New York Times
By JACK HEALY APRIL 26, 2016
PROVO, Utah — Before she could move into the dorms at Brigham Young University or sign up for freshman classes, Brooke first had to sign the college’s Honor Code.
Part moral compass and part contract, the Honor Code is a cornerstone of life for the nearly 30,000 students at the Mormon-run university. It points students, faculty and staff members toward “moral virtues encompassed in the gospel of Jesus Christ,” prizing honesty, chastity and virtue. It requires modest dress on campus and prohibits drinking, drug use, same-sex intimacy, indecency and sexual misconduct.
But after Brooke, 20, told the university that she had been raped by a fellow student at his apartment in February 2014, she said the Honor Code became a tool to punish her. She had taken LSD that night, and told the university about an earlier, coerced sexual encounter with the student who she said later raped her. Four months after reporting the assault, she got a letter from the associate dean of students.
“You are being suspended from Brigham Young University because of your violation of the Honor Code including continued illegal drug use and consensual sex, effective immediately,” the letter read.
In the past few weeks, Brooke and a handful of other female students have come forward, first at a rape-awareness conference and then in The Salt Lake Tribune, to say that they had faced Honor Code investigations into whether they drank alcohol, took drugs or had consensual sex in the time surrounding their assaults.
“They treated me in such an un-Christlike way, like I was some sinner,” said Brooke, who agreed to be identified by her first name. “There was no forgiveness and mercy.”
Their accounts have brought a national debate over colleges’ disparate treatment of sexual-assault survivors crashing onto this faith-driven campus, where Mormon students gather from around the globe, women’s skirts must fall to their knees and men’s beards are outlawed. The furor has raised criticism over how the university treats survivors of sexual assault as it also seeks to uphold a moral code that lies at the heart of its identity.
Some experts in law and gender issues on college campuses said Brigham Young’s approach was troubling.
They said the fear of being investigated, suspended or losing a scholarship could keep students from reporting sexual assaults to the university, potentially letting perpetrators escape campus discipline.
“You’re creating a systemic unwillingness or barrier for victims to come forward and access the resources of the university for fear that they’re going to be punished,” said Brett A. Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, an industry group named for the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
Brigham Young’s policy on sexual misconduct urges students to come forward even if they have broken school policies. It says any violation is addressed separately from a sexual-assault investigation.
Carri Jenkins, a university spokeswoman, said its priority was to support and safeguard students who report sexual violence.
“Brigham Young University cares deeply about the safety of our students,” she said in an email. “When a student reports a sexual assault, our primary focus is on the well-being of the victim.”
Sometimes, though, “facts come to light that a victim has engaged in prior Honor Code violations,” she said, adding that those facts can be investigated.
Many other colleges, secular and religious, have “amnesty clauses” that protect victims who might worry about getting in trouble for infractions surrounding their attack, like taking drugs or drinking in a dorm room. Last year, Maryland passed a law protecting students who report or witness sexual assaults from being cited for violating drug and alcohol rules.
“All schools, including B.Y.U., know that alcohol and drugs are often involved in sexual violence,” said Adele P. Kimmel, a senior lawyer at Public Justice, a nonprofit that advocates social-justice issues. “If you’re a school that wants to send a message to students that you’re serious about preventing sexual violence, you should have an amnesty policy.”
Madeline MacDonald, a sophomore at Brigham Young studying computer science, did not hesitate to go to the university in December 2014 after what was supposed to be a date with someone she met on Tinder turned into an assault. Ms. MacDonald, who agreed to allow her full name to be published, said the man — not a B.Y.U. student — drove her to a water tower off campus, undressed, groped her and masturbated against her after she told him “no” several times.
The next day, she went to the university’s Title IX office, which fields sexual-assault reports, and gave them a detailed account of what happened. She recently learned that an investigation was opened by the university’s Honor Code office that same day.
“There was a good two weeks where I had no clue what was going on and no one would talk to me,” she said.
Ms. MacDonald said the university eventually agreed that she had been sexually assaulted and offered support services. Separately, she got a call telling her she would face no discipline under the Honor Code.
Brigham Young always seemed like the natural path for Ms. MacDonald, who grew up in Seattle. Her family members were alumni, and they would wake her up singing the university’s fight song.
She said she had decided to stay at Brigham Young, despite her experience. “This is a really awful policy,” she said.
The federal Education Department urges colleges to make sure their discipline policies do not discourage students from coming forward to report sexual assaults. The policies also should remind survivors that their drinking or drug use is never an invitation for sexual violence, the agency says.
Madi Barney said she was so worried about facing Honor Code sanctions at Brigham Young that she waited four days last September before she went to the Provo police to report that she had been raped in her off-campus apartment by a man she knew, who was not a student.
“I just remember sobbing and telling the police officer I couldn’t go forward because B.Y.U. was going to kick me out,” Ms. Barney, 20, said.
But Ms. Barney’s police report made its way into the university’s hands anyway, after Nasiru Seidu, the man charged with assaulting her, gave it to an acquaintance who worked as a Provo County sheriff’s deputy, according to court records. The deputy, Edwin Randolph, passed it to the college.
Mr. Seidu and Mr. Randolph were charged with witness retaliation; the charges were later dropped.
The university later contacted her to say it wanted to meet with her. Last month, the university’s general counsel, Stephen Craig, emailed Ms. Barney’s lawyer to say that while B.Y.U. had not sought the police report, it was nevertheless “under an obligation to itself and to its students to investigate credible reports of Honor Code violation.”
“I understand that this is disappointing to you and to Madison,” Mr. Craig wrote to the lawyer. “The university nonetheless enforces its Honor Code.”
On March 4, Brigham Young’s lawyer wrote to say that Ms. Barney could finish the semester, but that the university would block her from enrolling in any more classes “until the Honor Code issues are resolved.”
Ms. Barney took her final exam at Brigham Young this month, and has decided she does not want to return.