Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Orientation Indoctrination: Update

In a previous post, we discussed some of the things that go on during Freshman Orientation. We took particular exception to an exercise called “Take a Stand” which requires new Freshmen to publicly declare a position on some topic – often a topic that is highly contentious. We called the process “Stalinist thought reform.”

We did not have the script of the monologues that students were exposed to before the “Take a Stand” exercise, nor did we have the instructions to Orientation staff people who lead the exercise. The Division of Student Affairs, which we asked to provide them, failed to do so. Our sources were students who had been through the exercise.

This past Tuesday (September 21) we finally met with Jeff Janz, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and L. Christopher Miller, Vice President for Student Affairs. They defended the program, and gave us access to the script and several sheets of guidelines and instructions given to both discussion leaders and new Freshmen.

The information gives a more rounded picture of the program, but doesn’t change our bottom-line interpretation: students (especially socially conservative students) are being pressured to take certain positions on pain of being singled out for having bad attitudes.

First: the monologues. Courtesy of Jeff Janz, here is a list of the subjects addressed the in monologues:

1. Homelessness/urban issues

2. Alcohol use/abuse

3. Sexual assault/date rape

4. Racial/ethnic diversity

5. Sexual orientation

6. Decision making re: sexual behaviors

7. Depression

8. Body image

Some of the monologues are innocuous enough. Briefing students on problems of “body image” and “depression” is just fine.

The one on “sexual assault/date rape” isn’t quite as politically correct as it might sound. The narrator is a woman with a friend whom she accompanies to a party. Her friend hooks up with a guy, has copious amounts of alcohol, “makes out” with the fellow for quite long time, and then the next morning thinks she might have been raped. She “thinks” she said “no,” but given her drunken stupor can’t be sure.

When the monologue ends, students are informed in an “Interim” [sic] that a woman can’t legally consent to sex when she is drunk. This doctrine does no woman much good, since only a tiny proportion of women who acted so irresponsibly will report the “rape” (or rape, if she really did say “no”). But as a warning about what can happen if you are plastered and fooling around with a guy, this is a worthwhile exercise.

Likewise, another monologue features a male actor talking about the difficulty of resisting pressure to consume alcohol.

Discouraging Illicit Sex – Among Heterosexuals

There is a monologue that discourages illicit sex. The narrator, a woman, has been going out with a guy for a few weeks, likes him a lot, and wonders whether she should “take the relationship to the next level.” Her friends, several of whom have had casual sexual “hook ups” with guys, tell her “go for it.”

At that point a statement is read saying that Marquette, as a Catholic institution, believes in sex only within marriage. There have to have been at least a few smirks at this.

But more compellingly, the voice of the girl’s mother is heard, telling her “your dad and I raised you with really strong values” and “remember where you came from.”

Getting More Controversial

One monologue has the moderator, a white male, talking about “James,” his black roommate. He is at first worried that he might “say or do the wrong thing,” but thinks “people are people,” and the two get along great.

But then his black roommate opens up about some things that bother him. Two women moved their purses when he got on an elevator, apparently apprehensive that the fellow might snatch one of them. In a class discussing Jim Crow laws, students all turn to the student and ask questions, assuming that since he’s black, he’s an expert on all things racial.

The white narrator concludes that “after living with James and watching him get hurt, I could see that race does matter.”

Gay Guy in Chemistry Class

The next narrator, a male, talks about “Jason,” a fellow he met in Chemistry class, who is helping him with his homework. He finds out that “Jason” is gay, and has that confirmed when Jason answers his cell phone and (rather gratuitously) tells him that it’s his “boyfriend” who called.

“Jason” explains to the narrator that he’s unhappy with people saying “queer” or “faggot” to denote homosexuals, or saying something is “gay” when they mean it looks odd.

The narrator talked to his residence hall minister, who “said that the church embraced everyone, that Jesus loved people without passing judgments, and that he should do the same.”

The problem with this, of course, is that the Church does embrace everyone (including, for example, adulterers and racists), but it doesn’t “embrace” them by saying that sin is not sin.

Marquette certainly has an interest in seeing that gay and lesbian students don’t face a hostile environment, but it should never condone homosexual sex.

In fact, Marquette implicitly (but clearly) does condone homosexual sex. Homosexuals are treated as a politically correct victim group to be pandered to, and not a group of people who face temptations they need support in resisting. Interestingly, Freshman Orientation is willing to discourage (if rather tepidly) illicit straight sex (see above), but won’t do the same with homosexual sex!

