When Brigham Young University students checked Instagram Tuesday, Summer Herlevi and John Kenning were there waiting for them.
Most BYU students don’t know basic facts about sexual assault, a campus climate survey revealed last November. So in an interactive Instagram Story — posted to BYU’s more than 100,000 followers — Herlevi, Kenning and others from campus explained where to get help and how to help survivors.
Viewers could take a screenshot of resource lists or watch BYU staff introduce themselves in short videos. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the story had reached more than 10,000 students, led to a number of reports to the Title IX office and drawn questions through direct messages on Instagram.
“I feel like that was a really good way to connect with students,” said Kristine Hoyt, a senior communication major at BYU. “I knew about most of those resources beforehand and I knew that those were places that people could go for help, but I feel like after seeing those videos I feel more confident that I can go talk to them for either myself or for a friend.”
The survey showed most students had received no training on the school’s sexual violence policies, how to report, the legal definition of assault, the services available to survivors or how to intervene as a bystander.
Awareness is particularly important on campus, Kenning notes in the story, since two of three survivors “turn to a friend, roommate or family member” after their assault.
“Being a resource for those around you who are going through what can be an extremely overwhelming, painful and confusing experience can have a lasting and vitally important impact,” he says.
Instagram Stories is a feature on the popular photo and video sharing social media app that lets users post a collection of videos or photos with text, filter or sticker overlays. The story plays one element after another and usually disappears after 24 hours. But a post can be permanently saved to an account if desired, which BYU plans to do, said Title IX Coordinator Tiffany Turley.
“I feel like we are trying in every way to get this message out,” Turley said in an interview, noting that the format was chosen by the university’s communication team. “One thing I really loved about this Instagram [Stories post] is it’s reaching a whole different audience than maybe the Title IX office or the victim advocate or any of these other individuals on campus that are working on this issue could.”
BYU, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came under fire in 2016 for its handling of sexual assault on campus. Last July, the school changed its Honor Code in response to criticism that it was having a chilling effect on the reporting of sexual assaults and at times led to punishment of victims.
The Honor Code includes a curfew and a dress code; forbids alcohol, coffee and illegal drugs; prohibits premarital sex; and regulates visits between male and female students.
Under its new amnesty policy, survivors of sexual assault at BYU are not referred to the Honor Code Office and are not disciplined for violations occurring at or near the time of the reported sexual misconduct unless a person’s health or safety is at risk — a policy reiterated throughout the Instagram story.
“It’s important to remember and know that the Title IX Office will never share victim or witness information with the Honor Code Office,” Turley says in the post. “Being a victim of sexual misconduct is never a violation of the Honor Code.”
The school’s victim advocate, the director of its counseling center and others also appear, and explain services on and off campus and how to support survivors.
Hoyt said she thinks the Instagram story shows the university’s commitment to student safety and well-being.
“I noticed in the last year or so BYU has really made an effort to make sure that resources are available,” she said. “They did a great job on the story and tackling such a sensitive topic in a respectful and informative and helpful way.”