PROVO — Fear kept Franchesca Lopez from calling police after she was sexually assaulted.
But it was another fear — that if she didn't speak out nothing would change — that compelled the sophomore BYU student to stand on a plastic table in BYU’s quad in front of hundreds of strangers on Friday and share the excruciating reality that stories about the school's honor code enforcement kept her silent after the assault a few months ago.
“I’m a first-generation college student, and a second-generation immigrant,” she said. “I’ve literally dreamed about coming here since I was a child. Going anywhere else isn’t an option for me.”
For Lopez, who didn’t plan to speak at the Restore Honor Rally Friday afternoon, BYU was the best place for her spiritually, culturally and financially.
The gathering expressed deep affection for BYU but disdain for the Honor Code Office, and came after an Instagram account (@HonorCodeStories) went viral, attracting more than 33,000 followers and prompting more than a thousand people to submit stories to the page’s creator, Sidney Draughon. Another group, Restore Honor BYU, created social media accounts and began lobbying administrators for changes.
The group of several hundred students, alumni and friends spent about two hours talking, chanting, singing hymns and sharing stories. At 1 p.m., they sat silently for five minutes to honor “those who were silenced” by what they say have been punitive policies.
University administrators didn't attend the rally, but they issued a statement Friday morning.
"BYU cares deeply about the welfare of our students," the statement said. "We want every one of them to have a positive experience at BYU. We’ve seen the conversations about the Honor Code Office on social media and have engaged in discussions with our students. The director of our Honor Code Office has been meeting with students since last Thursday.
"These conversations have been very constructive, as students have shared with us their concern for certain processes within the Honor Code Office," the statement continues. "In some cases, these concerns do not reflect current practices; even so, we recognize that it is our job to help students understand what processes are in place. This is one reason why we shared on Wednesday a Q and A with Kevin Utt, director of our Honor Code Office. Our goal has been and will continue to be to help our students succeed at BYU. The students we have met with are committed to the Honor Code and ongoing dialogue, which we believe will lead to a better understanding of how the Honor Code Office can best serve our students."
Lopez said she knows what happened to her is not her fault, but news coverage of rape victims who were reported to the Honor Code Office by the BYU police department only added to the horror stories circulating among victims, many of whom said they were reported to or investigated by the office.
“I think I’ll have that fear as long as I’m a student,” she said of worrying that speaking at the rally will lead to disciplinary action against her. “Unless something changes with the way the office is set up or the way the policies are enforced.”
She said she came forward because "I saw this big thing missing. No one was talking about sexual assault. And I saw a lack of diversity as well, so I thought it was my responsibility to tell my story, to make sure people know, it’s not OK that survivors don’t feel safe to report."
A number of people held signs declaring them gay Latter-day Saints, while others held signs of support for the LGBTQ community on campus.
One young man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said the fear among faithful gay church members is so great, they hesitate to hug friends or be seen being friendly with other LGBTQ students.
“This is really, really heartening,” said Calvin, who came to BYU from out of state for the rally.
While many students talked about being turned in to the office or “reported” for alleged violations, another student, Brayden Smith, said he turned himself in and it nearly cost him everything.
“Imagine having your entire future, your career, your education, your social life, your housing, so much of your life dangled over your head like a sword,” Smith said, acknowledging he committed “serious" honor code violations. “I knew I had sinned, and I felt the honorable thing to do was make it right by turning myself in. So I subjected myself to this process because I believed in the integrity of the honor code. ... I could never have prepared myself for what happened to me.”99 comments on this story
While the students were there to protest current practices and rally for changes, there was an overwhelming message of hope and support that many in attendance said they were grateful for, regardless of what happens next.
Draughon said it is still overwhelming to see the momentum the movement has gained in less that two weeks.
"I haven’t slept in 10 days," she said. "It gives me a lot of comfort knowing that I wasn’t alone, and a lot of comfort knowing that a lot of people have my back. But to be honest, I wish no one could relate. I wish no one had this experience and that we had zero followers because no one has gone through something like this.”