Why the HCO opens files on students
May 2019 update
How to access your Honor Code File
July 2020 update
Log of actual experiences
Being the subject of an Honor Code Investigation can be an intimidating experience. BYU’s Honor Code Office has the power to discontinue your enrollment, prevent your ability to register for classes, block you from graduating, and deny the posting of your degree even after you graduate. In addition, they can get you fired from your on-campus job and trigger eviction from your on-campus or BYU-contracted housing.
Project ATHCOE (Accountability and Transparency in Honor Code Office Enforcement) is committed to increasing transparency into, and accountability of, Honor Code Office (HCO) enforcement. This includes shedding light on how and why the HCO opens files on students, what punishments they impose, and how to assert your rights when you are targeted. Project ATHCOE applies to students at all CES institutions of higher learning, including BYU, BYU-I, BYU-H, and LDS Business College.
Below you will find five sections:
At BYU, the HCO falls underneath the Dean of Students Office, and is led by one of the associate deans (Casey Peterson, as of May 2016). Its investigation procedures are governed by the Investigation and Administrative Review Process.
In practice, the HCO opens a file on a student primarily as the result of a report that someone makes- typically, someone that knows the student such as a Bishop, sibling, or member of the student’s ward. For instance, your Bishop can remove your ecclesiastical endorsement with a single phone call to the HCO, which triggers the opening of a file and may result in HCO discipline (such as probation or expulsion). Other examples from actual experiences include:
You may not be aware that the HCO has opened a file on you. I requested my HCO file (details below), for example, and only learned then that I had one: I never had direct interactions with the HCO, and was never told that a file was opened on me. You can determine whether you have an HCO file by following the steps in the “How to access your Honor Code file” section below.
In other cases, the HCO will tell you they received information about a possible honor code violation. Usually, they will block you from registering for the next semester’s classes unless you meet with them in person.
It’s important to understand that ecclesiastical leaders have no guide available to them that specifies when and whether to withdraw (or refuse to renew) your ecclesiastical endorsement. They are also not accountable for their withdrawals: the HCO simply executes after the Bishop calls in to pull your endorsement (meaning the HCO processes your suspension, termination, and triggers your eviction without asking for the underlying reason why). Your Bishop can suspend you for any reason, whether or not related to an honor code violation.
When acting independent of the Bishop, the HCO is more likely to require an honor code violation (though their interpretation can be pretty loose- e.g. being at a party where alcohol is served, even if you don’t drink). As with Bishops, the HCO has broad discretion and almost nothing in the way of checks on its power.
Unfortunately, the power of the HCO is largely unlimited, and their actions are private and generally protected against disclosure. I am unaware of an HCO punishment (such as probation or expulsion) ever being overturned, for instance by legal action or appeal to accreditation authorities. That being said, you do have some rights:
BYU’s HCO Director published a set of policy changes in May 2019. If you’re a student at BYU, that means you have three additional rights:
The Director’s updated did not specify a mechanism for accountability for or enforcement of these changes. It also does not appear that these changes apply to enforcement by other CES institutions such as LDS Business College, BYU-I, or BYU-H.
You can access your file whether you’re a current student or an alum (up to seven years after graduation). In this section, I’ll outline the FERPA rules and the steps to take.
The HCO’s policy is to only let you look at your file in person inside the HCO, and historically they have sought to prevent students from making or receiving copies. However, if you are outside commuting distance (probably any distance over an hour from campus), unless the HCO makes some other arrangements (e.g. sends an agent to you) they must provide you with copies. If you want copies, a reliable way to get them is to request them as soon as you begin an out of state that will last two or more months (e.g. you’re away from campus for the summer). I recommend making the request the first day you leave Provo (or BYU-H, -I, etc.), since they have 45 days to assemble and send you your file (otherwise they might delay processing until you’re back in town and insist you come into the office).
They will charge you a per page fee for making and sending a copy of your file. Per my discussion with the Family Policy Compliance folks, the charge has to be “reasonable” (i.e. close to what the local Kinkos or FedEx would charge for copies). Mine was 11 pages, so they charged me fifty cents a page for a total of $5.50. They wouldn’t accept credit card or PayPal: I had to send a check addressed to Brigham Young University, and they waited until they got the check to send me the copy of my file. They don’t charge you extra for shipping.
