What began as several small planned protests united under one banner last Friday: Restore Honor.
The protest drew a large crowd of BYU, UVU and other students, as well as faculty and parents Friday, April 12 at the Honor Code Office on BYU campus. After outcry following viral posts on the Honor Code Stories Instagram page last week, which posts anonymous stories of students’ troubling experiences with BYU’s honor code office, at least three protests were originally planned by different groups.
The protest was approved by BYU’s dean of students, Sarah Westerberg.
Joseph Smith, a junior at BYU studying international relations and the media representative for Restore Honor, said the group is the result of those smaller groups combining forces.
“The heads of those different groups came to be more unified, to speak with one voice on behalf of the students,” Smith said.
Smith said involving UVU students was important because what happens at BYU affects the whole valley – and beyond.
“It has to do with the culture of Utah Valley,” Smith said. “It’s about the fear of not being allowed to improve, of not being able to recognize our mistakes and doing we can to make them better. It spreads away from [BYU] campus and impacts everyone.”
Representatives from Restore Honor met with administrators on Monday and Tuesday. Smith said those discussions were “a start,” but believes more conversations will “bring about lasting policy change.”
That policy change, he said, does not include abolishing the honor code office.
“[The honor code office] is part of the reason why a lot of people enjoy and feel comfortable at BYU and choose to go there,” Smith said. “It’s not an anarchist protest or movement against the Church … we just want to bring current enforcement and actions in line with that Christlike message that the church and Honor Code Office stand for.”
Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt released a statement on Wednesday, April 12, addressing some of the concerns brought up in Honor Code Stories posts including students being encouraged to “turn in” peers they see breaking the honor code, saying that isn’t what the HCO handbook instructs. He also said the office only investigates anonymous reports if they affect “student safety.” However, these procedures and attitudes are inconsistent with many of the posts.
Smith said he sees reform as a near-inevitability.
“We’ve had dialogue with administrators, faculty and the dean of students,” Smith said. “They’ve said they’re committed to listening to this,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any possibility that nothing will happen.”
Meanwhile, though the stories are disturbing, Smith said community response has given him hope.
“When you see a large group of people from different backgrounds stand up and say, ‘That isn’t OK,’ it more than counteracts the loss of faith in humanity from a few people’s poor choices,” he said.
To learn more about Restore Honor, find them on social media under @restorehonorbyu and at RestoreHonorBYU.com.