PROVO — Eighty protesters, including a handful of BYU students, held a rare rally on the edge of campus at noon Wednesday to call for honor code amnesty for victims of sexual assault.
After the rally, the group walked to the university's administration building to deliver a petition with more than 90,000 signatures. The university's academic vice president accepted the petition and said the administration welcomed the input.
Earlier Wednesday, BYU released a video in which President Kevin Worthen said the university can and will do better.
He acknowledged that some students who are victims of sexual assault fear reporting the crimes if an investigation by the Honor Code Office would find evidence of drug or alcohol use by the victim or another violation that could lead to suspension or expulsion.
Each BYU student signs the honor code before enrollment.
Worthen said BYU is reviewing its structure and its policies. That includes looking at whether and what information should be shared between its Title IX office, which handles sexual assault complaints, and its Honor Code Office.
"We're not perfect," he said. "We don't claim to be perfect. We can be better. This is important enough that we owe it to the community to say, 'This is the very best that we can do, and we've thought it through, and we've studied it through, and here's the changes that we're going to make.'"
Madi Barney, the BYU sophomore whose story ignited the controversy and who started the petition, did not attend Wednesday's rally. Barney said she was raped and that the university now has placed her classes on hold because she has declined to participate in an honor code investigation.
Kelsey Bourgeois, a former BYU student and sexual assault survivor, conducted the rally. Bourgeois is a campaign writer for Care2, the website that is hosting Barney's petition.
"We're really heartened by (President Worthen's) response," Bourgeois said. "However, right now it's just words. Change is the next step. We're glad he's making public statements, now he needs to do it."
Organizers did not apply for an on-campus protest permit because they wanted the rally to happen immediately, before students left campus for the summer. The protesters carefully followed BYU's rules, holding the protest at the edge of campus on the corner of Bulldog Boulevard and Canyon Road, in front of BYU's landmark entrance sign, "Enter to learn, go forth to serve."
Before they walked on campus to deliver their petition, they put away their bullhorns and signs which read "BYU: Protect Victims, Don't Shame Them" and "BYU: Stop Blaming Victims."
Two BYU freshmen from Chandler, Arizona, were among the protesters.
"They need to change the fact sexual assault victims are afraid to report their rapes," said Samantha Milne, 19, who is majoring in psychology.
Amanda Lee, 19, who has an undeclared major, acknowledged that the honor code provides an element of safety because alcohol use on college campuses is correlated to date rapes and other sexual assaults.
"Because BYU doesn't allow alcohol, I do feel safer," Lee said. "Because the current practice discourages victims from reporting assaults, I don't feel safe enough."
Beside Bourgeois, two other speakers addressed the rally. Neither were BYU students or alumni. The majority of protesters were not BYU students, but some were alumni.
"I have two young daughters," said Lizzy Smith, an alum who lives in Lehi. "I am here to ensure that something like this can never happen to them, that if they are raped they will feel comfortable reporting it.
"I expect better from BYU."
The protesters wore teal armbands or ribbons representing sexual assault awareness.
Barney confirmed via email that she has filed a federal Title IX complaint against BYU with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at school's that receive federal funds, as BYU does.
The Office of Civil Rights does not confirm whether it has received a complaint, an official at the Department of Education told the Deseret News. However, it does evaluate every complaint it receives and would inform the public if it opens an investigation.
Barney could not be reached. Her attorney did not immediately return a voice message.
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