Marley Pankratz experienced her first run-in with Brigham Young University’s Honor Code Office halfway through her sophomore year.
She and her now-husband met while attending classes at the school’s Idaho campus a year prior and had recently begun dating. A few months after starting their relationship, the two engaged in acts that violated rules established by their school.
Owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU asks those who choose to attend to sign a rigorously enforced student code of conduct known as the Honor Code. The code requires students to live by certain standards set by their religion, including abstaining from premarital sex, not using drugs or alcohol, and following strict dress and grooming guidelines, among other things.
The couple felt guilt and remorse for their actions, and together they made the decision to report them to their bishop.
“We knew we loved each other and that we wanted to get married, but we wanted to do it the right way,” Pankratz says.
Together, they began their process of repentance, in accordance with their bishop’s counsel. Two months later, their bishop was reassigned and they began meeting with their ward’s new bishop.
“He told us we either needed to get married immediately or he would withdraw his endorsement to the school and report us to the Honor Code Office,” Pankratz says.
Ecclesiastical endorsements are required for all students, even non-members, who attend the school and must be renewed annually with a bishop. Without an endorsement, a hold is placed on the students account by the Honor Code Office and they are unable to register for classes.
The two refused to marry immediately and were given the opportunity to withdraw from their classes, rather than be dismissed by the school.
A withdrawal does not reflect as poorly on your transcripts, which Pankratz says the couple appreciated. However, it was too late in the semester for them to receive any more than half of their tuition back.
In addition, Pankratz says her now-husband was evicted from the on-campus housing where he was living and forced to quit his university job.
The experience left her feeling ashamed and rejected by the school she loved.
“It’s absolutely unreasonable to force a student out of their school mid-semester when they are willingly participating in a repentance process. We thought we were doing it the right way,” Pankratz says.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a BYU student has reported feeling unfairly treated by the Honor Code Office.
This spring, attention rapidly increased around the Honor Code Stories Instagram account created by BYU alumna Sidney Draughon, who also reports experiencing inappropriate encounters with the Honor Code Office during her time at the school.
“I was hoping that just one BYU student would see it and feel better about themselves,” Draughon said in an interview with KUER.
The Instagram account has added nearly 40,000 followers over a few short months. Hundreds of posts now fill the account, with each post anonymously revealing a student or staff member’s experience with the Honor Code Office.
The stories shared on the account range from suicide and abuse to students reporting one another for liking or retweeting a post containing profanity.
One post reads, “I wish my brother were here to tell his own story. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.”
A few short paragraphs reveal the story of a student who took his life after being expelled for breaking the Honor Code, despite having previously repented for the incident with the help of his bishop.
Another post shares the experience of a student who was assigned community service in order to remain in good standing with the school after being sexually assaulted by her work manager.
While most responses have been positive, some comments criticize the student’s choice to attend BYU despite knowing the school’s expectations when they were accepted.
“I’ve seen negative comments online, from people saying ‘they signed up for this,’ and I think it’s ridiculous,” says Cal Aamodt, a Salt Lake Community College student. “Just because they willingly go to a private school, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t fight for a safer, better environment.”
The recognition received by the Instagram account revived a petition that was created by a BYU student in 2017, requesting the school update its Honor Code.
An on-campus group named Restore Honor BYU also responded to the attention by assembling a protest on Friday, April 12. In addition, the group created its own Instagram account to promote awareness for their cause.
The Honor Code Office responded to criticism on social media by meeting with students to address their concerns and answer questions. In April, Kevin Utt, the current director of the Honor Code Office, released a statement which addressed some common questions presented by students.
In May, Utt announced some procedural changes within the Honor Code Office, which were done in an effort to increase transparency about the investigative process.
All universities, public and private, enforce their own versions of a student code of conduct. Ken Stonebrook, SLCC Dean of Students, says an amnesty clause protects students reporting sensitive information.
“The amnesty clause is very important, without it we would discourage students from coming forward,” Stonebrook says.
In 2017, the Honor Code was updated to adopt an amnesty policy preventing victims or witnesses of sexual assault from being punished even if they violated school rules at the time of the incident. No protection is yet provided for students reporting the use of illegal drugs or alcohol.
“We’ve seen the LDS Church and BYU change policy time and time again in order to resolve a controversial issue. We can only hope they listen to students this time, too,” says Kaily Sohn, an SLCC communications student.