Amid growing public scrutiny, the University of Delaware last week halted a controversial residence hall program that critics say tried to force students to accept university-approved ideologies on moral and social issues.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, UD president Patrick Harker said the program for dormitory residents on the Newark campus would be halted immediately for review.
“While I believe that recent press accounts misrepresent the purpose of the residential life program at the University of Delaware, there are questions about its practices that must be addressed and there are reasons for concern that the actual purpose is not being fulfilled,” Harker stated. “It is not feasible to evaluate these issues without a full and broad-based review.”
Harker said that after conferring with Vice President for Student Life Michael Gilbert and Dr. Kathleen Kerr, director of residence life, and he then directed that the program be stopped immediately.
“No further activities under the current framework will be conducted,” he said.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education alleged last week that the program amounted to an “Orwellian” attempt at thought control that violates students’ rights to freedom of conscience and freedom from compelled speech. The group described the program as a “systematic assault upon individual liberty, dignity, privacy and autonomy of university students” and called for it to be dismantled.
“We commend president Harker for terminating the program,” said FIRE vice president Robert Shibley. “This is a program that never should have been put in place, and we’re glad to see that the students of the University of Delaware will no longer be subject to this thought reform program.”
According to FIRE, the university saw the program as a “treatment” for incorrect student beliefs on issues ranging from politics to race, sexuality and the environment. Among other things, the group cited a training session document that defines “racist” as a term synonymous with White supremacist, and one that applies to “all White people”’ in the United States “regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”
On the other hand, “people of color cannot be racists,” and there is no such thing in the United States as “reverse racism,” a term “created and used by White people to deny their White privilege.”
Brooke Aldrich, 18, a freshman from Hockessin, told The Associated Press she left one floor meeting for her dorm “feeling like I was a racist somehow because I was a White person or because I haven’t been oppressed.”
According to the Office of Residence Life’s diversity vision statement, “racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism and other behaviors and systems that empower some while oppressing others will not be tolerated.”
The ostensible goal of the residence hall education program was to help students attain “citizenship.” The “competencies” that students were expected to achieve include recognizing that “systemic oppression exists in our society.”
Sample questions for one-on-one training sessions between resident assistants and dormitory students included “When were you first made aware of your race?” and “When did you discover your sexual identity?”
Students have said they were told that participation in the program was mandatory. Gilbert said in a letter to FIRE last Wednesday that the school had taken steps “to clarify this misconception.”
Gilbert also took issue with the presumption that UD students “are so empty-headed and ignorant that they would be ‘indoctrinated’ with ease.”
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