In May 2019 a couple stories popped up on the @honorcodestories instagram where the HCO charged 50$ or 60$ for a copy of a student’s HCO file, and the fee was the same regardless of whether the copies were picked up, mailed, or emailed. I spoke with FERPA enforcement on the subject to argue the point since I believe the fee should be lower when it’s lower cost to BYU (e.g. it’s cheaper to email than to mail). The staff member redirected the conversation, emphasizing that they’d prefer to speak with impacted students directly. I’m happy to jump on a conference call with you if you encounter this obstacle and want to call them together (you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org). As long as FreeBYU has a budget, I also offer to sponsor up to half the fee if cost is an obstacle for you.
They will probably mention that they make redactions- this means they’re removing the names of other students that appear in your file. Per their May 2019 update, it would be a press-worthy event if they removed a student’s name for a reason other than that student’s safety.
If you view your file in person, they’ll require you to sign a Sign In/Sign Out sheet to “read/review a redacted Honor Code Office File:”
The “Guidelines” read:
One person who viewed in person said: “they did not allow pictures. They were upfront about that at the beginning and informed me I would not be able to take pictures or obtain copies. My file was in front of me as they were laying out the rules...I was in a separate room with doors open.”
Linda Rowley will most likely be the person who responds to you. She’s been polite to me, but that may be because our only communication has been via email (which is more compelling than a hearsay allegation when turned over to the FERPA enforcement folks). I’ve heard from others that in person and over the phone she’s judgy, bureaucratic, and nasty- so consider communicating via email only if feasible, and anticipate being treated poorly.
If you decide to take the “view in person in the HCO office” route, they still have 45 days to give you access, so start the process early. In my case, I had a small file and they didn’t delay much, but you can’t count on them acting any faster than the 45 days.
A few FAQs:
I went through the process personally, and here’s how it works:
It asks for your student ID, address, and birthday.
-I answered “All of the below, all records maintained by the HCO, and any record related to investigation or discipline” to the “specific records” question to make the broadest possible request.
-If you've changed your name, make sure to use the name that will be in their records
Submit the form
Email the completed form to email@example.com, and CC the associate dean in charge of the honor code
Not at BYU? See this footnote.
- The reason for CCing the dean is so you have a named official in case you need to file a complaint if the HCO doesn’t give you access.
- I recommend you submit the form as a PDF (rather than Word) to avoid exposing metadata.
Sample submission text: “Hi,
I request a copy of my honor code file, including all records maintained by the Honor Code Office, and any records related to investigation or discipline. You’ll find my completed request form attached.
As I am not living near Provo and am thus unable to come to the HCO in person, please mail the copy to ___________.
Thanks and let me know your questions, _______”
If you don’t have an HCO file
They’ll get back to you about two days after you submit.
Example: “After searching the files in the HCO, there are no records with your name and Student ID number.”
Ask for the number of pages and confirm how much $ to send
Specify the non-Utah County (preferably non-Utah) address you want your file sent to.
Pay for the copies
Send a check made out to BYU
Mail to Honor Code Office, 4450 WSC, Provo, UT 84602. (I added “c/o Linda Rowley” on mine)
Consider sharing with ATHCOE
Fill out the HCO Experience form
We can keep your experience anonymous if you wish. Every experience shared helps make HCO enforcement more transparent!
In my case, from end-to-end (from submitting the request to receiving the copies), this process took three weeks. I received my ten-page file, the first page of which looks like this:
Based on a recent requester’s experience:
This log is a collection of actual HCO stories experienced by BYU students. If you’d like to add your experience to this log, please complete the HCO Experience Form (and email me if you have any issues). Descriptions are limited to high-level summaries of 200 words or less, but you’re welcome to include a link to the full story if you’ve published it elsewhere (you can also submit the full story to freebyu.org/profiles if you wish).
As of May 2019, Instagram @honorcodestories also publishes HCO experiences so consider DMing them your story (I’m happy to do it on your behalf if you prefer).
