Accountability, Agency and the Atonement: Dean Ogles on Moving Forward From Sexual Assault

BYU may not be of the world, but by being in the world, the university and its students still deal with many troubling issues.

Sexual assault is one of them.

In his campus devotional address, Family, Home, and Social Sciences Dean Benjamin Ogles, as a member of the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault, spoke on this poignant topic. He focused on the accountability, agency, and the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in relation to sexual assault.

“Sexual assault is a difficult, highly charged, and sometimes political topic not easily discussed in any setting…I did not volunteer to participate on the advisory council and certainly never imagined that I would deliver a devotional focused on the gospel doctrines associated with sexual assault. Yet my experiences led me to this moment where I feel an urgency to address this delicate topic,” said Dean Ogles.

Of the 12, 739 students who answered the question concerning experiences of unwanted contact in the university’s  Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault, 475 (3.7%) had experienced some form of such contact while enrolled at or attending BYU in the 12 months prior to the survey. Capture

There were 1,692 surveyed students who reported that they had experienced sexual assault or abuse as a child or adolescent prior to coming to BYU.

Gospel Doctrine

Dean Ogles framed  the discussion of assault in terms of the gospel principles of accountability, agency, divine creative powers, and the Atonement. Agency gives us opportunities, accountability requires us to take responsibility, and the Atonement allows us to repent and progress. In addition, sexual intimacy, when used within the boundaries of marriage, can be positive and healthy.

“Within this doctrinal context, it is easy to see why committing sexual assault is such a grievous sin.  The perpetrator exerts power over another person disregarding their agency and depriving them of their right to control their own physical body while treating them as an object to satisfy their selfish desires,” said Ogles. “Individuals who force or coerce sexual contact engage in one of the most personal and invasive forms of aggression.  The very definition of sexual assault underscores the idea that the perpetrator is denying the agency of the victim.”


“I believe some instances of unwanted sexual contact at BYU occur because one person assumes the other is interested and ‘goes for it’ without ever checking to see if their perception of the other person’s wishes is accurate,” shared Dean Ogles.

To combat this, he suggested asking beforehand and offered the following example: “I like you.  I really enjoy being with you and getting to know you.  Would it be alright if I kissed you?” While some students may hesitate to adopt this approach, fearing that it might “ruin the moment,” Dean Ogles insists that students think about the alternative: jumping to conclusions about consent might “ruin the moment.”

The need to give and respect consent is also an issue in marriage. “When we understand physical intimacy is a profound expression of love, trust, and creative powers within covenant marriage, then the issue of consent becomes even more vital.  Marriage itself is not consent to intimacy.”

Self-Blame and Victim Blaming

One reason people do not come forward and get help after being sexually assaulted is because they blame themselves. They might think that if they had acted differently, the assault would not have happened. Oftentimes, third parties hearing about the assault may think the same.

To illustrate how incorrect these thoughts are, Dean Ogles shared the story of when his family moved to a small town in Ohio. On their first night there, someone broke into their car and stole the items inside. The Dean’s first thoughts were of self-blame: Why didn’t I lock the doors? I should’ve parked away from the street. If only I had been more alert. “I automatically took the blame because I could imagine things that I thought I should have done differently,” said Dean Ogles. His actions, however, never would have changed the fact that what the thief did was illegal and wrong. There was no reason to blame himself. The same is true of victims of sexual assault: no matter what the victim does, the perpetrator’s actions are still illegal and wrong.


Victims of sexual assault can be healed through the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.  To emphasize this point, Dean Ogles quoted Elder Richard G. Scott’s conference talk To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse:

“Our [Heavenly] Father provided a way to heal the consequences of acts that, through force, misuse of authority, or fear of another, temporarily take away the agency of the abused … That secure healing comes through the power of the Atonement of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to rectify that which is unjust.  Faith in Jesus Christ and in His power to heal provides the abused with the means to overcome the terrible consequences of another’s unrighteous acts.”

Dean Ogles, along with Elder Scott, urge survivors to:

  • Seek professional aid
  • Ask your bishop for help
  • Understand that Satan will try to convince you that there is no hope for your future.

