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Kind, consistent and confidential

The Office of Honor is working to better implement the Honor Code, says officials, and address student’s concerns

Two boys and two girls stand outside the office of honor, smiling at the camera.
Student workers pause for a photo outside the Office of Honor.
Photo by Brynna Fry

Joe Reeve, a computer science and intercultural peacebuilding alumnus from Canada, said when he was a student at BYU–Hawaii, a teacher dropped a bag of razors and shaving cream onto his desk and told him to come back clean shaven or not at all. Reeve said it was humiliating, a feeling that has been shared by other students, said Leialoha Benson, who conducted research over the past year on how to prevent this response.

Benson, an advisor in the Office of Honor, said she helped conduct research on the Honor Code at BYUH through focus groups in August 2023. The focus groups were held by the Office of Honor to hear students’ feedback about how the Honor Code was being enforced. The three big takeaways the Office of Honor received were to be kind, consistent and work through cases in confidence, she said. Since then, the Office of Honor has worked to disseminate this information to all faculty and staff on campus, she said.

Reeve continued, “I’ve never loved the Dress and Grooming standards,” although he said he has no problem with the rest of the Honor Code. When the standards are enforced like they were for him, he said he wondered, “Where is Christ in this?”

Discussing situations like Reeve's experience, Benson said, “Of course, we always want to be kind." With different cultures on campus, what one person thinks is kind may not seem kind to another person, she explained. The researchers asked participating students follow-up questions on what kindness would look like, she said. One response was to talk to students privately and in confidence, she said. “Don’t call someone out in front of the class, their friends or in the hallway,” Benson shared.

The faculty and staff want to create a safe space for students, she said, but it can feel awkward for them as well. However, since it is part of their job, Benson said faculty and staff appreciate direction from the Office of Honor staff on how to implement it in the best way possible. Reeve said the teacher who gave him the razors later emailed him an apology. “They’re trying, and they’re not perfect at it. No one is. This is an awkward situation,” said Benson.

Reeve said he had an experience with the Testing Center employees being rude to him for his facial hair. He explained he shaves once a day but has fast-growing hair. After the Testing Center told him to go to the Office of Honor, he said he met with them and they told him he was fine. They called the Testing Center, he said, and let him take the test as he was. Previously student workers were told to not let students out of standards into facilities like the Testing Center, Banyan Dining Hall, or gym, but Benson said they are changing that. Instead they are teaching the student workers to educate their peers on what the principles and expectations are instead and encourage them to be in standards next time.

The last tool students asked for in the focus groups was consistency in how the Honor Code is applied so that one student isn’t called out for something another student gets away with, Benson said. For example, Reeve said he and his wife went to an event during their first week of school here. “My wife was Honor-Coded for her shorts. My own shorts were a full four inches shorter than hers and they said nothing to me,” he said. “I’m glad they’re addressing consistency.”

Prevention and intervention

Benson is a social worker by trade, she said, “which means I think in terms of prevention and intervention.” Prior to her employment at the Office of Honor starting in June 2023, most Honor Code cases were handled with intervention, she said. “My take on it is to spend as much time as we can on prevention,” she said.

A woman behind a podium speaking into a microphone.
Leialoha Benson speaking at a campus devotional.
Photo by Enkhtuvshin Chimee

In the focus groups, Benson said they learned students thought they knew what the Honor Code says, but the students didn’t realize how much they didn’t know about the Honor Code. The office started doing Popcorn Fridays in Fall 2022 as one way of remedying this disparity. Every other Friday, they invite students to come and enjoy free popcorn and share how the Office of Honor could approach things in a better way.

Another way the office has started doing prevention work is through engagement activities, said Benson. They are planning one of these activities at the Kumuwaiwai Center for Sustainability, she said, to show students healthier outlets for their emotions. Often when a student is breaking a part of the Honor Code, it is a coping mechanism for other things going on in their lives, she explained. Instead of using alcohol or drugs, the Office of Honor wants to show students healthier alternatives, she said.

“Our goal here is to love,” said Benson. “People don’t often view us that way when they come to see us, but that is our goal.” She said she and her coworkers at the Office of Honor want to help BYUH students be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

The myths

Ara Meha, the Office of Honor manager, said there is a misunderstanding among students that the Office of Honor regularly kicks students out of school. “The truth is very few students are suspended,” he said. “The numbers bely the notion that if you get reported, you’re out of here.”

The Office of Honor adheres to the following procedures while addressing an Honor Code violation, Meha said. First, the office receives an electronic report. Then they talk to the person who made the report and try to understand the situation. If the person is not willing to be named as a reporter, the case is dropped because “people have the right to know who has accused them,” said Meha.