Description (summary of 200 words or less - submit a freebyu.org/profiles to provide more detail)
I criticized the BYU spokesperson on Facebook. A former friend who I had a dispute with sent a screenshot to the HCO. They said I couldn’t graduate unless I met with them. I had to meet with Casey Peterson four times, and even after graduating and moving out of Utah, I had to submit time-stamped photos showing I was clean-shaven for two months after graduation, read scriptures, write in my journal, and submit an essay about the importance of respect.
Casey Peterson, Dean over the HCO
I reported being raped to the Title IX office. I subsequently saw my file in the HCO office (I was not allowed to make copies or take photos of the documents).
I saw that they opened my HCO file on the same day as my rape report. Every single word I'd said to anyone in the university was cataloged. Even conversations I had with secretaries, and cracked stupid jokes — those stupid jokes were in the file. I found records of a phone call from my father to Title IX coordinator Sarah Westerberg, complaining that I shouldn't be investigated for wrongdoing after reporting a crime.
I saw images of text messages sent by a student government representative I met with (I was trying to get people to realize what was happening, to realize that these cases going to the Honor Code Office was a big deal). The student representative apparently sent a text message to someone, noting that I was frustrated with how my assault report was handled, speculating that I was "very likely" to turn to the news media or local government officials, and asking how he should handle my complaints. I couldn’t tell whom the student sent the messages to, whether the Honor Code Office received them secondhand or how they pertain to the investigation into whether I was sexually assaulted.
Madi Barney reported her rape to the police. One of the officers leaked her rape report to the HCO, who opened an investigation on Madi. They put a freeze on Madi’s registration pending her cooperation with the HCO. Per her attorney’s advice, Madi did not cooperate and is unable to continue taking classes at BYU.
Feb- Apr 2011
I published a book about homosexuality in January 2011. In May 2016 I requested and received my honor code file. Notably:
-They concluded that much of my book "contradicts teachings from the First Presidency"
-The dean of students and VP of student life made the decision to take no action (though I heard from another source that the President, Cecil Samuelson, passed that decision down)
-They analyzed my YouTube videos and the QSaltLake article on my book, in addition to a chapter-by-chapter review of my book.
-I found this quote significant. "He states that he is an active, believing LDS member who believes in the first vision, the restoration of the gospel, and the truths in the Book of Mormon (Notice he did not say he believed in latter day prophets)"
HCO Counselor: Blair Reynolds
HCO Researcher: Kristine (Kris) Long
HCO Director: Steve Baker
HCO Email Respondent: Linda Rowley
Suspension, then Probation
My sibling reported to the honor code that I had sex with my boyfriend and also claimed I was proselytizing against the church. The HCO contacted me and asked that I come in and meet with them. By this point, I had fully completed the repentance process with my bishop (who elected not to report to the HCO and renewed my endorsement), and had married my boyfriend.
Assistant Dean: John Kau
Dean of Students: Vernon Heperi
I was raped and pregnancy resulted. My bishop didn’t believe me, and as a result I was expelled.
I viewed pornography and reported that fact to the HCO. The HCO threatened me that if I didn't sign a waiver of my priest/penitent legal privilege, they would suspend me from the school. In other words, I had to totally waive my legal privacy rights to enjoy confidential discussions with my bishop. Those discussions were no longer privileged.
They also gave me a letter, that I had to sign, explaining that I was "a danger to myself and others."
I had to disclose this probation on grad school applications and a professional licensing application years later.
When I was getting investigated by the HCO, I literally couldn't sleep. I was extremely stressed out because I thought I was going to get kicked out. I worked really hard in school. I graduated with a 3.90 GPA. One night I sobbed because I thought that I was going to get expelled. I don't think that my academic career should be thrown out the window just because of some simple mistake I made that has nothing to do with my academic career.
I confessed a sin to the bishop, who told me I’d have to the tell the HCO, which I did. They told me I couldn’t finish my degree as a consequence, and my mom kicked me out of the house.
I wrote a letter to the HCO pleading my case, and they said I could stay but would only get my degree 8 months after graduating. I had to:
-write in my journal every day (which I had to allow them to read) -take notes on EVERY byu devotional from July 2014 - July 2015 (this by far took the longest!)