“There is hope!” said Dean Ogles. He advises survivors to read Elder Scott’s talk and to utilize available resources on

How to Help

Dean Ogles offered the following suggestions for helping victims of sexual assault:

  • If someone shares that they have been assaulted, “tell them you believe them, express your concern for them, and encourage them to seek professional help.”
  • Be respectful
  • Don’t tolerate inappropriate speech; if you hear it, stop it
  • Watch out for signals that a relationship is becoming inappropriate

“As we treat one another as children of God, we base our relationships on the love, respect for agency, and kindness necessary to form a stable foundation for eternal relationships.”

When we respect others’ agency, especially in healthy relationships that can lead to, and thereafter enrich, covenant marriage, we have the potential to jointly, mutually, and consensually engage in an intimate and eternal marriage that can bring us a fullness of joy with our families in the presence of our Eternal Father.

The full devotional is available for viewing at and the text will soon be available on the BYU Speeches website.

Madelyn Lunnen contributed to this article. 

Does Reducing Tuition Boost College Enrollment?

It seems intuitive that a tuition reduction in colleges would increase enrollment; however, BYU Economics professor Dr. Jeffrey Denning recently published a study showing that decreasing the cost of attendance boosted enrollment at community colleges but not necessarily at four-year universities. “Community colleges are a large part of the higher education system in the United States but have received relatively little research attention,” said Dr. Denning, “Voters interested in whether they should support proposals to reduce tuition may…find the study useful.”

Free Tuition Considerations

In 2015, former president Barack Obama decreed that he intended to make community college free, making it easier for people to get a college education. A Washington Post article that cited a previous study of Denning’s—published when he was a PhD student at University of Texas, Austin—as it applied to Obama’s plan said: “If Obama’s proposal is rolled out, Denning’s data [from a case study in Texas] suggest that there will be more people who choose community college over a four-year college, but perhaps not that many, and probably not to their detriment.” He found, however, that tuition cuts at community colleges slightly increased the number of people transferring to four-year colleges, and that the four-year college graduation rate rose slightly: “About a quarter of people helped by the discounted tuition ended up transferring and getting a four-year degree. This is evidence that there are talented students who would use community college as a springboard to a bachelor’s degree, if only they could afford to start down that path.”

Denning’s 2017 study is an expansion of his previous paper, studying data from Texas, but examines it from a slightly different angle and with slightly different findings, showing that lower community college tuition still increased transfer from community colleges to universities, but that there were a variety of mitigating, complicating factors that made it difficult to gauge the exact extent.

Why Does This Matter?

Many states are considering legislation that would enable this transition. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, eleven states are debating laws that would implement free community college tuition, and five either already have legislation passed or programs in place to implement it:

comm college

According to Dr. Denning, it is imperative that people understand the impact tuition reduction in community colleges can have: “Understanding the effects of community college tuition is important because policymakers must decide how to price community colleges…. Reductions in community college tuition [have] very different implications if [they]…increase overall college attendance or shuffle students from the four-year sector to the two-year sector.” Public policy and school attendance can be affected by the price of community college.


Despite Obama’s support and Dr. Denning’s study, free community college tuition has been decried by critics. He says: “A common criticism of ‘free tuition’ programs is that they are just subsidizing students who would attend higher education without the subsidy. My study suggests that these sorts of subsidies are likely to target new students and students who would already be in the community college sector.” Instead of denigrating the higher education system, tuition reduction will boost enrollment.

Do you think community college tuition should be reduced?

Map courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislators

Is it Okay to Abstain from Voting?

Is abstaining from voting simply giving up? Although people may believe that abstaining from voting is wasting a chance to tell politicians what you think, BYU economist Dr. Joseph McMurray found the opposite to be true. In a recent study, he found that people can express themselves with parity through both voting and abstaining.


People use votes not as a tool for change, but as a “microphone for broadcasting their opinions,” said Dr. McMurray. For example, in last year’s presidential election, third party candidate Evan McMullin won 21.5% of Utah’s vote, according to the state’s Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Despite McMullin not winning the election, he served as an outlet for people to voice their disapproval of the major party candidates.

Even though votes for McMullin did not change the election results, Dr. McMurray illustrated their effect: “The biggest takeaway might be to push back on the assertion that votes have no impact when they fail to change the identity of the election winner: if office holders look at vote totals (which they clearly do) and adjust accordingly (which they plausibly might), every vote will have an impact.” 


But what about abstention? How do people express themselves by not voting? According to Dr. McMurray, there are two reasons a person abstains:

  • People with hunches feel like they don’t have enough information to accurately vote.
  • People believe that the correct thing to do is stay in the political middle; their abstention communicates that they don’t like/support either character.

