The University of Delaware subjects students in its residence halls to a shocking program of ideological reeducation that is referred to in the university’s own materials as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs. The Orwellian program requires the approximately 7,000 students in Delaware’s residence halls to adopt highly specific university-approved views on issues ranging from politics to race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism...
The university’s views are forced on students through a comprehensive manipulation of the residence hall environment, from mandatory training sessions to “sustainability” door decorations. Students living in the university’s eight housing complexes are required to attend training sessions, floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings with their Resident Assistants (RAs). The RAs who facilitate these meetings have received their own intensive training from the university, including a “diversity facilitation training” session at which RAs were taught, among other things, that “[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”
The university suggests that at one-on-one sessions with students, RAs should ask intrusive personal questions such as “When did you discover your sexual identity?” Students who express discomfort with this type of questioning often meet with disapproval from their RAs, who write reports on these one-on-one sessions and deliver these reports to their superiors. One student identified in a write-up as an RA’s “worst” one-on-one session was a young woman who stated that she was tired of having “diversity shoved down her throat.”
According to the program’s materials, the goal of the residence life education program is for students in the university’s residence halls to achieve certain “competencies” that the university has decreed its students must develop in order to achieve the overall educational goal of “citizenship.” These competencies include: “Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society,” “Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression,” and “Students will be able to utilize their knowledge of sustainability to change their daily habits and consumer mentality.”
At various points in the program, students are also pressured or even required to take actions that outwardly indicate their agreement with the university’s ideology, regardless of their personal beliefs. Such actions include displaying specific door decorations, committing to reduce their ecological footprint by at least 20%, taking action by advocating for an “oppressed” social group, and taking action by advocating for a “sustainable world.”
The letter from FIRE to University President Patrick T. Harker is best read in full. Some choice passages:
In the Office of Residence Life’s internal materials, these programs are described using the harrowing language of ideological reeducation. For example, the “assessment plan” for the Gilbert/Harrington complex curriculum states that “through the Gilbert/Harrington curriculum experience (a treatment) specific attitudinal or behavioral changes (learning) will occur.” The Russell complex curriculum’s assessment plan similarly asks: “What is [students’] attitude and/or values about those specific social identities after the treatment?” The fact that the university views its students as patients in need of “treatment” for their incorrect attitudes reveals the university’s utter lack of respect both for its students and for the fundamental right to freedom of conscience. And the university’s definition of learning not as a process of acquiring knowledge or technical skill, but rather as the attainment of specific attitudinal or behavioral changes, represents a distorted idea of “education” that one would more easily associate with a Soviet prison camp than with an American institution of higher education. As another example, after an investigation showed that males demonstrated “a higher degree of resistance to educational efforts,” the Rodney complex chose to hire “strong male RAs.” Each such RA “combats male residents’ concepts of traditional male identity,” in order to “ensure the delivery of the curriculum at the same level as in the female floors.” This language is disturbingly reminiscent of a pivotal scene from George Orwell’s 1984, in which the protagonist’s captors tell him that “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” [...]
Somehow, the University of Delaware seems terrifyingly unaware that a state-sponsored institution of higher education in the United States does not have the legal right to engage in a program of systematic thought reform. The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of conscience—the right to keep our innermost thoughts free from governmental intrusion. [...]
As aggressive as civil liberties organizations like FIRE may seem, at the heart of all concepts relating to freedom of the mind is a recognition of our own limitations—like us, those in power are neither omniscient nor omnipotent, and therefore have no right to dictate to others what their deepest personal beliefs must be. Concerns for free speech and freedom of conscience are rooted in the wisdom of humility and restraint. The residence life education program, which presumes to show students the specific ideological assumptions they need in order to be better people, crosses the boundary from education into unconscionably arrogant, invasive, and immoral thought reform. We can conceive of no way in which the residence life education program can be maintained consistent with the ideals of a free society.