The narrator in this monologue reports that “Jason” says that it was acceptable to make fun of blacks a generation ago, and that a century ago women were considered “lower class.” The narrator concludes “I am going to have to learn about people who are different from me.”

Translation: if you hold to the Catholic view of homosexuality you just don’t “know enough,” and are like racists or evil patriarchal males who kept women down.

Discussion and “Taking a Stand”

Students are then herded into small groups, and led in a discussion of what they have seen. Then they are required to “take a stand” by responding to a series of questions. They must move around the room, moving toward one side or the other, depending on which side of the issue they take, and how strongly they feel.

Janz has supplied us with the list of questions. The ones actually used will vary, and will never include all of the following. There is neither time nor patience for that.

1. The monologues made me think about issues that I haven’t dealt with before.

2. I feel comfortable living in the city.

3. I would feel comfortable choosing not to drink when my friends are.

4. I feel like race is not an issue in 2010.

5. I would feel comfortable going to the counseling center for help.

6. I would feel uncomfortable if a homeless person approached me.

7. Only women are victims of sexual assault.

8. I know how to react when asked for money.

9. I would be comfortable if I (or one of my friends) dated someone of a different race.

10. Being gay is a choice that people make.

11. People who have body image issues only care what other people think.

12. Because of past oppression, people of color should have more scholarship opportunities.

13. There is no such thing as bisexuality.

14. I feel people who are sexually assaulted bring it upon themselves

15. People do things that they don’t really mean when they are intoxicated.

16. I would not mind having a gay roommate.

17. I can always tell when a person is depressed.

18. People who ask for money are lazy and unwilling to find work for themselves.

19. Being intoxicated is an excuse for me to not take responsibility for my actions.

20. I would feel comfortable living with someone of a different race.

21. People should not use medication to fight depression or other behavioral mental disorders.

22. Only women are concerned with body image.

23. Men who cannot handle stress are weak.

24. College is a time to let loose and party.

To hear Student Affairs bureaucrats tell it, this is all a warm and fuzzy exercise in sharing feelings and perspectives. Janz claims that “students are encouraged not to take a ‘politically correct’ position, but rather an honest reflection of their feelings.” Julie Murphy, who runs the program, claims the purpose of the exercise is to “show students that students come from multiple perspectives and multiple backgrounds.”

People in Student Affairs may actually believe this, but the pervasive political correctness of that bureaucracy comes through both in the instructions given group leaders, and the instructions given students.

Group Leaders

On the one hand, group leaders are told to “be respectful” and levy “no criticisms.” But they are also told to “realize that some people know more than others and that everyone is in a different place concerning diversity issues.” Note the condescending premise here: students who give the “wrong” response are just “less advanced” and “know less” than their more politically correct cohorts and group leaders.

Then there is this stunningly condescending observation: “It’s okay that you come from a small town.”

Suppose a group leader disagrees with a student? The leader is instructed: “confront ideas, not people.” The presumption seems to be that a green freshman who has his or her “ideas” confronted is not going to feel put down.

Suppose a student doesn’t want to face such “confrontation?” He or she is told “please don’t withdraw from the conversation.”

Stay Off the Line

Then when students are told to take a position, they face an environment that is equally threatening – at least, it is if they harbor unapproved attitudes. It might seen safe to stay in the exact (moderate) middle of the room, but students are instructed that “you may not step on the line of neutrality.” Group leaders are told “with each statement have a person from each side share why they feel the way that they do.”

Translation: you may be called upon to defend your position, and if you are on the side of the minority, you are especially likely to be called upon. Thus, no matter how much warm fuzzy rhetoric group leaders use (they are instructed to tell students that “this is a safe place”) it’s a very challenging place for students with politically incorrect attitudes.

One source (a social conservative) who participated in the process told us “because they are freshmen, and because they are a little bit intimidated, I feel a lot of students aren’t standing on the side they would stand on if they were by themselves or were with friends.” And further: “I know when I was a freshman it was very difficult for me to stand on the side that I thought was morally appropriate. . . .”

At the very end, students are instructed to “establish an action plan” detailing “what is your obligation.” Apparently, “my attitudes are just fine and I don’t need no stinkin’ plan” is not an approved response.

