Thursday, August 27, 2020

For BYU students in need of help


For the start of a new school year, the BYU Geography Department prepared this resource for BYU students needing help in dealing with issues of sexual assault and harassment, racism, and discrimination. Our hope is that all students will know that there are plenty of people and resources on campus to help them when their safety is jeopardized or their identity is threatened.

Earlier this year a professor in our department suddenly resigned for personal reasons. None of us knew why. Then a few weeks later, local news outlets revealed that he had been charged with two felonies of sexual abuse towards one of his female students. We were all shocked. None of us saw it coming. As we reached out to past and present students we came to find out that other students had had unfavorable interactions with this professor over the years. Nothing was as severe as the present accusation, but their experiences were none-the-less troubling. They spoke of power, control, threats and grooming all by what outwardly appeared to be an upstanding person and professor. Sadly most students feared that if they spoke up that their grades might suffer or that they would lose out on needed graduate school recommendations and internships that the professor was solely in charge of. We also learned that some students who had hunches or uncomfortable feelings about interactions with this professor had no idea where they could go to talk about their concerns, to report improper interactions, or to get help. Some mentioned hearing, but not long remembering, about such services during freshmen orientation, but they lamented that they seldom saw or heard follow up information on campus about where to go for help.

Soon after the news was out, our department chair sent out a letter to all of our majors offering comfort and noting that we "do not tolerate harassment, bullying, or discrimination of any kind." We also announced the formation of a new department committee that would seek to ensure that our department was a safe and welcoming space and that healthy student-faculty relations were fostered. A colleague and I had proposed and volunteered to head up such a committee. Two other department members then joined us. 

In researching resources on campus I was very happy to discover that there were more options for students dealing with sexual assault than just the imposing Title IX office (which some students confessed had the impression of being a fearful place to go for help, and which most students thought was the only option for help). Two of the offices--Women's Services and Resources and the Sexual Assault Advocate, provide one-on-one confidential conversations with women who are well trained to guide the students with suggestions and advise of additional steps they may wish to take, including the Title IX office which is well equipped to guide students through the reporting and investigation process and which is required by law to report any know incidences of sexual abuse. 

In addition to help for victims of sexual assault and harassment, I also became more aware of offices established or expanded to help students facing discrimination based on issues of race and sexual identity. Most heartening was a newly established position in the Office of Student Success and Inclusion that caters specifically to helping LGBTQ students. 

The abusive incident has been very troubling. I hope that these beginning steps will be the start of many more efforts within our department and across the university to ensure that all students are safe and secure at BYU.


Here is a lengthier and more complete document of helpful resources (some specific to the Geography Department) that is posted on the Geography Department website and that will be linked to on all department syllabi:

Feeling uncomfortable or unhappy? Where can I go?

If you experience inappropriate comments, stories, inquires, or advances and are troubled about expressing your concerns, then the resources below can provide a safe and helpful option where students can express even minor concerns, hunches, or feelings about a professor or situations that seem inappropriate.

Women’s Services and Resources (3326 WSC): The WSR facilitates “the personal, academic, and spiritual success of women at BYU by empowering them through education and connecting them with resources to help them excel as individuals…” Director Dixie Sevison (801-422-4455, is happy to meet with female and male students one-on-one to help them know where to go to get further help. This office is a confidential reporting office meaning that whatever is discussed here is kept in office and no information is passed on to other offices or authorities.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (1500 WSC,  801-422-3035): This office can assist with such things as academic and career concerns, aggression and potential violence, anxiety, depression, grief, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and suicide. CAPS also has support groups to assist LGBTQ students as well as a growing number of events for students experiencing racial stress and trauma.

The Geography Department Student-Faculty Relations Committee (Laurie Weisler 690 KMBL, Matt Bekker 672C KMBL, Chad Emmett 674 KMBL, Dan Olsen 622 KMBL): If you are not quite sure where to go or what to do, you can stop by the office of one of these committee members. They will listen to you and then try to help you best decide where and what you might do to gain more help and to reconcile any issues or solve any problem. They are additional allies in the department.

