Thoughts On My Alma Mater’s Honor Code (And Their Handling Of Sexual Assault)

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Brigham Young University is my Alma Mater. I grew up in Provo. My parents both attended BYU as undergraduates and graduate students, and met in a ballroom dance class there. This campus has been an important and peaceful space for me since childhood. My parents took me to plays, concerts, and dance performances there. I spent many weekly youth activities exploring the museums and trying to figure out why people liked football games. I participated in language fair competitions in elementary school there, and enjoyed an LDS youth camp called Especially For Youth (EFY) three summers in a row, along with a taste of volleyball camp and a music enrichment camp. Ultimately, I chose to attend this place for my own higher education while immersing myself in the familiar, unique, enlightening, and mostly positive religious and social culture and environment there.

I love the midnight closing music of the Harold B. Lee Library, and taking a turn or two around that well-lit building as people trickle out into the crisp night air, to clear my head after sitting for hours. Nighttime is pretty, full of stars, sweet and pungent smells, cricket song, the rustle of the wind through leaves, prickling my curiosity about nature and life, and stirring thoughts about the future ahead of me when foreboding is absent. Walking by myself at night, without fear and in the company of the best thoughts and imaginations, is a treat that I sometimes take for granted, realizing that not many women in this world get to experience that often.

Of course, I do stay well away from the urban-legendary “Rape Alley” at night, a footpath that goes through the unlit duck pond area south of campus, fabled to be a common place for assaults. I’m grateful for the police officers biking around campus who call out to me as I’m heading back to my car from the library at night, or who knock on my car window on hot summer Sunday afternoons when I decide to withdraw from people (*ahem* skip church) and retreat to one of the school’s parking lots to do some writing and thinking, checking on me to make sure I’m okay.

I’ve also reported a non-BYU student roommate to the Honor Code Office, my then-ward bishop, and people in charge of the housing complex I was living in at one time. Bear with me, now–I promise this little side-story has a purpose even if it’s not the main point of what I want to talk about today. I do not believe that being in the bedroom of the opposite sex is a moral issue, nor that staying in or out until a certain hour is a moral issue. Having sex is a moral issue, absolutely, but I don’t really care if a roommate decides to go off to a hotel with their significant other for consensual extramarital activities. They’re adults. It’s not illegal. It’s not my circus, not my monkey.

I do believe that keeping promises and following reasonable requests in contracts is a moral issue as well, though. So, when my roommate’s fiance followed her into her room, used one of our bathrooms on a regular basis when he visited, and lingered more than an hour after curfew one night in violation of our housing contract, I finally approached the couple during said curfew violation and asked that he leave. She decided to scream at me to “keep [my] mouth shut and let [her] do whatever [she] wanted” until she got married and moved out in two weeks’ time. That’s when I told all these other people what had happened.

Does her frustration make sense? Sure it does. Could I have been more tactful about how I approached this? Probably. Would I do anything majorly different if I were in this situation again? I honestly don’t think I’d change my decision to advise that roommate in some way to mind and keep to the stipulations in the housing contract. The housing rules for that complex were specific, and those rules included an obligation for roommates to encourage each other to discuss and keep the rules. They also keep us safe. (And no, there was nothing the BYU Honor Code Office felt they could do about this situation except refer me to their conflict dispute office–and that’s probably reasonable too, given the circumstances).

Now, let’s say this roommate had been a BYU student, and for whatever reason the school’s reaction to my initial report was exactly the same as the one I received–something along the lines of “We’re sorry this bothered you. If it still bothers you, you can sort this out through the conflict resolution office.” If my roommate had then been assaulted by her fiance (Heaven forbid–I seriously hate considering this scenario), and that was the time the Honor Code officials decided to dig up my report on minor violations, I think I’d throw up and go bang my head against a wall. I’d probably feel less inclined, not just to report flippant honor code violations, but to even work with roommates to come to an understanding or compromise about keep contract stipulations. (Because, quite frankly, getting screamed at, and then having other people tell me afterwards there’s nothing they can do about it or that I should have just left it alone really sucks). Then, considering further, if I don’t go on to have this conversation with my roommates about curfew, and this supposedly deviant boyfriend decides to wander down our hallway to knock on my door while his girlfriend is in the bathroom or otherwise preoccupied…would that leave me *gulp* totally screwed?