-complete an assignment where I find scriptures on a dozen different topics (chastity, modesty, charity) and relate them back to my life
-I could walk in graduation but they wouldn't put my name in the program
-meeting with an honor code counselor monthly and discussing different talks
-attending therapy every week
- Complete 50 hours of volunteer work
- Attend church and pay tithing (they checked with my bishop every month to make sure)
- Write a 6 page paper on the whole experience
Chad Hardy was excommunicated due to a calendar he published, then graduated from BYU, but BYU refused to post his degree. The press covered the event: Google it for deets.
Someone reported me for having a skirt that was too short. The HCO deemed the skirt long enough but still told me not to wear it again and informed me that my false accuser would have no repercussions for the impacts I had from the accusation.
While at BYU-I, I drank coffee to counter the effects of my anti-depressant meds. My neighbor reported me to the Bishop, who withdrew my ecclesiastical endorsement- resulting in my suspension.
When I was a BYU student, I had a complaint made about me to the Honor Code office. The complaint was filed by another student who was fighting his own Honor Code investigation. He had been accused of viewing pornography on BYU machines connected to the internet (because he tripped the anti-porn filters). He had, in fact, been downloading mp3 files from various websites, some of which tripped BYU filters.
The student who filed the complaint against me had done so to throw me under the bus, hoping it would cause him to beat the charges against himself. And – like him – I had also been downloading mp3 files. Unlike him, I came clean and described what we were doing. I beat the rap, but he was thrown out.
Still – I was considered guilty until I was able to prove myself innocent. He was considered guilty even after I gave a reasonable explanation for why he tripped porn filters, most likely because he also tried to throw me under the bus.
I stopped attending church, and was consequently expelled.
The HCO's made me feel like shit (at first) and took the word of a single individual over all my protestations and the actual facts (of which they refused to believe anything that I said, the facts had to come from third-parties).
I very quickly learned not to volunteer anything other than what I said at my initial interview. Their punishments and requirements were harsh beyond belief to me for my minor offense (taking milk crates from a 7-11 to use as bookcases).
My senior year I lost my faith and refused to lie to get my ecclesiastical endorsement. I had to leave a semester early without graduating. Luckily I had a job lined up that wasn't contingent on having a degree.
BYU keeps sending me "Finish your Degree" mail. I've called to inquire if i can finish, but they say I have to have an ecclesiastical endorsement, which i refuse to lie and get.
A student was married and was off for the summer on an internship away from his spouse. He struck up a friendship with a girl he met on his internship and ended up making out with her. He later confessed to his wife who was distraught over his infidelity and told her family about it. Her brother decided to make the girl's husband pay by turning him over to the honor code office.
The honor code office employees definitely reveled at the opportunity to punish the kid who was weeks away from walking with his diploma. After hearing his "case" my wife tried to argue that the office shouldn't be involved as the only two people who should be involved in any disagreement were the man's wife and himself. It was not something in which BYU should be involved. Obviously, they completely ignored her argument and withheld the student's diploma.
I got the distinct sense that the person handling my case was delighted to take me down a peg. I had no idea that anyone could be so perverse as to get enjoyment from my extreme suffering.
The father of a victim’s ex-boyfriend falsely reported premarital sex. The HCO used the fact that the victim was raped several years before as evidence of a sexual past, and threatened to immediately expel the student if the student recorded a conversation or involved an attorney.
HCO Counselor: Mayla Slack
I was on HCO probation for a year. My HCO counselor told me that students have committed suicide in the past because of disciplinary action he has taken against them, and he still seems to think that what he does for his job is correct.
I was turned in because I was late to do a BYU news broadcast and parked in a non-student space. When I paid the ticket, I wrote “bulls**t ticket” in the memo line. I had to pay the fine and personally apologize to the clerk who processes fines for exposing her to profanity.
“No file” response
As a gay BYU student, I was worried after reading the Salt Lake Tribune's April 22nd story about Madeline's review of her Honor Code Office record, which apparently included pictures of other people's phones and notes on conversations she had with various university officials, even ones that she thought were of no consequence.
Although my sexual orientation is not well known, there are a handful of people on BYU campus who are familiar with my situation. I've always lived the law of chastity and never violated the Honor Code, but this story nonetheless made me wonder if the Honor Code Office had a "do whatever it takes to catch them" mentality that would cause me to be targeted because of my sexual orientation, even though I haven't violated any rules.