Abstention sends a different message than voting does. Dr. McMurray provided the following graph to show that the likelihood of a person voting depends on their confidence level.

voting as communicating

The x axis represents a person’s opinion about candidates while the y axis is their knowledge about them; Negative one on either axis represents an extremely liberal perspective, 0 represents political neutrality, and positive one represents extreme conservatism. The more a person knows about a candidate, and the more liberal they are, the more likely they would be to vote for extremely liberal candidate A, but if that person had a low opinion of candidate A, they might vote for candidate B in the hopes that such a vote will influence candidate A to modify their stance. By the same token, the more a person knows about a conservative candidate, and the more conservative they are, the more likely they would be to vote for candidate D, but if they had a low opinion of that candidate, they might vote for candidate C in hopes of influencing candidate D. But, when a person abstains, they may be saying that they think the correct political stance is somewhere between the two opposites, and that, even though they might have strong beliefs, they may still abstain. Dr. McMurray shows with this graph that abstention can be utilized to communicate political beliefs.

Other Forms of Involvement

The study also showed that there are other ways for people to be involved besides voting and abstention.  These “microphones,” as he referred to them, can include trying to persuade others to vote certain ways, writing letters, endorsing candidates, donating money, attending political rallies, and working campaigns. They are more likely to be utilized by those with extreme political ideologies on either side of the liberal/conservative spectrum, as this graph shows:

voting graph


Regarding the hoped-for outcomes of his study, Dr. McMurray says: “I  hope that [it] will convince them to also consider which electoral systems foster the most useful communication from voters to office holders.” He also hopes that looking at voter communication will provide a window into voter and candidate motivations, which in general are difficult to know, but which are hugely important for productive political analyses.

However, understanding voting is more complicated than those results would suggest. Dr. McMurray understands this and is exploring it in future papers by studying how “logical connections between issues may explain why dozens of multi-faceted issues [are] so frequently reduce[d] simply to a left-versus-right contest” and “political polarization.”

What do you think has a bigger impact: voting or abstention?

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jason Whiting, Relationship Expert

I have always loved learning, and being a professor is like getting paid to learn all the time,” says Dr. Jason Whiting, author of Love me True and one of our newest School of Family Life professors.


jason whitingThe researcher studies violence/abuse, relationship education, and conflict within couples. “The family is a source of profound influence in our lives, for good and bad, and I hope to be helpful to those who are struggling. Specifically, I want to identify unhealthy ways of interacting, and offer solutions for being more kind and honest,” he says. In his book, Dr. Whiting discusses how partners can be more genuine and honest with each other.

The academician was inspired to study relationships because of his own past experiences: “Growing up in a big family left me curious about relationships: what makes some so fun, and others so frustrating? Individuals are interesting, but when you put them together into families they become even more interesting. Unfortunately, our most meaningful relationships can become damaging, and this was a very compelling issue to me: what makes intimate relationships work?

Brigham Young University

Dr. Whiting loves BYU. “I had a great experience here as a student,” he says, and have always been a fan of the mission of BYU as a unique force for good. After 16 years working at other universities, the stars aligned with what some [other] Family Life faculty here [were] doing, and what I was doing, which presented good collaboration opportunities. Also, my kids are starting to ‘launch,’ and they all want[ed] to come to BYU, so I thought I had better follow them.”

He offered the following advice to students:

  • Seek opportunities to interact with professors.
  • When choosing a course, learn about the person teaching the class, which is as important, if not more so, than the class itself.
  • Connect with faculty through office hours, and don’t be afraid to seek advice. Dr. Whiting reports that many of his most meaningful memories from BYU were those one-on-one interactions with faculty who he admired.

Welcome to BYU, Dr. Whiting!

Photo courtesy of Dr. Whiting’s personal website

Newly-Remodeled Comprehensive Clinic Means Better Therapy

“We’ve arrived; we’ve made it to the Promised Land!” said Director Dean Barley in reference to BYU’s newly remodeled Comprehensive Clinic. Opened in the 70’s, the clinic was recently updated to allow for increased patient comfort and more space for students to work. Furthermore, a new assistant director was hired, David Fawcett, who will help move the clinic technologically forward in the hopes that it will be cutting edge and better able to serve the community.

