Brigham Young University announced on Monday that it would “study” issues concerning the interaction of its code of student conduct and the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX, in which the enforcement of the honor code can complicate sexual-violence investigations. BYU also promised “potential structural changes within the university” as a result of that study.
The announcement followed an uproar over a sexual-assault case in which a Brigham Young student is pursuing a criminal case against her alleged assailant but is simultaneously being investigated by the Mormon university for unspecified violations of its honor code.
The case has raised questions about BYU’s observance of Title IX, in particular whether the possibility of an honor-code investigation deters sexual-assault victims from seeking help or justice. The Utah university’s code, like those at many religious colleges, bans premarital sex.
The university, which is owned by the Mormon Church, formally the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has said that honor-code inquiries and Title IX investigations are separate, but that sometimes the latter contribute to the former. The BYU student, who says she was raped last year in an off-campus apartment, has started a petition to demand immunity from honor-code violations for victims who report sexual assaults. “It’s clear to me that BYU is not on my side,” she wrote in the petition.
In Monday’s announcement, BYU said it “promotes the safety and well-being of its students” through both its honor code and its enforcement of Title IX. “A victim of a sexual assault will never be referred to the Honor Code Office for being a victim of sexual assault,” it said. But “sometimes in the course of an investigation, facts come to light that a victim has engaged in prior Honor Code violations.”
“We understand the concerns that have been expressed about the reporting of sexual assaults to our Title IX Office, and we care deeply about the safety of our students,” the statement continued. “We have decided to study these issues, including potential structural changes within the university, the process for determining whether and how information is used, and the relationship between the Title IX Office and the Honor Code Office.”