Student Affairs Responds

When we raised these concerns with Janz and Miller, Janz reacted like a defensive bureaucrat committed to the program. We pointed out to him that if the distribution of opinions in the “Take a Stand” exercise is lopsided, it pressures and singles-out students on the minority side. He responded that sometimes the distribution ought to be lopsided. He mentioned racism as an example.

(Our response what that we don’t want to pressure racists either, although hopefully we could educate such people.)

But the notion that racism (or homophobia) is behind all politically incorrect attitudes lurks in the background of these exercises.

Ironically, some of the monologues might cause students to take a superficially “racist” position. Consider, for example, the white student who had “James” as a roommate. Starting out as a naïve kid who just thought that “people are people,” he had to deal with the fact that “James” had been hurt, and was sensitive to all kinds of racial slights. He might decide that a black roommate is a challenge he’s not up to, or even that “James” deserves a black roommate who would “understand.”

Chris Miller seemed much more open to criticism of the program, insisting that he would like to hear from students who have felt pressured or coerced. He insisted that “the conservative voice needs to be heard on campus.” He quite readily agreed that students who hold Catholic views on sexuality should not be derided or demeaned.

Miller seems to be much more open and flexible than the former Vice President for Student Affairs, Fr. Andy Thon. Of course, we have toyed with the idea that Miller is neither, but merely much smarter and shrewder. For most purposes, it doesn’t much matter. He’s a much better person to hold the position.

The Ultimate Protection

One thing protects a lot of students from all this: they blow it off. In spite of the fact that this stuff is labeled “mandatory” in the Freshman Orientation program, a fair number of students just skip it.

Until and unless Student Affairs revises the program, stressing useful information and removing coercive charades, that’s exactly what we would recommend.

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5 Comments:

Blogger J. Pat said...

Why do we believe what we believe? I coordinated the Confirmation program at our local parish for almost 10 years. With each new group, I started with a question: “Why do you want to be confirmed?” I have immense respect for this “rite of passage” to becoming an “adult” within the Church. Knowing most young Catholics are Catholic because their parents are Catholic, Confirmation becomes almost meaningless unless the confirmandi have some understanding of the commitment and make it as an enlightened personal decision. Tough to suggest when those involved are “only” 13 or 14 years old.

The “Take a Stand” exercise served as the foundation for one of the required retreats each year; it was viewed as part of the initiation. As you might guess, it caused some controversy because of the age of the participants and the fact the issues were often more personal than those mentioned in the above blog. How does someone take a life-long stand on the catechism if they truly do not understand the issues, have not dissected those issues, have not debated those issues, and maybe most importantly, not learned to defend that commitment. I suspect if you believe 18 or 19 is too young to deal with peer pressure, you’ll think I was half crazy, but I have had many of those young teenagers now young adults come back after several years and say: “Thanks for making me think!”

Please allow me to suggest one of the problems with our educational system is the concept of filling young minds up with extensive information but failing to force them to think. The system is set up to answer, “How much do I know?”, but does little to monitor, “How much do I understand?”, “What do I think?”, “Where do/did I get my information?”, “What do I believe?”, “Why do I believe what I believe?”, and again maybe most importantly, “What am I passionate about?”! If our educational process is not a call to action, the hope for improvement, the hope for change is lost. If we do not have the courage to ask ourselves “Why?”, how do we ever gain the confidence to defend our faith or anything else we believe? How do we ever believe strong enough to make us take action on what we believe? If you are willing to take a stand for what you believe there will always be times you find yourself in the minority.

It is never comfortable to question or have questioned our core values, but it is the path to growth. As a university administrator for 15 years who taught classes in the psychology and counseling department and a father of two college graduates and a daughter who will finish in 2011, I have never had a young person say thank you for all the information you gave me, but I hope to continue to hear from those who were pushed to think. I hope my children will continue to question themselves, to learn and to grow. I have no doubt those with whom I’ve had the opportunity to share “Take a Stand” moments have a little more confidence to defend why they believe what they believe.

I applaud the Student Affairs staff at Marquette for pushing young people to think. My impression of this site is that it was established to encourage students to think for themselves and be willing to speak out in support of those thoughts. Why not encourage that from the first day of freshman orientation, and hopefully continue to massage it throughout your higher education experience.

J. Pat Newland
jpat@coldellbanker.com

12:58 PM  
Blogger david said...

I'm proud to count myself among the students that blew this program off in the fall of '02 before ever hearing of John McAdams.

