to be abolished, but he noted that it is much stricter than the standards required to be a fully faithful member of the church. Its leaders should recognize that young people make mistakes and prioritize atonement, he said.
“We sign this document and agree to the terms,” he said, “but we all fall short of the glory of God.”
A leader of Brigham Young’s Democratic student group who spent two years as a missionary in Virginia, Hill became involved this month with Restore Honor BYU, the campus movement that campaigns for reform. He attended a sit-in outside the student center last week, which drew around 300 people, and participated in discussions with honor code office officials.
The group wants more transparency and protection for students, and it has proposed a number of specific changes to ensure defendants are treated fairly. Among their demands, the students want to ban the reporting of trivial offenses, such as swearing or watching R-rated movies, a practice that some say fosters a culture of grudges.
Other proposals include creating a student advocacy group that could provide information about honor code office procedures, allowing accused students to use a trusted third party, and changing the code ban. from “homosexual behavior” to “homosexual activity”, so that homosexual students are not penalized simply for their sexuality.
Many students pushing for the change said they saw it as a way to align the code — and the church — with their broader social justice goals, especially sexual minority rights.
“Currently at school, we finally figured it’s fine that you’re gay, as long as you don’t have a relationship. I think it’s morally repugnant,” said Grant Frazier, 18 , a freshman involved with Restore Honor BYU. “To threaten a student’s academic future because they have a healthy relationship with someone they are attracted to is wrong.
Although the church’s recent decision to allow the baptism of children of LGBT parents has not ended its teaching that acting out same-sex attraction is sinful, the decision has been welcomed by its younger members and galvanized their efforts to push for change on the BYU campus. , which is attended by approximately 30,000 loyal students.
School officials have been responsive to the group’s concerns, Hill said.
“We’re going to be respectful,” he said of the students’ discussions with university officials about the honor code. “But we’re not really going to bow to anything.”
Sheli Paige Frank contributed reporting.