Nathaniel Call: Students at BYU are feeling the whiplash

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ryan Jenks, left, and Kyle Broderick join the student protest outside the student center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, after an official with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a clarification to the school's Honor Code, which said that same-sex romantic behavior is still "not compatible" with the rules at BYU.

On Feb. 19, the homosexual clause in the Brigham Young University Honor Code was silently deleted. The language was confusing and vague, leading many to attempt to interpret what this change meant.

Were LGBTQIA+ students allowed to date? Were they seen as equal? Could they still be reported or reprimanded even if they did not have premarital sex?

To get more clarification, students called and emailed everyone they could to learn more, including Kevin Utt, the director of the Honor Code Office at BYU. Surely, out of everyone on campus, he would understand and give more insight as to what these changes meant.

One of my best friends emailed Utt to get explicit clarification on the changes. His reply was to meet in person in his office. Perhaps this was to avoid a paper trail and create headlines on what he said.

After this meeting, it was clear that holding hands, kissing and dating were not punishable by the Honor Code Office. This news was widely shared on Twitter, bringing relief to many as a sign of social progress.

However, Wednesday’s email signed by Church Educational System commissioner, Elder Paul V. Johnson, appears to directly counter Utt’s remarks. Once again, in a confusing statement, students at BYU could feel the whiplash.

Why give false instruction? Is Utt even present when such policies are drafted? Was he interpreting the changes for his own agenda? On Wednesday morning, my friends and I made an appointment with Utt to quell the rumors and understand what “romantic behavior” meant.

To this and other concerns, Utt responded that he was acting according to the guidance given and could not offer more information. My friend asked for clarification, as guidance can come from personal revelation and the spirit, just one’s interpretation, or directly from another person. Utt reaffirmed that his job is to apply the policies under the guidance he had been given, implying that he was not responsible.

What I find upsetting about these past two weeks is that blame will be directed to Utt for creating confusion. Yes, he did tell students that homosexual behavior was not punishable on campus but, as Utt eluded to, someone above him in leadership told him that. His role as director is to implement the policies that are created without his input.

While I do not know everything about what kind of organization and leadership there is within the CES system, something is not working. Official statements being released in poorly worded tweets and Instagram stories is not what a school that values being representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an institution of higher education should do.

Where is the public relations team? Who is that oblivious to the real world and allowing for these weak statements to be published?

The deletion of the homosexual clause could not have been oversight. Surely someone expected this to make national news and considered the impact that the changes would have. Sadly, it took two weeks for the CES commissioner to respond with the shortest, vaguest clarification. What even constitutes “romantic behavior?”

The Honor Code Office at BYU deserves better instruction to implement policy. The students and alumni deserve better to know what is happening. LGBTQIA+ students need direction on what is appropriate and not on this campus. Give explicit definitions, not bland and subjective wording.

Allowing homophobia to fester and grow on campus is despicable and I hope that there will be immediate changes to how the CES and BYU will choose to report on such life-changing policies in the future. Two weeks for clarification was too long.

LGBTQIA+ students like myself acknowledge that this is a church-affiliated institution. However, to manipulate and then gaslight them is directly against the teaching about Christlike love that I hear being taught daily on campus. Change is needed within the leadership.

As Elder Ballard shared the day before the clarification announcement, at a Tuesday devotional, “Marginalizing and persecuting people based on age, gender, nationality, religious preferences or anything else can be hurtful or misunderstood.”

Unfortunately, such hurt and misunderstanding was exacerbated by the poor planning and horrific wording of the announcements. Students, staff, and alumni are struggling and shocked. BYU, where is your integrity?

Nathaniel Call

Nathaniel Call is a sophomore at Brigham Young University psychology and Japanese. He plans to pursue a career in psychiatry.