A strict set of rules at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University banning things commonplace at many campuses such as drinking, premarital sex, beards and piercings is under new scrutiny — this time from students who want their university to be more compassionate with the punishments for violators.
Several hundred students were expected at a protest Friday that comes after an Instagram account opened a flood of stories from students claiming they had negative experiences over transgressions and punishments.
Some students want parts of the code changed, but most are OK with preserving the unique set of rules because they recognize they agreed to adhere to them when choosing to attend BYU, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nearly all students are members of the faith.
The "Restore Honor" group organizing the protest wants the honor code office to be more forgiving and less judgmental and more transparent, said freshman Grant Frazier.
He said students who are investigated and punished by the honor code office often end up unhappy with BYU and have their spiritual growth stunted. Students at a BYU campus in Idaho also held a protest this week.
"I love BYU and I love the gospel," said Frazier. "But we just think that our university can be doing a little better."
This is the latest unwanted attention for BYU about its honor code, which in 2016 came under fire by female students and alumni who spoke out against the school opening honor-code investigations of students who reported sexual abuses to police.
Following a university review, the college changed policy to ensure that students who report sexual abuse would no longer be investigated for honor code violations.
University officials say they met with students this week and posted a Q&A to address some of the concerns.
Kevin Utt, director of the honor code office, said the rules exist to "protect the interests of the community and guide those whose behavior is not in accordance with its policies."
He said actions taken against violators are "intended to develop students' moral and ethical decision-making." There is not firm set of punishments, he said.
"Context matters," Utt said. "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."
The code has an entire section dedicated to "homosexual behavior," which echoes the religion's belief that being gay isn't a sin, but engaging in same-sex intimacy is. It includes a line that "all forms of physical intimacy that that give expression to homosexual feelings" is prohibited.
Addison Jenkins, a gay student who has attended classes at BYU, said the rules should be the same for gay and heterosexual couples, who can hold hands and kiss.
Former BYU student Brayden Smith said he had to forfeit a semester of credits when he was suspended during his senior year in 2017 after he turned himself into the honor code office for something that happened with his girlfriend that violated the rules.
He was hoping "to get right with God" but the decision to engage the honor code office instead led to 15 months of heavy-handed punishment that made him depressed, anxious and questioning his self-worth and spirituality, Smith said. He said he faced a series of invasive questions by a female counselor.
"I felt very uncomfortable the whole time," said Smith, now 25. "I had to divulge details of my sex life with this middle-aged woman I didn't know or trust."
Smith said he was required to perform 35 hours of community service each month, was banned from using social media or dating apps, attend weekly meetings with his bishop and turning in notes about his thoughts after daily readings of the Book of Mormon.
He eventually graduated with a degree in marketing but regrets attending the college.
"There's gigantic dark mark on my collegiate experience," said Smith.