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BYU Students Complain to Accreditation Board

An accreditation meeting with BYU students yesterday turned nasty as many students used it as a platform to voice complaints about LGBTQ issues on campus.

The Meeting

On April 7, 2022, a meeting open to all BYU students was held for students to give comments to the Northwestern Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU). The NWCCU is undertaking an Evaluation of the Institutional Effectiveness of Brigham Young University. This meeting was one of several meetings held that day with staff, faculty, and students. These meetings are a part of BYU renewing accreditation, a process that happens every seven years. Students were invited to the meeting in a University Communications email.

At the meeting, many students voiced opposition to BYU. The university's policies on LGBTQ expression were the focus of most of the ire. Carter Seitz, a BYU student, attended the meeting. “I’m no doubt the only conservative in this meeting of 50," he said in a message he sent to BYUconservatives during the meeting.

The meeting was held over Zoom and students were invited to voice concerns about BYU. A common accusation was that BYU’s recently revised Honor Code is not specific in its policies about LGBTQ expression. “Students are agreeing to live an honor code that does not match what they signed on to then they applied to BYU” one student complained. Many attempted to make a distinction between the Church policy on gay marriage vs gay dating. They claimed gay dating is permissible in the Church, but prohibited by BYU.

In the Zoom chat, several students cited accreditation standards they believed BYU violates by having standards not clearly outlined in the honor code. A commonly cited standard was 2.D.3 which states, “The institution adheres to clearly defined policies that prohibit conflicts of interest on the part of members of the governing board(s), administration, faculty, and staff." This policy and others cited never expressly state that universities need to have clear student conduct standards. From the Zoom chats reviewed by the Cougar Chronicle, no student claimed to have been punished due to ignorance of the Honor Code.

Several also complained about the University's discontinuance of transgender voice training as evidence of a violation of accreditation standards. As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU recently discontinued “gender-affirming care” from the campus speech clinic earlier this year. Per the information on the speech clinic website, students would have been receiving transgender speech therapy from BYU at no cost. It is not clear why students believed this policy change violated NWCCU accreditation standards.

One grad student outright said BYU should lose accreditation based on its treatment of LGBTQ students. “Being in the meeting, you would think President Worthen and the other administrators are the worst people on earth” Seitz recalled. Seitz says that eventually a few students shared positive views about BYU, but they were in the minority.

A Different “Gay Perspective”

Self-declared ‘allies’ often presume they are representing all the individuals in the groups they see as oppressed. But do all LGBTQ students at BYU share the views expressed in this meeting? No. James Furse, a BYU student with same-sex attraction, feels that “the best way for BYU to help LGBTQ students… is to help them stay on the covenant path and reinforce faith in the truth that issues of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria will be made right in the end through the Atonement of Jesus Christ… [BYU’s] current LGBTQ policies send that message."

Furse believes that relaxing standards would feed false hopes “that only end in misery and disappointment," something he says he learned for himself. “The harder path is the right path," according to Furse. He also does not appreciate those who claim to speak on his behalf. “I feel like I am being misrepresented and silenced… [they] claim to be inclusive while shouting down gay people who support the doctrine of the gospel. It worsens the feelings of isolation."

Furse is not alone in his exasperation with ‘allies’ that claim to represent him. After the Y was lit with the colors of the trans flag last month, BYU student Travis Fehlberg took to Twitter to voice his opposition to activists' demands. “I made the absolute choice going to BYU knowing I was gay” Felberg stated. “I’m not going to complain against something I agreed to when I came here”.

Yesterday’s meeting is not the first time students have complained about BYU to accreditation officials. KUTV reported in 2015 that students representing Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA) were present to voice concerns about BYU’s policies the last time BYU was accredited. The specific concerns voiced in that 2015 meeting were not reported by KUTV. An admin on BYU’s USGA Instagram account said that USGA was “not officially involved in any meeting with accreditation officials today."

An Ongoing Concern

It is unlikely that BYU will be penalized by the accreditation board for enforcing an honor code protected under the First Amendment. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened an investigation about complaints of LGBTQ discrimination last year. The investigation was closed in February of this year. In a letter to President Worthen, the OCR affirmed that BYU is entitled to Title IX exemptions based on the beliefs of its “controlling religious organization that pertain to sexual orientation and gender identity."

It is reasonable to assume BYU and the Church will continue to be hounded with these accusations. The bounds of the Constitution’s ban on “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion are commonly debated in America today. Church leaders have been focusing on freedom of religion recently, including in the most recent General Conference. “There is [a] scourge sweeping the globe: attacks on your and my religious freedom.” Ronald A Rasband stated in his April 2022 General Conference address, days before the accreditation meeting was held. Elder Rasband continued, “This growing sentiment seeks to remove religion and faith in God from the public square, schools, community standards, and civic discourse. Opponents of religious freedom seek to impose restrictions on expressions of heartfelt convictions.” Even with First Amendment protections, the threat to the Church is real and the Brethren know it.

Jeffery R. Holland, who sits on BYU’s board of directors, plainly stated these tensions may eventually result in serious consequences for BYU in an address he gave to faculty in August 2021.

Elder Holland Speaking to BYU faculty August 2021

“We must have the will to be different and to stand alone, if necessary, being a university… that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If at a future time that mission means foregoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it. There may come a day when the price we are asked to pay for such association is simply too high and too inconsistent with who we are. No one wants it to come to that… but if it does, we will pursue our own destiny," Holland declared.

Yesterday’s meeting was not the first time, and it won’t be the last time BYU and the Church come under fire from even those on the inside. Our response will be key in determining how much power they end up being able to wield.

Written by Luke Hanson and Cater Seitz

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