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Opinion

Personal rights education goes too far

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November 8, 2007

So last week, FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, issued a press release regarding a situation involving the University of Delaware. According to the release, the university recently implemented a new program of “intensive reeducation” for its Resident Assistants and residents: “[The 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 release also reports that resident assistants there have been required to conduct one-on-one interviews with students, asking them personal questions like “When did you discover your sexual identity?” In addition to this, students are required to participate in mandatory sustainability and diversity programs that involve door decorations, compulsory training sessions and more. They’re also being forced to publicly support ideologies laid out by the residence life department, despite these students’ personal opinions.

It’s clear that residence life at the University of Delaware is attempting to shape its students to be responsible citizens, but they’re doing so in a way that is intrusive and unethical. Requiring students to take action for or adopt an idea that they may not really support isn’t the way to create a responsible citizen. If the university is attempting to prepare students to live as well-adjusted adults in a free society, they’re forgetting the “free society” part.

Universities can’t cultivate diversity on campus by stamping out personal beliefs. That would be the opposite of diversity—what’s happening now is an exercise in doublespeak, using the word “diversity” in a way that precisely undermines its meaning. Shoving university-approved ideologies down the throats of students is not the way to create an environment of growth and harmony. It seems that these methods of “reeducation” will only ensure that our generation becomes as docile and weak-minded as possible.

There are other reasons that I’m uncomfortable with this situation. I’m mostly a liberal and have been for several years, but the University of Delaware forcing these pro-diversity and pro-sustainability agendas onto students is taking it too far. It’s painful for me to watch this happen because these principles—diversity and sustainability—are usually attitudes related to the liberal mindset. It’s tough to see them manipulated and used in a way that is highly un-liberal. Now I know how mainstream Christians felt about Jerry Falwell.

Despite the sarcastic tone of some of my other articles, I support the concept of “living green.” I think it’s a good, logical idea to take care of our planet. But nobody else has to believe this. Coercing people to assimilate perspectives and beliefs is unethical and plain terrifying,,especially in a public university. The public school system is already under siege from groups advocating intelligent design and abstinence. The last thing we need is our Resident Assistants asking us about our sexual identities and carbon footprints.

What happened to privacy, individualism and the freedom that college is supposed to afford us? This is supposed to be a place where we can spread our wings a little bit and experiment with new philosophies and new ideas. At least that’s what I try to include in my own experience here. And I’m telling you now: if you don’t want to believe in environmentalism, WMDs, your parents, Jesus, Cool Ranch Doritos, evolution or me, you don’t have to. Nobody has the right to force beliefs upon anyone else, especially the administration of a university.

I hope that the faculty and students of the University of Delaware can stand strong against these new programs. I think it is partially the faculty’s responsibility to step up and help defend students in the face of these unfair and scary policies. We usually don’t have much in the way of student rights, and I’ve thought for a long time that every campus should have some kind of organization to protect and defend the rights of its students. Students at Delaware certainly need some support right now.

The situation in Delaware is not only unethical but it’s also unconstitutional. I hope that the program is repealed and defeated quickly, so we can remain at least a little confident in our nation’s ability to protect our rights. Just because we’re in college doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be treated like the (supposedly) free-thinking individuals we are. Don’t ever compromise your beliefs or adopt new beliefs because your RA, your parents, your peers or your teachers want you to. Thankfully, our little campus at River Falls has remained a pretty open and free campus, so let’s all try our best to keep it that way.

Joe Hager is a student at UW-River Falls.