Brigham Young University says feds investigating sex assault policy
SALT LAKE CITY — Federal education officials have launched an investigation of how Brigham Young University handles reports of sexual assault — the latest fallout from female students and alumni speaking out against the Mormon-owned school’s practice of opening honor code investigations of students who report abuses.
BYU said in a news release that it found out Thursday it was joining a list of more than 200 schools that are under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for sexual violence investigations. University officials said the probe stems from a report filed this spring, but they declined to provide more specifics.
The BYU investigation was opened Aug. 4 looking into sexual harassment and sexual violence and retaliation, Department of Education press secretary Dorie Turner Nolt said.
The results could threaten federal funding and BYU’s ability to provide federal financial aid to students.
The Utah Department of Public Safety is already investigating whether campus police properly report sexual assault cases.
The scrutiny comes as the school’s athletic department jockeys to become an expansion member of the Big 12 conference, a lucrative Power Five conference that is considering many schools who want to join it.
On Monday, an LGBTQ advocacy group sent a letter to the commissioner of the Big 12 urging the conference to remove BYU from consideration for membership because it says the school has discriminatory policies.
BYU officials say LGBT people are welcome at the school.
BYU is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All students must agree to abide by the honor code, and violators can be expelled or otherwise punished.
The code, established by students in 1949, prohibits such things as “sexual misconduct,” or “obscene or indecent conduct or expressions.” As it is currently written, reporting students could also be investigated for how much sexual contact they consented to before the assault. BYU has formed an advisory council of faculty members to examine its sexual assault policies.
Janet Scharman, the vice president of student life who is leading the internal review, said in a statement that the emphasis is on supporting students and understanding federal guidelines for handling sexual assault reports.
“We take any report of sexual assault extremely seriously, with our first priority being the welfare and safety of our students. Our goal in every situation is to give students the support that they need and safeguard their educational environment.”