Magazine article The American Conservative

Four Year Plan

Magazine article The American Conservative

Four Year Plan

Article excerpt

Freshman orientation Lesson 1: all whites are racists.

NEWARK, DEL.-As almost every aspect of the American university has been drenched in political correctness, a certain outrage fatigue has set in. Who is still shocked by news of Shakespeare being replaced by P. Diddy, lectures on the political implications of masturbation, and photographic retrospectives on the Black Panther Movement? Wouldn't it be best just to roll one's eyes and move on?

Perhaps not. Over the past two weeks, news has come out of Delaware that the state's public institution organized a freshmen orientation that, even for the most hardened of academic observers, would seem sinister and bizarre.

Last August, the Office of Residential Life gave all prospective RA's-the student residential advisers who manage the freshmen dorms-a "Diversity Training Handbook" that averred, "all white people living in the United States" are racists, implicated in an "institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression." The rest of the manual reads like history of the world as recounted by Al Sharpton. A professional "diversity trainer," Shakti Butler, was on hand to make sure the message got across.

In September, Residence Life scheduled one-on-one "orientation" sessions with these RA's and all 4,000 incoming freshmen. The students had expected to discuss roommate problems. Instead they got, "When were you first made aware of you race?" "When did you discover your sexual identity?" and "When have you felt oppressed?"

In group sessions, the freshmen were made to play act being a poor black family facing racial harassment. In another variant, the RA's situated the students in the center of the dorm's common area and hung two signs on opposite walls, "Agree" and "Disagree." They then made a series of political statements-"gays should be able to marry," "affirmative action is justified," "the poor deserve to be poor"-and the freshmen were told to chose a side. Public shaming was the order of the day: the group was divided and students singled out who dared cross over to the non-progressive side of the room.

Throughout, grades were given, from "best" to "worst," based on a student's willingness to delve into his "identity" and get involved in the PC theater. The evaluations were kept secret from the freshmen and are still on file in the Office of ResLife. Sophomore Bill Rivers told me that one friend replied to the query "When have you felt oppressed?" with "When I checked the box marked 'white' on college applications, knowing it was going to hurt my chances of getting in." One hopes his RA didn't give him an "Enemy of the Dorm" designation.

Delaware is not exactly known as a hotbed of the radical Left. Indeed, the university's Jeffersonian architecture, nicely dressed students hurrying off to class, and surrounding belt of Victorian homes make it a postcard image of traditional education. Moreover, with just under 16,000 undergraduates and a Div. I-AA football team, UD doesn't show up on many radar screens. But within days of news breaking, it became a flashpoint for the national debate on academic culture.

The concerted effort to combat ResLife began in early September after Peter Johnson, a UD parent, got word from his son of the goings-on in the dorms. Johnson contacted ResLife and politely asked to see copies of the program's reading list. He was stonewalled. On Sept. 24, Assistant Director Michele Kane wrote Johnson that sending the materials "without context would likely not be of any benefit" At this point, Johnson contacted the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a not-for-profit group dedicated to exposing speech codes and political indoctrination in academia. With FIRE backing Johnson, ResLife Directors Kathleen Kerr and James Tweeny agreed to release some materials. FIRE put them online. Outrage mounted.

As area papers picked up the story, ResLife went into "no comment" lockdown, removing materials from its website and refusing all interview requests (including mine). …

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