The Remodel

An updated therapy room

 The much-needed remodel had been a goal for decades; limited space made it hard for students to work and sparse therapy rooms sometimes made the work difficult. Specific changes that were made include:

  • Accent walls, whiteboards, and TVs  in rooms
  • Soundproof therapy rooms
  • A mothers’ lounge
  • Increased storage and moving shelves
  • A play therapy room with a plethora of toys, a castle, and a sand table

“It’s great, [I] love it,” a student working at the clinic said. “It’s good to be back, now I have a space.”

What is the Clinic?

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services to members of the public in the Utah County community. It is a research and training facility where counseling is provided by graduate student interns under the close supervision of experienced faculty who are licensed therapists. In addition to therapy, the clinic offers various psychological assessment. In 2016, 1,191 people were helped at the clinic; this was higher than average, as the clinic sees 900-1,100 people a year. More than 100 therapists are employed there and oversee a multitude of graduate students. They supervise their therapy and teach them the skills they need to be successful at their work.

LDS Family Services and the Communication Disorders Department are housed in the clinic. In addition, BYU recently acquired the old seminary building adjacent to the clinic; they will host psychology students there.

Panorama of the new play therapy room

Future of the Clinic

“It’s a brave new frontier,” said Dr. Barley in reference to the future of the clinic. He and Dr. Fawcett will use technology to supplement their therapeutic process so as to improve it and the flow of the treatment. To him, the remodeled clinic is truly “a dream come true.”


Feature image: By GreenwoodKL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

New Faculty Spotlight: Natalie Hancock

New FHSS professor Natalie Hancock had an “aha” moment on the first day of her undergraduate interior design class at BYU. Her professor was listing a few majors that might interest students who liked the class. “When she said Family and Consumer Sciences Education, I knew that was the major for me,” Professor Hancock said.

Then-student Hancock had always loved sewing and cooking, and she’d taken a few FACS classes during junior high, but it took the interior design professor’s comment to make Professor Hancock realize what she wanted to do with her life.

“I love Family and Consumer Sciences Education”

Natalie HancockSince taking that undergraduate course, Professor Hancock has given her all to helping family and consumer science students. She worked as a middle school and high school teacher for several years, where she integrated technology, math, science, and even social media into her classroom.

“Once I entered the teaching profession I loved learning how to become a better teacher. I wanted to share that passion with others,” Professor Hancock said. “I love Family and Consumer Sciences Education and believe everyone should major in this program.”

Professor Hancock said she has a clear goal in returning to BYU as a professor: to help students all over campus know about the FACS Education major. “The skills that are taught to secondary students by our FACS Education majors are vitally important,” Professor Hancock said. “FACS graduates can have a tremendous influence after they graduate and enter the secondary education classroom.”

Pursue What Inspires You

Professor Hancock said students should pursue what inspires them. They should also get to know their professors, she said, who “are wonderful people who want you to succeed.”

Looking back on her own undergraduate and graduate studies, Professor Hancock said the most valuable lesson she learned was to always do her best work. That way, she knew she was being true to her potential, and she could happily accept any grade she received.

Her parting word of advice? “One thing I absolutely loved about being a student at BYU was being able to attend devotionals and forums. Make sure you are attending.”

Welcome back to BYU, Professor Hancock!

Does Exercising Together Bring Couples Closer? New Study Says Maybe Not.

A new study done by BYU Family Life professor Dr. Lee Johnson shows that exercise, while helpful for individuals, might not be good for couples. It might, in fact, be an indicator of problems in the relationship. Women in couples therapy with their husbands reported that the more they exercised, the more intense their arguments tended to be.

The Study

The study consisted of daily surveys from 36 heterosexual couples, cohabitating or married. The questionnaire included such queries as:

  • What did you argue about?
  • How heated was the argument?
  • Since you last reported, did you spend time exercising?
  • How many minutes did you exercise?

couple 2Dr. Johnson found that when males were more stressed, they reported a higher level of argument intensity. Male exercise had no significant impact on the variables. However, when females reported exercising, both partners reported higher argument intensity.

This result was surprising, and ran counter to the hypothesis Johnson and the other investigators were looking to prove. “Exercise has been an important part of my life,” said Dr. Johnson, “and has contributed to bettering my relationships.  I have also seen in be helpful in the lives of couples I work with in therapy. At first, we were surprised by the finding.  There is a lot of research on the benefits of exercise helping many mental and physical aspect of our life but no research on how exercise will influence couples who are attending therapy.  However, when we thought further about the findings, we came up with the explanation that as time exercising increases that is time away from the relationship, which can contribute to increased arguments.  This is our current hypothesis that we need to conduct additional research on.”