This program is indoctrination and what's worse, it's a 'wolf-in-sheep's-clothing.' Frankly McAdams, as a conservative leader on campus, "what have you done for me lately?" on this issue.

Until you take it to the streets (to the entrance of the auditorium) as incoming freshmen arrive for "Take A Stand" and let them know about the 'thought reform' and even more, the absence of consequences for blowing off a mandatory orientation exercise, you simply haven't done much for me lately.

A blog post on this ain't cuttin it, especially with your proximity to the campus and the fact that you have the ear of sympathetic and right-minded (no pun) upperclassmen who could organize and protect incoming students from this b.s.

Take a stand. (pun)

9:28 PM  
Blogger Joseph Fromm said...

Just plain weird!

8:49 PM  
Anonymous John R. said...

A long ago grad and onetime student of McAdams, I see the fatal flaw in the "take a stand" statements is a failure in logic.

If you change any statements beginning "People" with "Some people", you could have a real dialogue. Others could be changed with better definitions. A few are simply intended to undermine healthy, good opinion.


This is VERY wrong from any institution of learning, where one expects to be furnished with the tools to see through propaganda not be victims of news-speak. We ought to begin Freshmen orientation with an intro logic course, followed by a dissect the faulty logic and false assumptions of each of these "Take a stand" propositions.

By rewording any of the statements, it can become articulate a position that is defensible. Not a single proposition as written is well worded, not one. The administrators at MU should be hung with millstones. What can I say? What a scam! To rob parents of so much money and set students awry from day one with such faulty logic.

7:28 PM  
Blogger John R said...

I've decided to go through the "stands" to better illustrate my point. I noted immediately upon beginning that all would be better posed as questions. And for real thinking the harder questions are always better for real debate since few have pat answers provided. Others have clear answers in Catholic teaching much ignored in the "stands".


Passing on 1 and 2, I proceed to:

3. I would feel comfortable choosing not to drink when my friends are. -- Doing the right thing is often uncomfortable. Using terms terms of feeling and emotions dismiss the moral and legal questions, and moreover does no help in distinguishing between moderate and immoderate drinking nor any reference to Catholic teaching therein.

4. I feel like race is not an issue in 2010. -- The word "issue" is vague. Moreover, that there are many races in America since the founding is a fact and therefore not debatable except among the ignorant. A better question might be "What is race discrimination?" Is it unjust? If unjust, is it still unjust race discrimination a state or private matter? Should it be? What kind of discrimination is appropriate or should all our actions proceed with no discrimination of our faculty of judgment? Have you ever discriminated between good and bad in any deliberate action you've made in your life?

5. I would feel comfortable going to the counseling center for help. -- Do you know who is at the counseling center? Are they practicing Catholics? Are any priests who might offer spiritual direction? Can I get confession there? Why would someone go there? What is the definition of normal among mainstream psychologists? What does this definition mean? What does it not mean?

6. I would feel uncomfortable if a homeless person approached me. --
And who wouldn't: again the stress is on feeling and emotion, not thinking and choice in spite of emotion. The question is what would you do? What does our faith call us to do?

7. Only women are victims of sexual assault. -- Are women ever guilty of enticing assault? What is modesty in dress? in speech? in behavior? Why have it? What is concupiscence? What precautions should be taken by women and administrators at MU to prevent assault besides encouraging students to "stand up" during orientation?

8. I know how to react when asked for money. -- Asked for money when? and for what? What does the administration recommend? Why? When is money appropriate? Is almsgiving a matter of institutional and public responsibility only or am I called to be personally responsible for a stranger who may be Christ in disguise? Do you have any Scriptural basis for your position? What do Eumaios and Telemachus do in the Odyssey? What does Polyphemus do? What do other characters do? Do you know what the Odyssey is? Do your professors?

9. I would be comfortable if I (or one of my friends) dated someone of a different race. -- Again a question of feeling when the real matter is a question of whether it is right or wrong.

10. Being gay is a choice that people make. -- Of course "being gay" already insinuates that it is not a matter of choice or becoming. Again what does the Church teach? What does biology say? What do former sodomites have to say on the matter?

11. People who have body image issues only care what other people think. -- Here a trap: certainly some people do, and vanity thy name is woman.

12. Because of past oppression, people of color should have more scholarship opportunities. -- Should the race that were once enslaved in the Southern and some Northern states still be denied an authentic education of the heart and mind after all these years? Or should instead we all be denied such education and endure an even worse slavery?

8:56 PM  

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