"I like fiery passion, actually." - Olympus
Question #92339 posted on 06/10/2019 5:30 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Hi there, former writers! I’d love to hear what your experiences were with the HCO when you were attending BYU—positive or negative.

What changes do you think should be made to the honor code? What parts do you think should be maintained? What role should the honor code play in students’ lives?

-Lefty

A:

Dear Lefty,

I self-reported a violation of the honor code that I had committed in the interest of being honest with myself and true to the honor code which I had signed. Given that this action was totally voluntary and that I came for the purpose of self-improvement, you'd think that they would have treated me with a little more trust in my intentions. Instead, I was asked a series of questions sounding out the precise details of my issue to a fairly high degree of specificity. I cannot, after all these years, imagine what use that amount of specificity has in their inquiries. I was then treated with doubt and skepticism in my several follow-up meetings and felt that my eventual resolution and release from further HCO contact or discipline was met with reluctance rather than joy at my progress.

The Honor Code is only the Honor Code if we operate under the assumption that people are following it rather than on the assumption that people will break the rules if not properly supervised. The Stanford Honor Code, for example, specifically forbids academic dishonesty in all of its forms including plagiarism and giving or receiving help during an exam. However, it also states that, "the faculty on its part manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent the forms of dishonesty mentioned" (source, emphasis mine). Did you catch that? Faculty may not proctor exams or cause them to be proctored by another person. When my dad was a grad student there, he would go get his exam from his professor and take it back to his office to take the exam with the full knowledge and consent of his professor. To me, this is the way an honor code should work. BYU has every right to declare an honor code describing a set of behaviors expected by its students. That said, I sure wish they'd treat their students like they plan to follow the code that they have agreed to follow.

I think the general argument is something like, "we want to make sure that the code is being respected, so we inquire after the behavior of our students." But do the people serve the code, or does the code serve the people? My counter to that is that students at BYU still cheat, they still have pre-marital sex, they still drink alcohol and do drugs. The assumption that their investigations are keeping these behaviors to a minimum are patently absurd. The reason I strove to follow the code (and even to self-report) was that I, myself, was committed to the honor code and wanted to follow it. There are others who will break it whether or not there are investigations. Instead of punishing the vast majority of students who do their best in favor of "catching" the minority in their various acts of breaking the honor code, why don't we assume that students are, by and large, committed to the code and react to incidences of breaking it when they naturally arise (and only then with the attitude of helping people get back on a track they presumably want to be on)?

As a final word, I'd like to say how much respect I have for the current honor code protests that are happening. In the past, they have largely missed the point ("we should be allowed to have beards! Midnight is a stupid curfew time!" and so on). This protest is about the method of enforcement rather than being about the details of the code itself. While I do actually think that beards are no longer counter-culture in the way that they were when the honor code originally prohibited them and find that many professional, mature men in a variety of highly respected careers have beards, I also think it's a little childish to protest about them. That said, protesting in the way that students did this time was spot on, and I hope they make some headway.

Best,

The Man with a Mustache

A:

Dear Lefty,

I have no personal experience with the Honor Code Office, because aside from letting anyone stay at my house as late as they wanted, I never felt inclined to do anything that would attract their attention. However, I have heard about several of my friends' experiences with it, and they were not good.

I think the HCO should be abolished or have its scope reduced to academic honesty. Anything else can be dealt with through the already existing ecclesiastical endorsement system. I believe that having university administrators with no priesthood keys investigating and disciplining students for issues that are mostly spiritual in nature - especially in cases where the transgression has already been confessed to a bishop - is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Adding additional rules on top of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints requires of its general membership has a tendency to create a Pharisee/Zoramite-like "we're holier than everyone else" attitude, and in my experience doesn't actually do a great job at preventing transgression. It would be better to treat students like the adults that they are and leave it to their bishops to determine if they are living in a manner consistent with the restored gospel.

This approach runs into a few hiccups when you consider non-LDS students. I think the choices boil down to either ignoring the Word of Wisdom-type restrictions for students whose religions don't have those restrictions, or requiring that all ecclesiastical endorsements come from an LDS bishop.

-The Entomophagist

A:

Dear friend,

I'm lucky in that my one run-in with the Honor Code Office was more bizarre than it was traumatizing. When I was still an RA, I decided to get a buzzcut. My supervisor reported me to the Honor Code Office because apparently, buzzcuts are an "extreme hairstyle" and "my residents' parents might be concerned if they saw that their child's RA has a buzzcut." Which... I have opinions about but I respect my former supervisor and don't want to talk badly.

