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Unlike church-owned BYU, this Mormon college offers amnesty to sexual-assault victims

First Published      Last Updated Apr 30 2016 10:32 pm

Campus crime » SVU strengthened its Title IX procedures after a sexual-harassment complaint last year.

Save for its tiny student body and colonial architecture, Southern Virginia University could easily be mistaken for Mormonism's flagship school in Provo.

The majority of SVU's 40 faculty members and more than 90 percent of its 700 students are LDS, many of whom have served missions for the Utah-based faith. The Eastern university also has a similar honor code. It allows no drinking, drugs, premarital sex, tattoos, facial hair on men (except mustaches) — and it takes a Mormon bishop's recommendation to gain admission.

A key difference between the two schools, however, has emerged in the past year: SVU gives "amnesty" for breaking school rules to students reporting sexual assaults. Its counterpart, Brigham Young University, does not.

Beyond that, the Buena Vista campus — owned and operated by Mormons but not by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has conducted campuswide conversations and trainings about healthy sexuality, what it means to consent, and avenues for survivors to detail attacks without fear of punishment.

All these programs did not happen on SVU's initiative alone: The school was prodded into action by a federal investigation.

Last year, a gay student filed a formal complaint against SVU's provost, alleging sexual harassment based on the student's sexual orientation.

The federal government's Office of Civil Rights looked into the allegations and ultimately cleared the school official, SVU spokesman Chris Pendleton says, but found "some of the university's Title IX-related policies and procedures were out of compliance."

With governmental training and assistance, the Mormon liberal-arts college set out to change attitudes about rape — and provide a safer atmosphere for its students.

Stepping up • Deidra Dryden has been at SVU for nearly two decades, arriving barely a year after LDS businessmen assumed ownership of the historic campus.

A popular and compassionate figure on campus, Dryden has worked in the athletic department as a basketball, tennis, softball and volleyball coach — and also has taught math as an adjunct professor. She currently serves as the senior women's administrator.

In the aftermath of the 2015 federal inquiry, Dryden was appointed by SVU President Reed Wilcox as the school's Title IX officer, answerable to him rather than to the Student Life Office, as in the past.

She conducted workshops and trainings with faculty and staffers, as well as with groups of students, especially student leaders in the residence halls.

"We were pretty blunt," Dryden explains in a phone interview. "We had students practice saying, 'I was OK with that, but not this,' and then saying, 'I am done for the night.' "

Shoushig Tenguerian, a senior Title IX education intern from Brooklyn, helped Dryden educate students on these issues, particularly the importance of consent and the nature of stalking.

Tenguerian has heard lots of misconceptions about healthy sexuality and consent.

"Sometimes girls and guys do something and feel that because [intimacy] has already started," she says, "they have to go 'all the way.' "

The trainers make it clear that participants can choose what they want at every point. They also teach students how to say "no" by using a chocolate chip cookie and an onion:

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Southern Virginia University’s amnesty clause

“To encourage reporting of Title IX violations, anyone who reports sexual misconduct, either as a witness or complainant, will not be subject to disciplinary action by the university for their own personal use of alcohol or drugs at or near the time of the incident, so long as those actions did not, or do not place anyone else at risk regarding their health and safety.”

The Honor Code and sexual assault at BYU

Tell the Tribune: Have you or someone you know experienced a sexual assault at BYU?

April 12 » BYU students who are victims of sex crimes say they are investigated by the school and sometimes disciplined after reporting their abuse, and that in such cases the school’s Title IX office alerts the Honor Code Office.

April 14 » A BYU student whose sexual-assault report led to an Honor Code Office review garners tens of thousands of signatures supporting her demand that BYU change its practices.

April 15 » Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson says BYU jeopardizes a pending rape prosecution because the Honor Code Office — after obtaining the police file from a Utah County sheriff’s deputy who knew the suspect — refuses to delay its own case against the alleged victim.

April 15 » Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman counters his prosecutor’s opinion that BYU’s Honor Code Office was threatening a pending rape prosecution with its probe into the victim’s actions. Buhman said he dropped a witness retaliation charge against a Utah County sheriff’s deputy because of information he learned from an inadmissible internal affairs investigation.

April 16 » The Tribune’s editorial board calls on BYU to maintain its standards without revictimizing students who have been sexually abused.

April 18 » BYU said its Title IX investigators, charged with protecting students from sex discrimination, sometimes refer sexual assault victims to the Honor Code Office for investigation of their conduct, and announces that it will review “potential structural changes” in light of public concern.

April 20 » Dozens of protesters deliver a request to BYU’s administration, calling for Honor Code amnesty for students who report sexual assault.