The Geography Department Chair (Ryan Jensen 690B KMBL): The chair can help students when they want to discuss or report a grievance regarding inappropriate behavior and comments by a professor related to topics of sex, gender, race, and identity.

The Dean of Family, Home and Social Sciences (Ben Ogles, 990 KMBL): Issues with the chair in his/her role as a professor and problems not resolved by the chair or agreed upon by the student can be petitioned to the dean.

The Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate (Lisa Leavitt 1500 WSC, 801-422-9071, The Confidential Sexual Assault Advocate assists BYU students who have experienced rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking or other interpersonal violence. The advocate provides support, guidance and information to help students make more informed choices regarding their situation, including if they want to report the crime to the police or to the Title IX office (Title IX office is required to report such crimes to the police). All services are free and confidential.

Title IX Office (11085 WSC, 801-422-8692): This office is for victims of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or other gender-based harassment—whether the offense occurred on or off campus. REMEMBER, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are criminal acts and you are NOT responsible for another’s act that violates your freedom. Being a victim of Sexual Misconduct is NEVER a violation of the Honor Code. Dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are violations of the law and BYU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. If you are the victim of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, the Title IX office can help and is able to take certain protective measures to ensure your safety on campus during and after a university investigation.

·       Equal Opportunity Manager (Collette Blackwelder) in Human Resources (D-295 ASB): This office can help a student experiencing hateful or discriminatory comments in their jobs at BYU including those working with professors as a TA or RA.

·       Multicultural Student Services (MSS) office (1320 WSC): This office can help if a student is experiencing microaggressions in class, on campus, or off campus. A MSS advisor will listen to the student and refer them to other resources on campus such as CAPS (1500 WSC) with its support groups for LGBTQ students and for students experiencing racial trauma.

·       The Office of Student Success and Inclusion  (2010 WSC ( 801) 422-0556) offers advisors who are available to meet with students one-on-one to discuss individual concerns, questions and ideas regarding inclusion and belonging on campus. Within that office, Blake Fisher is the LGBTQ Outreach Coordinator,


Additional Resources for Academic Concerns (in addition to those listed above):

The Professor: Many problems experienced in your classes can be resolved by talking to your professor. They can help with such things as clarifying content and assignments, reconciling grading issues, offering advice about careers, majors and graduate school, and dealing with accommodation needs. It is perfectly fine to request that the professor’s office door remains open. You can also request to meet in a more public space or bring a friend or ask another professor or staff to accompany you if that makes the situation more comfortable.

The Geography Department Undergraduate Advisor (Clark Monson, 676 KMBL): This professor can help explain the different majors and can help with graduation requirements and course substitutions.

Emphasis Coordinator: If you have questions or concerns about specific major emphases, you can consult with the faculty coordinator or affiliate faculty of that emphasis.

·       Environmental Studies: Matt Bekker. Affiliate faculty: Clark Monson

·       Global Studies: Chad Emmett. Affiliate faculty: Jeff Durrant, Matt Shumway

·       GeoSpatial Intelligence: Perry Hardin

·       GIS and Remote Sensing: Ryan Jensen and Brandon Plewe

·       Planning: Sam Otterstrom

·       Travel & Tourism: Dan Olsen

FHSS advisement Center (1041 JFSB; For questions about majors, requirements, registration substitutions, and graduation.

University Accessibility Center (2170 WSC): Provides academic accommodations for students with disabilities, learning disorders, and health challenges. Be sure to talk to your professors about your specific needs as outlined in the accommodation letters.

 UPDATE November 2021

In the past year there has been some positive movements. Soon after the Geography Department posted our list of resources, our Dean Ben Ogles forwarded what we had done to other departments in the college. The psychology department then modified our poster and posted it on their department web page.