If the person is willing to be named as a reporter, the office brings in the student to talk with them and learn about their situation, Meha explained. Benson said once they determine a student has violated the Honor Code, they are required to complete a Canvas course meant to help the student self-reflect. In the course, she said there are one or two readings of General Conference talks and a question with a written response. At the end, Benson said the office staff meets with the student and asks them to recommit to the Honor Code.

The process, said Benson, is about seeing the individual student and their needs while being consistent overall. They talk things through with the student, she said, and sometimes refer them to other departments when other resources are needed, like Counseling Services, to get to the root of the problem. A broken rule is often a manifestation of a deeper issue the student is dealing with, she said.

“Some students need to go home to get back on track, but that is not common. And when they’re asked to leave, it’s usually not for forever,” said Benson.

Navigating LGBTQ+ questions

Benson said loving people is what really matters and she hopes the LGBTQ+ community on campus feels loved. She said she knows this is a reality in people’s lives. “I don’t know the answer,” she said, “but I do know I love them.”

Being LGBTQ+ and expressing that in different ways of dress or hair cut within the Dress and Grooming standards, is not against the Honor Code, explained Benson. She said when she cut her hair into a short pixie cut, some people told her she should not because others would think she was gay. “That is the rhetoric of the world, and it’s wrong and sad,” she said. She encouraged students who are concerned about expressing themselves in different ways to come talk to her.

The Honor Code does include abstaining from same-sex romantic behavior, said Benson. “This is a standard for CES schools,” she said, “but it is not a standard for every university.” If a relationship is something a student wants to pursue, she said, then it would be about making a decision. Either to not pursue a relationship while finishing their education here or pursuing a relationship and transferring to another university, she said. “We would create a plan depending on what path they want to choose,” she said.

The who and why

The Church Educational System Honor Code is written by the Board of Trustees, said Benson. According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website, the CES Board of Trustees includes all three members of the First Presidency, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Young Women and Young Men General Presidents, two members of the General Authority Seventy, the Relief Society General President and the Presiding Bishop.

Reeve said he's often heard school authorities say students should follow the Honor Code because they signed it, but he’s never heard an explanation for why they sign it. He said he’s been told it has nothing to do with morality and worthiness that makes him wonder why students have to sign it in the first place.

“We don’t have ‘whys’ for everything [in the Honor Code],” said Benson. “It is an ask from the Board of Trustees.” She said her job at the Office of Honor is to help implement what the Board has written in a Christ-like way, but not to write or change the Honor Code.

Some of the things in the Honor Code may seem silly, said Benson, like the Dress and Grooming Principles and Expectations. “But it’s the Lord’s way of saying, ‘If I can trust you with this silly thing, when the time comes I can trust you with big things,’” she said.

Time leads to seeing and understanding things differently and more deeply, said Benson. She explained, “That’s part of growing up.” The Office of Honor is trying to help students see the bigger picture, she said, because, at the end of the day, it is not about nitpicking. “It is about being more connected to the Spirit,” she said.

Church News wrote an article on the updated Honor Code. In the article, it answered several questions, including one about why there are different standards for temple recommends and attending a church school. The Church statement says, “There is a difference in the standard of worthiness to receive saving ordinances in the house of the Lord and being eligible to attend a CES institution as a student. The questions for temple recommend interviews and ecclesiastical endorsements are appropriate for their different purposes.”

The history

The Daily Universe, BYU in Provo’s school newspaper, wrote a history of the BYU Honor Code. In 1948, an Honor Code was written that dealt with academic honesty, says the Daily Universe. Violations of the Code were seen to by a student council.

In 1957, the president of BYU asked that the Honor Code be expanded to include rules on chastity, drugs, alcohol, dress and grooming. In 1972, 12 rules and a dress standard were approved by the Board of Trustees, The Daily Universe says.

Two years later, the Church College of Hawaii became BYUH. In 2003, BYUH stopped reporting to BYU in Provo and began reporting to the Board of Trustees, says BYUH’s website.

In 2023, the Honor Code was revised and made the same across all CES schools.

“I was really happy with the changes,” said Reeve. He said he appreciates that the updated Honor Code is principle-based.

The what

The CES Honor Code changed in August 2023, but the Church News says most of the previous expectations are the same. Instead of a list of dos and don’ts, the updated Honor Code is a list of eight principles that members of CES campus communities agree to live by, according to the Church News, those principles are:

  1. Maintain an Ecclesiastical Endorsement, including striving to deepen faith and maintain gospel standards.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Live a chaste and virtuous life, including abstaining from sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a woman. Living a chaste and virtuous life also includes abstaining from same-sex romantic behavior.
  4. Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, vaping, marijuana, and other substance abuse.
  5. Participate regularly in Church services.
  6. Respect others, including the avoidance of profane and vulgar language.
  7. Obey the law and follow campus policies, including the CES Dress and Grooming standards.
  8. Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming standards.