Hopefully, if this individual had been a BYU student, the report would have led to a discussion–a mere stern warning would have suited me just fine–that corrected the problem of curfew and hallway (bathroom/bedroom) violations in our housing contract. Hopefully, if somehow things were moving toward the horrifying scenario above, the stern talking might have also helped this particularly headstrong individual identify potential red flags where a boyfriend might be more deliberately and calculatingly pushing boundaries. Hopefully, this report would not be used to stick this individual with serious academic consequences if a predatory boyfriend decided to assault her, warning or no. Because assault isn’t about consensual extramarital sexual activities and, quite frankly, neither is curfew or looking at a poster on your boyfriend or girlfriend’s bedroom wall. I’m not denying the reality that staying over late, kissing a lot, or even having intimate spiritual experiences like reading scriptures and praying together can lead to consensual extramarital sex. I also like and uphold the law of chastity, and don’t mind calling a sin a sin from a religious perspective (not okay with derogatory names or being cruel toward people who make mistakes or who make different choices than I do, though).

Now, here is what I actually want to talk about. I believe BYU’s honor code never intended to create obstacles to one’s ability to thrive on campus or in life. But I think some very wicked men have figured out how to abuse that system. I’ve been following the stories of former and current BYU students who are victims of sexual assault in the news, many of whom appear to have been subjected to exhausting ancillary Honor Code of Conduct investigations for themselves.

I believe them. I have absolutely no reason not to. This has moved me very strongly, and so I wish to speak my mind on this issue.

The Salt Lake Tribune had been leading most of the coverage on these challenges and conflicts between Honor Code priorities and assault victims seeking help. They have an anti-mormon and anti-BYU bias, and I agree with my church’s latest press release that they have, in subtle ways, seized upon these sensitive and important stories, stories that absolutely *do* need to be told, in such a way as to make BYU’s overall campus culture as well as LDS doctrine and policies on the issue of approaching abuse out to be something it is not. (Go to LDS.org and type “rape” into the search box to see what articles come up. You’ll notice the articles are about identifying and preventing abuse, helping victims heal and understand they are never at fault for what’s happened to them, and the serious spiritual consequences and discipline for perpetrators. Also, references about circumstances where the LDS church is okay with abortion). I do think, though, that there are certainly individuals in church callings and in BYU administration who are missing what the spirit of the honor code and the handbooks that fall under their stewardship actually inform and direct on the subject.

I signed Madi Barney’s petition hoping that BYU will take a look at the response some victims have received from administrators when they report sexual assaults. I’m all for an amnesty clause excusing victims who report sexual assault from ancillary honor code violations.

I don’t think we have to see the Honor Code as compromised when we allow individuals to stay on campus despite some of the seemingly honor-code conflicting circumstances surrounding their assaults. I think BYU should consider keeping these victims on campus because that would not only keep them safest and prevent further disruption to their lives, but it also allows the school to better deal with (or “correct,” if we must say it that way) any ancillary honor code violations and behavior.

I fear that academic threats made in these circumstances could actually lead to more abuse or victimization, riskier behavior in the victim as they try to cope (or fail to cope), failure to thrive academically or in life, or perhaps even suicide. At the best of the worst-case-scenarios, denying counseling and other resources to the ancillary “offending” or “pending investigation” victim, and making them jump over hurdles to prove the complexities of their situation, might exhaust the individual to the point where they give up pursuing help and pursuing legal action against their attacker.