But I had to attend a disciplinary meeting with my boss's boss, promise that I wouldn't buzz my hair again when it grew out, and report to the HCO to... show I was sorry for buzzing my hair, I guess? I don't know. But if you knew me in mid-2017 and was wondering why I wore beanies all the time for a solid month, that would be it.

As far as the HCO itself goes, I think it has the potential to be much better than it is. I feel like the point of even having an Honor Code is to inspire people to do better. But right now, it seems like it just intimidates people and influences them to develop a fear-based perception of morality. Which doesn't strengthen anyone's testimony and pressures students into reporting on each other

Overall, I agree with Ento–ecclesiastical endorsements should determine spiritual or personal integrity. In my opinion, the HCO should be focused on academic honesty and redirect students with most other issues to the counseling center or maybe encourage them to talk to their bishop.

-Van Goff

A:

Hello Kitty,

My only experience with the HCO is that I decided as a lark to see if I could get a beard card. Long story short, I did, and I had a beard for a year while at BYU.

-M.O.D.A.Q.

A:

Dear Lefty,

I had a bishop who once said the HCO would "hang their own mothers at the first offense."He was about 70 years old at the time. Incidentally, he was also very good friends with an apostle, which admittedly made me feel even better about his comment.

You know that part in Inside Out where there's like "core memories", where you can't forget something for the rest of your life? This is one of them for me.

-Adequate Adam

A:

Dear you,

My overall view is that changes to the Honor Code Office are quite necessary, and that the recent protests and changes are moving in the right direction. I agree with MWaM that past complaints were mostly about things like curfew and beards, but these protests have actually been quite supportive of the honor code. Instead they are focusing on the way that the HCO enforces the honor code and the effect that has on students. I have friends who have been present in conversations with the administration and they've said things have been quite constructive.

I have not had any personal experiences with the honor code office, but once I read stores from the Honor Code Stories Instagram page i realized that changes were necessary. This got talked about a bunch in my classes, at my apartment complex, with my friends, and I learned a lot from my friends experiences. There were 3 big things that jumped out to me as problems:

  1. From what I saw LGBQT+, women, and minorities students typically received harsher scrutiny than men. I've heard some ridiculous stories about LGBQT+ students getting in trouble with the honor code for saying something on Tumblr, or for just hanging out with their friends. I've heard countless stories of a couple crossing the line and the guy getting off easy while the girl was expelled. This systematic unfair treatment needs to be avoided at all costs. HCO reform is needed to assure that these people are being treated in an honorable and fair manner.
  2. We need to stop having vigilante attitudes toward the Honor Code. Personally I think that reporting people to the Honor Code should only be done in pretty harsh circumstances. People have been hurt by wild and false accusations. I don't get why it seems like the HCO is more willing to believe any accusation than the people themselves. That's not even the worst part. The worst part is when sexual abusers use the threat of reporting people to the Honor Code Office to silence victims. I know that changes have been made to how the HCO handles people these cases, but we still have a lot to go. The Honor Code should not be used as a fear tactic, and the fact that it can be makes me sad.
  3. Past practices of the Honor Code during investigations have been way out of line. They have been far too harsh and invasive. Some of the stories I've read have talked about investigative practices that were cruel at best and illegal at worst. Even if people are lying and cheating, and doing anything else they still need to be treated with respect and given the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately recent changes will increase transparency, give students more advocacy, and hopefully decrease a lot of the anxiety that comes dealing with the Honor Code Office. I think that policy could be changed some more, and that we definitely need a cultural change, but the recent changes have been very positive. Please go and read them if you haven't already.
I'm really glad these protests have been going on because they were needed and I feel like they have helped bring the BYU community together. I would however, like to address the response given to me by nearly every adult over the age of 30 when talking about the honor code. Almost every time I talked with someone of the older generation they said "If you don't want to live the Honor Code, then don't come to BYU". Here is my response:
  1. There are people that get in trouble with the HCO that are living the honor code. I feel like this especially applies to LGBQT+ students. I've heard of them getting reported for things that would be totally fine if straight students did them and are fine if they do them, but they get put under a microscope and are often unfairly judged.
  2. I don't think people come to BYU planning on breaking the honor code. Students are typically at BYU between the ages of 18-25. Those are maybe the most volatile years of people's lives. Expecting people that age to never make mistakes is honestly kind of ridiculous. People this age are learning so much about themselves, and dating, and their faith, and everything.
  3. We believe in repentance. It's fundamental to the gospel. When people self report they should at least get a little bit of mercy.
  4. Getting expelled from BYU can be pretty damaging to people's lives, especially for those from poorer economic backgrounds. It is awful for international students and can end up with them being deported. BYU is probably the only college that many students can afford. I've got a cousin who's parents are ex-members and are sending him to BYU-I because everything else in-state is uber expensive and they want him to go to a school with good values. Telling people to just not go to BYU is often times pretty similar to telling the poor to "eat cake".
Okay, soap box over. I get where people with the opinion "If you don't want to live the Honor Code, then don't come to BYU" are coming from, and most of the time when I've shown people the Honor Code Stories Instagram they've changed their tune. This is just something that's really important to me so hopefully some reader out there that needed to read that got through this whole dang answer to read it.