I am not aware of what any of the other departments might have done, but at least some faculty in the college did take note. During the last academic year the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the FAC, (which included as college member Jake Rugh, a sociology professor and friend who may have seen my post about the Geography poster on Twitter) prepared a proposal for the creation and dissemination of a student resource list. Their list was much expanded and updated, but at its core it was modeled after our geography list. I liked that the proposal noted that BIPOC students had also indicated that they were uncertain of where to go for help on campus. For our LGBTQ students, I liked that in this expanded version they noted the Trevor Project and they chose to include our original listing of the LGBTQ outreach coordinator in the Office of Student Success and Inclusion. 


In August 2021, the Academic Vice President's Council issued a list of responses to the FAC 2020-21 academic year proposals. This included a rejection of a proposal to allow a third-party child care facility to function on campus (no surprise here, provided child care on campus has been a regular request for decades) and a statement explaining that birth control coverage under DMBA insurance (for all Church employees) can not be altered by BYU and therefore will still not be offered (until DMBA makes the change). 

The one bright spot is that the AVP Council approved the creation and dissemination of a university wide resource list. Here is a summary sent our by our new Dean Laura Padilla-Walker of the AVP council response:

 Creation and Dissemination of Student Resource List

-The “Where Can I Go for Help” document has been revised and expanded.

-New “Helping Hands” icon will be added to the new MyBYU page, also in Learning Suite and on Canvas. It will also be added to e-mails sent to students by university administration. Campus units will be invited to add it to their websites.

-Specific policies of interest to students will be added under the “School” menu of MyBYU.

This is all good news. I am happy to see this progress. I am anxious to see what the university actually comes up with and does with the proposed list. 

UPDATE March 17, 2022

Today BYU made available the results of a spring 2021 survey of 13,451 students:  Report on the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault. Its findings substantiate what the geography department set out to rectify over 18 months ago and what the Faculty Advisory Council recommended a year ago: a majority of students do not know where to go to get help in the event of sexual assault and so BYU needs to better promote those many resources. 

Read the report here: Report on the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault


Recommendation 4 calls for increasing awareness for university resources. Great idea. It has been promoted by underlings for over 18 months. Sadly the  FAC proposal to increase awareness that was accepted last summer  has not yet been implemented. Its roll out today in conjunction with this report would have been a good move. A missed opportunity.

Recommendation 2 is important. We found in our department that reporting "not serious enough" incidents could have alerted us and allowed us to intervene before cases of assault worsened.


Over half of students surveyed did not know what on-campus services were available for victims of sexual assault

I'm not sure if going to an ecclesiastical leader is the best place to go when a victim of sexual assault. I wonder if it's because victims don't know about the many resource options at BYU that can help them. 


  1. I want to report systemic racism and sexism at BYU. All categories of people except white males were allowed to hand pick research and professors in the engineering courses and women had their own special resources in all the sciences. This is discrimination and I want to report it. Where can I go to do that?

    1. I am sure part of the reason female students get extra attention is because of the desire by departments to diversify their faculty so they can better meed the needs of a diversifying university where women make up more than half of the studentbody. One of the problems we found in our all male department (we have a female professor hired to begin in January) is that female students felt as if they lack female mentors and that they lack listening ears and support from female faculty members who they would be more inclined to approach about concerns related to sexual abuse. Most departments are male heavy and so there really is an effort across BYU to support female students academically so that more women will consider going on to get a PhD and come back to teach at BYU. That is one good way to make BYU a safer and more supportive space for our female students.

    2. What you just said is that BYU is sexist for...reasons. We can come up with reasons for anything we do, but it doesn't make it right. Discrimination is discrimination. Withholding resources from one group to try and artificially bolster another is discrimination and it should not be allowed. Merit is what has driven society since the beginning, and it is being artificially killed in the name of discrimination...uhem...diversity.