Enfolding these especially vulnerable individuals into a loving community who can help them identify what’s actually happened to them, protect them physically and emotionally from further abuse, give them tools and resources to heal, and also help them identify red flags in others in their relationships might be the best buffer against them getting lured into compromising situations again, rather than prioritizing the ancillary punishments in these situations, I think.

I love BYU. I’ve been to it’s campus for myriads of wonderful, enriching activities throughout my life. I have always been able to feel the Spirit there, and for me it has always been a safe place–even a refuge where I can go to escape from the turmoil of the world and other things going on in my life. My heart just aches for these women (and men) who have been manipulated and abused. I want them to get the help they need to survive and thrive, and to be okay.

This two-part special report by a news outlet called Crime Watchers Daily with Elizabeth Smart is a good balance between the good intentions of the Honor Code at BYU (and what it is supposed to be), and showing how sexual assault is often a complicated issue where individuals are lured into compromising situations by people they know and are taken advantage of. Predators are smart, and they know how to twist something good into a vice that effectively allows them to either get away with their abuses by making their victims fearful, or by making a pretty nasty and effective attempt to bring their victims down with them.

Take a look.

Also, BYU has set up a special website to receive thoughts and feedback as they study the issue of how sexual assaults are handled on campus, the relationships between the Title IX office and the Honor Code office, and any changes they might make to policies and procedures to encourage reporting and eliminate hurdles for assault victims. You can follow the link here if you have any thoughts, feelings, experiences, or concerns of your own that you would like to contribute: https://feedback2016.byu.edu.

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Part 2:

May Updates

Sarah Seeley

Hey guys! I’m still alive–I promise!

Here’s some of what I’ve been up to this month, writing-wise.

I pulled out a couple of short works-in-progress from years past, re-worked their concepts with a fresh perspective, completed them, and sent them off for consideration at a couple of magazines. We’ll see how that goes, eh?

My friends at Curiosity Quills have been moving forward with edits on our Windows Into Hell stories, so I’ve been working on getting my story, “The Armadillo’s Song,” all polished up. According to Goodreads, this fabulous anthology comes out October 24th. Feel free to add the book to your to-read list, and keep your eyes peeled!

I think my Facebook and Twitter followers might be a little sick of me talking about Redneck Eldritch. It was a fun project to be involved in, and I love seeing it do well. For those of you reading it, we authors would love to have some more honest reviews go up on Amazon and Goodreads. If you have a moment to let others out there know what you think, that would be a wonderful treat for us!

Speaking of reviews, I’m reading my way through Writers of the Future volume 32 and hope to post a nice little review of that soon. (My friend Julie Frost has a story in this volume, and I promised her I would give a review after I bought a copy from her.)

For upcoming live events, I’ll be at Spring Into Books, a local author signing event, next Saturday at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan from 2:00 to 6:00 P.M. I’m also planning to attend Salt City Steamfest and Salt Lake Comic Con later this summer.

That’s all for now.

Keep writing!

After World Horror

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I wanted to keep my thoughts short this time. The World Horror Convention in Provo has come and gone. It was nice for me to attend this conference as it was hosted so close to my home, and I had a good time reading, paneling, squealing excitedly about Redneck Eldritch with other contributing authors, and connecting. I had some nice chats with Julie Frost, Jason A. Anderson, Jason King, and David J. West. It was awesome to get to know the reps of Muzzleland Press, as well as the the creepily creative artists of Metallic Visions and Monsterhedz.

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Robert J Defendi, Eric Holmes, thanks for listening to Dave Butler and me during our reading!

Mike Arnzen, it was very entertaining watching you juggle my swag brains at the book signing.

Sanford Allen, Keith Thompson it was cool to meet you during the panel on H. P. Lovecraft.

Paul Genesse, Kevin J. Anderson, DawnRay Ammon, Carter and Kelli Reid, Nathan Shumate, Steve Diamond, Bethany Hanks, Johnny Worthen, Michaelbrent Collings, Dave Butler, Eric Swedin, Scott Forman, Cody Langille, it was good to see you all and catch up with some of you!

