Kevin Utt answers questions students commonly ask
This past week, Kevin Utt has been meeting with many students to hear their concerns and answer questions about BYU’s Honor Code Office. For this dialogue to reach a wider audience, his answers to some of the more common questions are presented here.
Utt became the director of the Honor Code Office in January after serving for four months as its assistant director. Previously Utt served as the dean of students at Clarke University, where he oversaw student conduct, Title IX, the multicultural office, housing and student leadership. He earned a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs administration from Indiana University.
What is the purpose of the Honor Code Office?
All universities have a code of conduct that outlines the expectations of behavior for its students. BYU calls its code of conduct the Honor Code. All universities also have an office that is primarily responsible for addressing behaviors that violate its code of conduct, which is generally under the purview of the Dean of Students Office. At BYU, the Honor Code Office has the responsibility to address behaviors that violate its code of conduct.
Is the goal to ensure that violators are disciplined or to help them come back into good standing, if possible?
Our goal is to help students come back into good standing as quickly as possible. We want students to succeed here. Like at other universities, the student conduct process exists to protect the interests of the community and guide those whose behavior is not in accordance with its policies. Honor Code Office actions are intended to develop students’ moral and ethical decision-making.
The vast majority of students involved in Honor Code cases remain fully enrolled in the university. On average, between 10 and 15 students are expelled from the university each year from a population of 33,000 students, although the number is lower in the past 12 months. Decisions are carefully considered as the HCO strives to protect the rights, health and safety of all members of the BYU community.
Can I get in trouble for not reporting something to the Honor Code Office?
No. One of the nine Honor Code principles states: “Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code.” Encourage is not synonymous with “turn someone in.” Encourage is a verb that means to give support, confidence or hope to someone. We are all members of the BYU community – thousands of people coming together to develop faith, intellect and character, and we should always reach out in love and support to those around us.
Does the Honor Code Office act on anonymous reports?
The HCO does not investigate anonymous reports, except where the reported behavior could impact the physical safety of members of our campus community.
Do ecclesiastical leaders share private information with the Honor Code Office?
Ecclesiastical leaders are NOT permitted to reveal confessional conversations to the HCO unless the student has voluntarily signed a privacy waiver. A bishop does not share any information with the HCO, and the HCO does not share any information with a bishop or other ecclesiastical leader without a student’s prior written consent. The HCO respects a student’s right not to give written consent if they do not want to do so.
How does the Honor Code Office initiate a review?
Before any action is taken, a student will first receive notice of the nature of the alleged violation and have an opportunity to respond.
By far the majority of cases addressed through BYU’s student conduct office are initiated by students reporting themselves for a violation. In line with the requirements of all universities, anyone may refer a student to the HCO for a reported violation of the Honor Code, whether the alleged conduct occurred on or off campus. The person submitting a report is asked to identify themselves and to provide information regarding the alleged violation that will assist the university in its review. We know that just because something has been alleged does not make it true; this is why a review process exists.
It is inevitable that the initial communication and any subsequent review from the Honor Code Office may generate feelings of anxiety. It is not our desire for students to feel that way. Many are not aware that students may bring someone with them for support. Many do not understand that minor infractions of the Honor Code will not result in a separation from the university.
What are the current protocols when someone is accused of violating the Honor Code?
As noted earlier, the HCO does not act on anonymous reports, except where the reported behavior could impact the physical safety of members of our campus community.
The HCO will normally investigate a reported Honor Code violation if there is sufficient, reasonable and credible information that an Honor Code violation has occurred. After a violation report is received, the HCO will analyze the report and relevant information. It will proceed with a review, interviewing the student and any witnesses or other people if needed. The HCO will notify the student in writing of the alleged violation of the Honor Code if it appears that a violation has occurred. Students are encouraged to respond, preferably in writing, to the allegations and relevant information. At that point, the Honor Code Office will assess the credibility of the witnesses and strength of the evidence and prepare a recommended course of action.
Cases that may result in separation of the student from the university receive an extra level of scrutiny in the decision-making process. These cases are discussed by the Honor Code Committee, which is comprised of Honor Code office staff as well as a mental health professional from the Counseling and Psychological Services department (CAPS). If the committee’s recommended action is suspension or expulsion, then the case is referred to the Associate Dean of Students.
Are there set consequences for certain violations?
No; context matters. The motivation, intent and openness of the student, and the impact and relative severity of the behavior must be considered when determining the appropriate path forward for each student.
What can I do if I don’t agree with the Honor Code Office’s decision in my case?
When a student is notified that their actions warrant probation, suspension or expulsion, they receive simultaneous notification of their right to appeal the decision if they feel one or more of the following apply:
- The decision was not reasonably supported by the facts
- The action is too harsh for the behavior
- The Honor Code Office was biased
- New information is available that may change the findings in the case
Students may submit a request to the Dean of Students Office for a review of their Honor Code decision within the allotted time period.
What is the Honor Code’s Office relationship with the Title IX office?
During the course of an Honor Code Office process, if the parties in any way suggest an activity or behavior that violates the Sexual Misconduct Policy, the Honor Code investigation process immediately stops and the information is referred to the Title IX office. This is one of many important changes the university made in 2016 to better address sexual assault.
Are the current HCO counselors trained on how to handle victims of trauma and sexual assault?
The Honor Code Office staff participates in ongoing training on important topics such as trauma and sexual assault. For example, recently our staff completed QPR training by Counseling and Psychological Services about recognizing signs of suicidal ideation. Other training opportunities are provided by the Association for Student Conduct Administration, a national organization that promotes best practices for handling student conduct in higher education. The members of the Honor Code Office staff also come with a wide variety of experience, background and training, some of which includes training in trauma-informed interviewing and care.
Can students request to work with an Honor Code Office staff member of a specific gender?
Our small staff includes both women and men and, when possible, we do accommodate requests like this.
Why does the Honor Code Office get involved in issues that a student is already working on with their bishop?
BYU seeks to develop students of faith, intellect and character who have the skills and the desire to continue learning and to serve others throughout their lives. That mission is aligned with the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With that said, universities have to operate differently from churches. Governments, courts, accrediting bodies and other outside organizations set up many of the parameters and requirements for how universities operate. This is especially true in addressing student conduct. We are obligated to operate in a contractual relationship with students.
A student’s actions may violate both the Honor Code and standards established by The Church of Jesus Christ and, although the actions may be the same, our office and ecclesiastical leaders will address behavior differently. The vernacular that the ecclesiastical process uses is different than the HCO. The bishops’ process addresses repentance, sin, forgiveness and worthiness. The HCO’s process addresses principles, integrity, recommitment and good Honor Code standing. The HCO does not evaluate sins or determine worthiness and forgiveness. It certainly incorporates God, spirituality and the Church into conversations it has with students, but it is not with the intent to help students seek forgiveness or become worthy. Rather, it is to help students reflect and evaluate their behavior within the framework of the Honor Code commitment that they have made as members of the BYU community.
Is there relevant training available for ecclesiastical leaders?
Every fall semester, bishops and stake presidents of YSA and married wards and stakes in the Provo/Orem area are invited to attend a meeting with university administration. The purpose of the meeting is to provide information to ecclesiastical leaders about resources and services available on campus and in the community to assist students and explain any new policies or procedures.
Likewise, every winter semester, bishoprics and stake presidencies of YSA and married wards and stakes in the Provo/Orem area are invited to attend an event hosted by the Honor Code Office in which we specifically review pertinent policies, purposes and other information ecclesiastical leaders might find useful. We also emphasize that private information is not shared between ecclesiastical leaders and the Honor Code Office unless a student has signed a privacy waiver.