I Believe Something Is Wrong with the BYU Honor Code

Yeah, I said it. I believe there’s something wrong with the Honor Code at BYU.

Not necessarily with the specific standards of right and wrong, but rather in the motivation behind these standards.

The simple act of creating a list of actions and consequences is pointless if it doesn’t serve a greater purpose.

A country doesn’t have laws just to punish those who break them. We have laws to protect others. We have laws to provide an environment where people feel safe.

Unfortunately, at BYU, the Honor Code has become a simple list of actions and consequences with no greater purpose.

People may think there is a greater purpose; that the Honor Code promotes a wholesome environment where like-minded people can live their shared values.

But how does turning away an imperfect student who makes a bad choice – a student who is actively trying to improve – create this wholesome environment?

That’s like a town full of people who want to live in the healthiest place in the world kicking sick residents out of the town instead of getting them to a doctor. In their attempt to create a happy/healthy place to live they’ve actually created an unhealthy environment where people are too scared to get help. Residents are afraid of even coughing or sneezing because their neighbor might report them. Instead of going to a doctor for treatment, they hide in their houses and hope nobody finds out.

I realize that, in this example, getting sick is out of any resident’s control, while breaking the Honor Code is done through an active choice by whoever is doing the “breaking.”

But a lot of these students at BYU are having their first experience actually having to make decisions based on their beliefs of right and wrong. At home they may never have been in a situation where they had to worry. They lived life a certain way because that was simply the way life was lived in their home.

Now they’re away from home, and they have to actively make choices for themselves. Parents aren’t there to take them to church or to stay up till they get home after a night out.

I recognize not every student at BYU is in the same situation, and some students have had more experience on their own than others have. But the point is that, regardless of where they are in their progression, they’re still learning.

However, instead of understanding that students are going to hit a few bumps along the way, the Honor Code Office has adopted more of a “strike one, you’re out” approach.

Recently, students have been coming forward on social media by sharing their negative experiences with the Honor Code Office. Examples of these stories – many of which involve the student being kicked out of school – can be found on the Instagram account @honorcodestories

While many people disagree with the way BYU currently enforces the Honor Code, there are those who, instead, disagree with the students raising concerns.

One of the most common responses I’ve heard when somebody mentions a concern with current Honor Code enforcement is, “If you don’t like the Honor Code, go somewhere else.”

I can understand that logic if we were talking about something like not liking the school mascot, wanting different school colors, or not liking the weather. They may sound like stupid reasons, but if they matter so much to somebody it’s probably more in that person’s best interest to go somewhere else than to try to change them.

This is because there is nothing actually wrong with the mascot, the colors, or the weather. They may just not align with a student’s personal preferences.

But we aren’t talking about something as trivial as school colors, or something as completely out of control as the weather. We aren’t even talking about something we simply “don’t like.”

We’re bringing up our concern because we believe there is actually something wrong – something that goes deeper than our personal preferences and has little to do with the actual standards established in the Honor Code.

Our concern is that current Honor Code enforcement is not creating a wholesome environment, and is, instead, creating an unhealthy environment of dishonesty, fear, and judgment.

I already graduated from BYU-I, so the argument that I should just go somewhere else wouldn’t even apply. I’m not trying to make it easier for me to somehow “live my best life.” I see something wrong with current policies, and I want to make a positive change for current and future students.

Another similar response is, “If you didn’t like the Honor Code, why did you agree to obey it?”

I completely understand there are people who have no intention of following the standards mentioned in the Honor Code. They may have signed the contract in order to get into school but had no further intention of following through with their commitment.

I had plenty of roommates who would fit into this category.

But there is a difference between those who willfully rebel against the Honor Code and those who make a bad decision, recognize that they made a mistake, and want to improve.

And no, when I say “mistake” I don’t mean that they slipped and fell onto a 6-pack or that they stumbled into the room and all their clothes fell off.

I understand that it takes action on the part of whoever “breaks” the Honor Code, and that they’re responsible for what they’ve done. (Of course I’m not talking about anybody who was sexually assaulted or mentally/physically/emotionally abused. The Honor Code Office may see them as being at fault for what happened, but that’s one of the reasons we’re upset with the way the Honor Code is enforced.)

When I say “mistake” I simply mean that what they ultimately chose to do wasn’t what they originally planned on doing, and they recognize their choice as the wrong one. Their original plan when arriving at BYU was that they would follow the standards of the Honor Code. Eventually they made the choice to do something that went against these standards, and recognized afterwards that they made the wrong decision.

I can understand how, in an attempt to create a wholesome environment at BYU, removing those who are willfully rebelling could be effective. It can be discouraging to try following a standard of right and wrong while listening to your roommates – the ones who are supposed to share your same values – ridicule anyone who would follow such a standard.

However, what we’re learning from the stories I mentioned before is that a lot of the people being kicked out of BYU are not the willful rebels. Instead, students who had (and still have) a desire to follow university standards are being kicked out for choices that they fully recognize were incorrect.

These students aren’t the ones to worry about. They aren’t the ones at danger of corrupting you or your standards.

Often these students have come forward on their own by talking to their respective bishops. They don’t want to make the same bad decision. They want to move forward.

If BYU were really interested in creating a wholesome environment they would understand that keeping these students where they are – surrounded by people with a similar belief in the atonement – is the best opportunity for them to learn and grow.

I mean, think about it. BYU students are probably never going to be around so many Latter-Day Saints ever again. Not only are students surrounded by like-minded people, they also have a weekly devotional, classes that include prayer, almost immediate access to their Bishop and Stake President, free professional counseling, and addiction recovery programs.

But, instead of providing students with these resources when they really need them, BYU sends them away from this support system to a place where they’ll most likely dwell on their mistake to the point where moving backward is easier than moving forward.

Yeah, I get that it must be hard for the Honor Code Office to differentiate sometimes between students who actually want to improve and those who don’t care. They can’t just ask, “So are you a rebel or what?”

It’d be nice to pull a Thanos by simply snapping my fingers and removing those who don’t care about the standards, but I don’t have a solution like that. I don’t know the perfect way of balancing justice and mercy either, and I’m glad that’s not my responsibility.

But I at least know there’s something wrong with the current way the Honor Code Office enforces its standards.

And sure, I can admit there may be specific things I don’t personally like about the Honor Code itself. However, I accept that BYU, as an organization, can establish its own code of conduct. Whether I like the standards or not, I’d be expected to obey them if I wanted to attend.

But that’s not the issue.

I’m not trying to change the standards of the Honor Code to fit my personal likes and dislikes.

However, I do believe the current way BYU is enforcing the Honor Code is unhealthy for students, and I don’t feel comfortable just looking the other way.

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