BYU students speak out against Honor Code policies to accreditation board

(KUTV) Getting a top-notch education doesn't make up for living in a "toxic environment," according to some students at Brigham Young University.More than 120 students met to share that concern and other feedback with an accreditation board who is visiting BYU for two days.Every seven years every university's accreditation is re-evaluated. BYU is up for re-accreditation, so six board members from Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) had a meeting with students to get the most authentic feedback possible about the university -- without the administration present."We aren't going to identify any individual (to BYU administration) -- we are just trying to find if there is a common story," said NWCUU board member Sabah U. Randhawa and current Provost and Executive Vice President at{ }Oregon State University. "It is a toxic environment where any of the students can turn us in at any time," one student said when talking about the inconsistent enforcement of the Honor Code and having to be careful who you talk to about your religious views.Those in attendance applauded when one asked, "We are all aching to talk here. What weight do we have in this meeting? Because this is the only chance we get to talk."

One individual posted their reaction to the meeting on Reddit.

About 40 percent of those in attendance were part of FreeBYU, a group devoted to promoting freedom of thought and freedom of religion at BYU. Others represented the LGBT community with Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA). Some were there for their own interest or just to listen.

We had an awesome turnout to the NWCCU meeting at BYU yesterday! Finally, students were able to share their...

— Lane Sawyer (@LaneSawyer) April 16, 2015

Several students gave examples of how a part of the Honor Code does not allow a student to change religions (unless it is to convert to Mormonism) without being kicked out of the institution, have your transcripts frozen, and lose your on-campus job or housing."I disagree on moral grounds with how that is set up right now," one expressed.One student suggested that it would make more sense to make the new non-member pay the non-member tuition, instead of taking away their chance to attend BYU altogether."It doesn't make sense if you come as not LDS, but join the church -- that's totally fine. But if it is the other way around, it's not OK. It doesn't make sense," one said.Not everyone at the meeting had concerns with BYU. At least three students, out of the 15-20 who stood up to comment, spoke only positively about a specific department's mentoring or teaching with no criticisms. One said how "amazing" the academic programs are and how they were able to shave a year off their expected graduation date.

All I can say is, you chose to go to BYU knowing what the honor code entailed..

— Nick Gee (@BroNickGee) April 15, 2015

"My mentoring has been phenomenal here. Even as a woman in the church," one female said.Because of this anxiety of being discovered as non-believers of the faith, some attend church meetings just to keep people from being suspicious. Then when they have a diploma in hand, they reveal they have changed religious beliefs.A number of students expressed concern that even though they still abide by the honor code like other non-members at the university, they have to be secret about their newly established religious beliefs, so they don't lose their church leader's endorsement that would prohibit attending the school."I came here as a Mormon still questioning (my faith)," said one student who is no longer LDS. "I wish that my learning (at BYU) wasn't in question because I have learned something else."An NWCCU board member told the students he appreciated "the courage and the candor" of the comments. Halfway into the one hour long meeting he said he noticed one common theme: "Not being able to express what they feel."One student said it didn't make sense that students would be inhibited to express theological differences or objective viewpoints at an institution of higher education."If other views were allowed to be shared I feel like that would be a more intellectually engaging conversation."

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To current BYU students who want to see change:Many of you received an email yesterday concerning BYU's continuing...

Posted by Free BYU on Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An individual said they didn't feel like true character could be built at BYU if you feel like you can't say what is on your mind or to questions the status quo. "BYU is really repressed," one said. "It's very helpful if you agree. A lot needs to change when it comes to the connection to religion and education."Accreditation standards{ }are based on five main focuses: Mission, core Themes and Expectations; Resources and Capacity; Planning and Implementation; Effectiveness and Improvement; Mission Fulfillment, Adaptation, and Sustainability. While nearly all students who commented with criticism also expressed how many positives the university had going for it, one student said it doesn't mean improvements can't be made."A lot needs to change when it comes to the connection to religion and education."

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins spoke to 2News outside the meeting. She said the university’s policies should come as no surprise to anyone.

“BYU is very open about its policy that all students are expected to adhere to the Honor Code,” Jenkins said, defending the practice of requiring LDS students to adhere to the faith as a condition of attending school there.

“These students make certain covenants and commitments, and a consequence of leaving those covenants and commitments is that they are asked to leave BYU.”

Jenkins also expressed optimism the university is in no danger of losing its accreditation status which it has enjoyed since 1923.

“We believe that we are in compliance with the standards outlined by the Northwest Commission,” Jenkins said. _______

Photo: Mike Fessler/KUTV2News

Copyright 2015 Sinclair Broadcast Group

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