Monday, September 06, 2010

“Take a Stand” During Freshman Orientation: Stalinist Thought Reform at Marquette

Four years ago we blogged about the tactics used by the Freshman Orientation staff in the Office of Student Development to “train” students who were charged with “orienting” new Freshmen during Freshman Orientation. We described the entire process as a “Politically Correct Boot Camp.”

We have yet to blog about Freshman Orientation itself, but the time has come.

Over the years we have gotten chronic complaints from students who feel that they have been subjected to indoctrination at Orientation. When Adam Ryback, editor of The Warrior, asked us to write a piece on that, we did, and what follows is a somewhat adapted version of that article.

First, we have to note that most of the activities at Freshman Orientation are pretty innocuous. As the schedule shows, most of a student’s time is taken up with worthwhile advising, much of it on academic matters. But then many students skip those events. It’s typically much more fun to hang around, get to know people, spend some time with parents and siblings, and just soak up the atmosphere.

But some of the events are “mandatory.” And one set of mandatory events is quite problematic. It’s called “Marquette: On Stage,” which consists of a series of monologues the stated purpose of which is to heighten the “awareness” of students about certain “social issues” they will face.

We don’t have detailed information on this year’s monologues (something we’ll explain below), but we know lots about previous years, and the program changes only incrementally.

What Is The Nature of the Monologues?

Some of the monologues are innocuous enough: one from an actor playing a student who is pressured to drink when out with friends, another from a woman with “body image” problems, and one featuring a student who has problems with depression.

But some of the monologues are from politically correct “victim” groups. A gay guy complaining that people look at him in a funny way, or a black guy who believes a woman is uneasy when he gets on an elevator with her. Indeed, there are likely to be two or three ethnic minority monologues, each with a grievance.

So how is this biased? Mainly because only politically correct victim groups are presented as facing problems with intolerance and lack of acceptance. There is no monologue from a white student who is derided as the bearer of “white privilege” (something that happens with some frequency at Marquette). There is no monologue from a future cop who has to listen to leftie professors talk about how police are “racist.”

There is no monologue from a student who is demeaned for conservative religious values – perhaps derided for believing that sex outside marriage is wrong or opposing gay marriage. But intolerance of students who support Catholic teaching is indeed a problem on campus.

This past spring, there was a huge uproar about Marquette’s refusal to hire an outspoken lesbian as Arts & Sciences Dean. Just looking at protesting students, one might think that all undergraduates wanted the lesbian dean. But a fair number were silenced by the intolerance of pro-gay students. One Marquette senior complained on an online discussion forum: “Who would post what they actually think as their Facebook status? The answer is sadly very few, because to do so is to be labeled as an anti-gay bigot . . . and a blind follower of an ‘intolerant’ religion,” and further, “fear of labels silences the traditional Catholic voice.”

But there wasn’t a monologue reflecting this student’s plight.

But just having to sit and listen to some student actors representing politically correct groups mouth some standard grievances isn’t that terrible. And one indeed should try to avoid giving offense thoughtlessly.

But it gets much worse.

Take a Stand

Unfortunately, the monologues are just the beginning. Students are then herded into small groups and required to “take a stand.” Students are asked a question about how they feel on some issue, and then required to move to one side of the room or the other, depending on their opinion. Julie Murphy claims the purpose of the exercise is to “show students that students come from multiple perspectives and multiple backgrounds.”

But that’s just not so. The real purpose is to single out and pressure students who have dissenting (non-politically correct) opinions.

Some of the questions are innocuous. Students are asked to agree or disagree with the proposition “I feel comfortable living in a city” or “I would feel uncomfortable if a homeless person approached me.”

But other questions are more politically loaded, such as “because of past oppression people of color should have more scholarship opportunities.” Or “there is no such thing as bisexuality.” Or “I feel race is not an issue in 2009” (obviously, asked last year).

Or “Being gay is a choice people make.”

Think for a moment how biased that last question is. While lusting after one’s same sex rather than the opposite sex may be pretty much fixed at any point in a person’s life, having homosexual sex most certainly is a choice. Yet for the gay lobby, saying that homosexuality is “not a choice” translates as “gay sex is just fine.”

Most of these issues have been addressed in “Marquette: On Stage,” so students know the politically correct answer and disproportionally take the politically correct side. One source told us that “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. . . .”

So if you are a Freshman and your social attitudes don’t conform to those preferred by the University bureaucrats that run the program, you will likely get put on the spot.