Additionally, they posit that some partners might withdraw from their spouses to exercise because of increased argument intensity. Exercise, in this sense, can be an indication of decreased relationship quality.

Meaning and Next Steps


With those findings and theories in mind, Johnson offered the following advice to clinicians:

  • be conscientious of how they prescribe exercise interventions in couples therapy
  • help males learn to be attentive to their own physiology and facilitate self and partner soothing

By extension, then women and men in couples should be conscientious of how they use exercise in their relationships: as escape or aid.

The researcher plans to continue this study using accelerometers to gauge physical activity as opposed to using participants’ responses. “This study opens many areas for future research. These include generalizing the current study to a sample including non-white couples and non-heterosexual couples,” said Johnson.


Exercise photo courtesy of Curtis MacNewton


New SFL Professor Aims to Mix Religion and Science

alyssa witting“There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson. New School of Family Life professor Dr. Alyssa Witting believes that religion and science can tremendously inform and help each other in the field of therapy. She intends on bringing this perspective to her work at BYU. 

The Scientific and the Spiritual

“As an LDS scholar, I have an overarching hope that my work will help in the effort to bridge gaps in AND between our gospel understanding and scholarly understanding of how to heal from trauma. We know that anything true is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ…. There is much to be learned about what we can and should do to help those affected by mass and personal traumas by turning to the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets as well as the wonderful work and work of trauma researchers and theorists,” said Dr. Witting, who studies trauma.

Work with Students

The scholar is also excited to be teaching at BYU, calling her relationship with educating others a “love story.” While teaching at another university, she “learn[ed] to approach [her] students with an aim to serve them and stretch them rather than impress them.” This led to “[being filled] with confidence and peace that I had something to contribute. It also allowed me to practice…trying new things all geared toward creating an environment where people enter and feel respected, challenged, stretched and cared about, just like I do in my clinical work.”

She offered the following advice to students:

  • Rise above the fear that you are not good enough. Look outwards and find people that you can help and encourage. “Actively consider and pray to know how your talents can fit the needs [of those] around you. It will truly alleviate anxiety about being good enough because you will see the work the Lord has given you is uniquely suited for you. There is no one better for your mission than you.”
  • View failure as “inspiring learning.” Use your setbacks and challenges to reach farther and climb higher.

Time at BYU

“I feel very humbled to be a faculty member at BYU. I have truly extraordinary researchers and teachers who are people of great character to interact with and learn from as my colleagues and I feel privileged to be surrounded by the incredibly bright and dedicated students here in FHSS. I can honestly say there is no place I would rather or even would have continued my work as an academic,” said Dr. Witting. Welcome to BYU, Dr. Witting!

In a Stepfamily? Come to this Lecture!

“When you have a blended family,” said stepparent Isabella, in a recent Connections article, “you have the chance to learn how charity works. Having a blended family has been a blessing to us because we had the opportunity to become an eternal family.”  While stepfamilies are becoming more common in modern society, blending them is still a challenge, according to Patricia Papernow, an expert in the study of stepfamilies and a speaker at our 2016 Social Work Conference. “It’s like Italians eating with chopsticks.” At an upcoming presentation, School of Family Life professors Jeff and Tammy Hill will share some useful tips for members of blended families both on- and off-campus.

In particular, they’ll:

  • share their own personal experience of blending their 12-kid family,
  • provide the most current research on blended families and what actually works.
  • tackle counterproductive myths about blended families,
  • equip attendees with research and gospel-oriented principles to assist them

The lecture will be held on November 8th and 7pm in room 2265 of the BYU Conference Center. Overflow will be in room 2267. It is offered as part of the Families at Risk lecture series, which provides family with techniques, perspective, and hope to take on today’s threats to family. Registration is required beforehand here, and the cost is $25.

The stress associated with numerous family transitions can pile up, the consequences of which may persist into emerging adulthood.,” said Drs. Erin Holmes, Kevin Shafer, and Todd Jensen in a 2016 study. It is imperative that people who are in stepfamilies or who know people in stepfamilies understand the importance of successful blending and the best ways to do so. Each widowed and remarried, Tammy and Jeff Hill are eager to share their experiences with others.