I love being at BYU where we have an Honor Code. I love being in a place where people live the gospel and I don't have to deal with all the drugs and alcohol and stuff that happens at other campuses. The honor code itself is one of the most valuable parts of BYU. I feel like it helps us have the Holy Ghost on campus which creates an atmosphere of love and learning.

That being said, I think the HCO needs some reform to maintain that very attitude and spirit. I feel like we're going in the right direction, but we are still a few policy changes and some big cultural changes away. I don't know what else to add except gratitude that we're having this conversation so that we can help make BYU a safer, happier place for us all.
 
Peace,
Tipperary
A:

Dear Lefty,

No personal experience with the Honor Code Office. But my brother went to BYU-Idaho and once he was summoned and accused of drinking alcohol because they found out he went to a New Year's party where his friend drank alcohol. My brother had not drunk any alcohol but they told him that they had evidence from a "very good source" that he had done so. He figures they were lying to get him to confess. 

I think the Honor Code Office should be abolished or limited to issues of academic honesty. I am fine with the existence of an Honor Code that goes beyond academic honesty, but I don't think it should be enforced. The consequences of potential enforcement errors are too severe, and the current Honor Code Office has proved itself incompetent.

I would also like to see the Honor Code rewritten to be less legalistic and more about actually being a good person. However, given the cultural factors at play, I seriously doubt it will happen.

-Pessimistic current student

A:

Dear,

My freshman year, some guy, maybe the EQP? rode the elevator up to my floor of the women's dorms during non-visiting hours to ask a question of one of my neighbors. He didn't step foot off of the elevator, just asked the first woman who passed to go get her (cell phones were less common, then). At the time, I was outraged that he had put me in a position where I had signed a thing saying I would rat people out for breaking rules, but I really didn't want to be a rat. Now, I'm outraged that the school would put me in that position, where to keep my word, I would have had to put people's educations in danger for a comically chaste interaction. 

Hanging out with members of the opposite sex after hours was the instance that came up the most during my time in Provo. While I was a student, I generally stuck to the letter of the law, and if I was out late with male friends, we mostly wandered around campus or chatted on porches, etc. It was often the subject of joking scolding among my friends, though one of the most caustic roommate fights I was ever unfortunate enough to be forced to overhear was where one was demanding that the other leave her boyfriend's house (where they had just been talking, nothing sexual was going on). After I graduated from BYU (but was still in near-BYU housing), I thought it was idiotic that I was still supposed to follow the Honor Code, just because I lived in places that BYU students might also choose to live. At that point, I did some back-and-forth visits after visiting hours with a (mostly-, since I'm generally a rule-follower) clear conscience. 

I dated a guy who didn't go to BYU, but whose family predicated their financial support on him being clean-shaven anyway, because they saw the Honor Code as a higher law than even the temple recommend questions, which I think is absolute baloney. They also tried to get me to convince him that beards were gross, when my father has had one for most of my life, and I actually quite like them on men, due largely to my time dating their son. It didn't go well for them. (His eventual solution was to drop out of college, because he wanted to grow a beard (and he should have: it looks great on him!) but didn't want to lie to his family, and because he was already in a well-paying job without a degree, so finishing college didn't feel urgent or necessary). 

I like the idea of students being honest in their academics and other dealings, and using common sense in their interactions with others, but I think the culture it promotes is downright dangerous (since serial predators can, and frequently do, manipulate their victims by pushing them to break small rules, and then push them far past that point, and know the victims are unlikely to report them because it will hurt the victim's reputation, education, and church standing to do so, and the predators generally get off without any punishment at all). Plus, a lot of the rules (well, the ones I remember) are outdated and stupid -- like beards still being forbidden because the church wanted to distance itself from hippies back in the 60s, and being barefoot in public is banned because ... I don't know. Because people find it gross, I guess, which I get, but that's no reason that someone's degree should be in jeopardy. 

-Uffish Thought