This, of course, has nothing to do with education, which would present both sides of contentious issues and not pressure people. It’s more like Stalinist thought reform.

Marquette Bureaucrats Conceal the Details

Although we have ample sources from previous years, we wanted to actually look at the script of this year’s “Marquette: On Stage,” and see the list of questions put to students during the “Take a Stand” exercise.

But the bureaucrat who runs Freshman Orientation, Julie Murphy, flatly refused – when we contacted her on August 19th – to share the script. Two days after that (and the day after our deadline for the Warrior piece) Vice President for Student Affairs Chris Miller wrote us, explaining that he had been out of town, and saying “I did check into this and I absolutely believe you should have access to this information.” He went on to explain that:
They (Student Development) have a practice wherein they do not distribute detailed programming information prior to the event because it is always subject to change. I believe they did in fact release information prior to an event once and at the last minute cancelled or changed the program. This did not sit well with those who really wanted the event and planned accordingly.
OK, we thought, we’ll get the script and list of questions when Freshman Orientation starts next week.

But they didn’t send it.

Then on August 26th we got an e-mail from Jeff Janz, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. He asked “Did you receive the information you were looking for?” We responded that we had not.

But then instead of sending it, he finally wrote us on September 2, saying “in follow up to our correspondences last week related to orientation activities, Dr. Miller asked that I check in to see if you might be interested in meeting with us to discuss the matter.” He suggested a meeting this coming Thursday or Friday.

Translation: stonewall.

We may or may not meet with Janz and Miller. We have participated in a couple of such meetings before when the Office of Student Development shut up the College Republicans, and they are never productive.

If OSD has a good reason for withholding the details of “Marquette: On Stage” and “Take a Stand,” we would like to know it.

Until they produce some compelling argument, the conclusion has to be that they want to conceal an exercise in indoctrination.

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Blogger david said...

What of the meeting with Janz and Miller? Did it happen?

1:04 PM  
Blogger David Casper said...


I worked on Marquette's New Student Orientation for two years back in the early 90s. For the first year I was a Group Discussion Leader (GDL), but the second year I was part of the five person NSO leadership team. My how things have changed.

I recall one of the big objectives, even if it wasn't stated outright, was to make these new students feel welcome and re-enforcing that they may a good decision in choosing Marquette. Some of the most serious topics covered were how to contact Public Safety, walking in groups, staying out of the bad neighborhoods and making sure that if you were in a basement party you hadn't just walked into a firetrap. Overall, though, you wanted to alleviate the fears these young adults had about venturing into a new and unknown part of their lives.

Most of all, you wanted them to have fun.

But by my second year of involvement everyone on the staff could see that things were changing. The Student Life folks were starting to take it too seriously, and there was a lot of rebellion among some of the veteran Orientation volunteers. I guess once the ball started rolling it was all downhill from there, because this just seems like it will make freshman more apprehensive about this next step in life.

And not at all fun.

1:26 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

What of the meeting with Janz and Miller? Did it happen?

Scheduled for Tuesday. I'll blog if anything significant happens, but I'm used to being stonewalled in these meetings. On the other hand, maybe Miller really will come through on his promise of transparency.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Phil C said...

Your campus is not the only place that outrageous activities happen during freshman orientation. I encourage you to check out where you can blog about it as well as get advice on how to increase publicity regarding the issue.

In the link posted with my name, you'll find information about the orientation sessions at my College.

Good luck.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous OSU alum said...

Many of the listed activities clearly promote cognitive intellectual development (with some dissonance), via considering that other views/experiences actually do exist and are valid.

Clearly the author is not independent and thinks in black and white--right and wrong only, with no gray area, and shows low capacity to see that people different than them have faced different issues.

The super-right wing nature of this blog comes out very strongly with calls for Catholic teaching on the campus, the thought that being gay is a choice (a very irrational thought for someone who claims to be independent), and alleging a white, Christian, straight, man be put on the spot once in their life be a terrifying experience whereas non-majority groups go through that every single day at the hands of majority groups.

The only point I can agree with is that professors who stereotype all police as racist could think a bit more about what they mean to communicate and how it comes off, since yes there are officers that are racist and yes there are those that are not.

Thinking critically is a big piece of learning that comes from college, and it looks like the authors have got some work to do, and opposing programs where others can walk in someone's shoes or where others get the chance to think critically is calling for a failure of the educational institution.

12:58 AM  

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