To Victoria Price…we noticed you looked a little lonely over at your booth, and we’re sorry more of us vendors didn’t come talk to you. But we’re glad you came for a while.

Dr. Michael Collings, congratulations on receiving the Grand Master Award this year! And it is always a pleasure to talk to you.

Dan Wells, thanks for letting me fangirl over you a bit! It was cool to say hi as a fellow vendor and horror writer, and I’m looking forward to reading your next John Cleaver book.

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And thanks to all the volunteers who worked so hard, to the Utah HWA chapter for giving horror writers a presence here in our state, and the dedicated writers and artists who came from near and far to attend the convention. Though it was lightly attended, I hope you all made some new friends.

And for anyone I may have missed, I apologize–I enjoyed your company too.

To see more photos that I took at the World Horror Convention in Provo, check out my Facebook album here:
http://bit.ly/21oSGMO.

Redneck Eldritch & World Horror

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The paperback of Redneck Eldritch is live on Amazon! The Ebook and Kindle versions will be available for pre-order soon, and will be officially released April 28th. I’m excited and honored to be included in this collection with such talented authors, and I hope fans of horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and the sister Space Eldritch anthologies will enjoy this brand new installment of cosmic dread.

For any who are curious, you can read a sneak peek of my story, “Mine of the Damned Gods” here on the Cold Fusion Media website, along with excerpts from several other stories in the anthology: http://coldfusionmedia.us/redneck-eldritch-sneak-peek-mine-of-the-damned-gods-by-sarah-e-seeley/.

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The World Horror Convention will be in Provo April 18 – May 1. I have a light schedule, one panel and one reading. I’d be delighted for any in attendance to come listen to me discuss H.P. Lovecraft and read from my Redneck Eldritch story next to David J. West Dave Butler (*David West is still awesome, the schedule after the 17th just shuffled us readers around a little).

Here is my World Horror Schedule:

  • Friday, April 29 — 7:15 – 9: 45 PM: Book Signing
  • Friday, April 29 — 12:45 – 1:45 PM: Readings (30 min. each)
    Sarah E. Seeley & David J. West Dave Butler
  • Sunday, May 1 — 12:45 – 1:45 PM: Why We Love Lovecraft
    Eric Swedin, David J. West, Nathan Shumate, Carter Reid, Sanford Allen, Sarah E. Seeley

I will also be a book vendor with authors S. A. Butler and David J. West all four days. So come find me in the dealer’s room! I’ll have my usual publications to sell. Nathan Shumate will have copies of Redneck Eldritch available at his booth to purchase, and I’d be pleased to sign your copy should you acquire one.

As a member of the Utah HWA, I’d also like to encourage any who are considering to attend the World Horror Convention. While this is a smaller professional conference and the memberships are a little pricey, the investment is well worthwhile and will give you access to amazing networking opportunities within both the horror and general writing communities. There will also be some great panels and presentations, a workshop opportunity with David Farland for a small additional fee, and tons of cool stuff to participate in like ghost hunts. Check out the membership rates and programming here: http://www.whc2016.org/.

In other news, I’m currently working on edits for my Windows Into Hell story, “The Armadillo’s Song.” The anthology is still anticipated for release in October from Curiosity Quills Press.

And I’m slowly but steadily writing out the novel-length rendition of my steampunk story, “Curio Cay.”

Exciting things!

To my family, friends, and followers, thank you, as always, for your support and for believing in me. You inspire me and give me courage to try daring things…like write horror. And other fiction. And blog. I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I’ve enjoyed creating them for your entertainment.

Next Event

Next Event

Sarah will be at Spring Into Books located at the Viridian Event Center May 28th.

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Sarah E. Seeley is a fantasy and horror author, and an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association.

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