Students urge compassion

PROVO, Utah — Several hundred students at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University chanted “If God forgives me, why can’t you?” during a protest Friday aimed at pushing college officials to be more compassionate with punishments for violators of rules banning things that are commonplace at other colleges — including drinking, premarital sex, beards and piercings.

The demonstration was part of an informal campaign that started with an Instagram account created earlier this year by a former student who had a negative experience with the college’s honor code office. That led to a flood of stories from other students claiming they had negative experiences over transgressions and punishments.

People held signs such as “Stop playing God” and “Practice compassion” on the campus in Provo, south of Salt Lake City. Riley Mabry, a 21-year-old student from Memphis, Tennessee, carried one with a picture of Jesus and the words, “The only big brother I need watching me.”

“We shouldn’t live in fear of messing up,” said Mabry, who is bisexual. “That doesn’t align with the teachings of the church. One of the biggest tenets is that we are capable of repentance and forgiveness.”

Some students want parts of the honor code changed and others want punishments reduced, saying they agreed to adhere to the code 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. Current punishments for violations range from discipline to suspension and expulsion.

The “Restore Honor” group that organized 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.

“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’s honor code, which was criticized in 2016 by female students who spoke out against the school opening honor-code investigations of students who reported sexual abuses to police. The college changed the policy to ensure that students who report sexual abuse would no longer be investigated for honor code violations.

University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said Friday in a statement that BYU wants all students to have a positive experience and are monitoring the conversations on social media and arranging meetings with students and the director of the honor code office, Kevin Utt.