Unresponsive to Application for Exception
A convert to the LDS Church attended BYU shortly after converting, and did not complete his degree. A few years later, he left the church. Years later, in 2016, he submitted an application for exception to the ecclesiastical endorsement process, per the noted “Application for Exception” clause for applicants.
Despite several live conversations with the dean of students office, the dean of students office did not deliver a decision to the former convert. Six weeks have passed and counting.
Advised that exceptions are rarely if ever granted
"Two weeks ago I went into my bishop and told him I wanted details about the new ecclesiastical exemption policy. He told me to come back today, after he had been trained on it. I went in today, with a lot of hopes riding on this exemption. I am the poster child for people who would benefit from this policy and I thought it was created for students in my exact situation. My bishop told me today in the meeting that when the bishops were trained on this, they were told that students can apply for an exemption but they are "rarely if ever" granted."
Gay student sexually assaulted, then disciplined after Bishop gave Andy an ultimatum.
Refusal to grant endorsement
BYU-I student completed the requirements for an Associate’s degree. BYU-I refused to grant her degree, since she subsequently left the LDS church and was consequently unable to obtain an endorsement from an LDS bishop.
Refusal to grant endorsement
I was assaulted and raped while at BYU, and was subsequently traumatized by my Bishopric and the BYU Honor Code. I did not break the Honor Code, they just did not believe I had been raped… I had a sympathetic Bishop who felt it was unfair to traumatize me further with questions about my 'worthiness'. But he's gone, and the new one in my ward is incredibly hardline (which is why I stopped attending).
HCO official stated that no one who voluntarily left the church, has ever been admitted to BYU.
Ph.D. student at BYU experienced a faith change, was honest about it and told the HCO. Associate dean Sarah Westerberg said the exception was rarely given and that there was no chance that the student would be allowed to continue.
The Dean of Students confirmed that the covenants that the student made were serious, and to stop attending church services would break those covenants and BYU would have to let the student go.
Expulsion appealed to two-year suspension
A former BYU student was upset that I didn't want to go on a date with him. In retaliation, he fabricated confessional evidence supporting his claim that I had slept with many different men.
See @honorcodestories & #honorcodestories for numerous stories (Twitter)
Also see #reformthecode #checkyourfile #thatsnothonor
See petition and stories @honorcodestories
Experiences are based on victims’ reports, and in some cases have been summarized.
It’s important to acknowledge and prepare for the emotional toll HCO enforcement can have on you. Madi Barney, a BYU student who reported being raped and was consequently investigated by the HCO, said “The way that BYU has treated me has been so callous that it’s been almost as bad as the rape itself.”
Certain actions, notably suspension, can also be very traumatic. So many things are happening to you at once: losing your job, getting evicted, being kicked out of school, and dealing with the reactions of Mormon family members can all occur in a very short time frame. Victims of suspension report emotional difficulties even years afterward, including common trauma victim symptoms such as crying, anger, depression, and anxiety. One victim was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety as a consequence of HCO enforcement. Another said “my experiences with the honor office there was absolutely one of the most horrible in my life.”
Knowing your rights can take some of the fear out of being on the receiving end of HCO action, knowing the process and likely outcomes can reduce uncertainty, and seeing your honor code file can be empowering.
To those of you who have been victimized by HCO enforcement, please know there are people out there like myself and those in FreeBYU who care about you. Hang in there, reach out, keep trying, and know you have allies that have been through similar experiences. We may not be able to do a ton, but we will try our hardest to help you move your life and education forward in a positive and productive way.
Attorney and FreeBYU Director
 “A school is required to provide an eligible student with copies of education records, or make other arrangements, if a failure to do so would effectively prevent the student from obtaining access to the records. A case in point would be a situation in which the student does not live within commuting distance of the school.” http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/students.html
 “Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records. Schools may charge a fee for copies.” http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html
 BYU-I is firstname.lastname@example.org; BYUH is email@example.com (CC firstname.lastname@example.org based on her listed role - unfortunately, a blend of both Title IX and the honor code); LDS business college is email@example.com, or whoever is listed here under honor code (or call 801-524-8157)