Brainwashing In Academe: The Resident Assistant's Tale

As a Resident Assistant (student counselor) in an undergraduate dorm in a well-known Catholic university, I was anything but surprised at Kevin Carter's recent article "Brainwashing Backfires in Academe". The diversity training in which Carter was forced to participate is a staple of student activities at universities spanning the country. And it's even worse from the inside.

As a student employee of the university, I have been force-fed diversity indoctrination non-stop.

When I first interviewed for an RA job, a group of us were given the task of designing an ideal residence hall. Our interviewers observed our ability to work together.

When we presented our design (an ivy covered dorm, spiraling like the Guggenheim, complete with a rooftop garden and swimming pool, a small theater, game room, state-of-the-art study spaces and a printing center), our interviewers were impressed by our creativity and enthusiasm. But they asked only two questions:


  • How would you encourage any students who may not support GLBTQA to become "persons of care"?

GLBTQA?

Persons of care?

These terms were foreign to me. And context clues weren't serving me well. I stepped back and let my fellow students stumble and stutter their way through some confused answers.

None of us were hired.

Last year, I applied again for the same position and again went through the same interview process. But this time, I saw it coming. I included in my imaginary residence hall a mosque, a prayer room, a temple, a chapel, and a "rainbow room" for what I now know is the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, and Asexual community.

There wasn't room for the theater, the game room or the printing center—but, hey, I was hired.

Since my hire, I've been required to sit through nine mandatory hours of "Safe Space" training. "Safe Space" means creating a supportive environment for GLB etc. I've been given more than 70 pages of literature on how to develop "Safe Spaces".

I also received a glossary of terms that are acceptable and not acceptable to use in my position. "Boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are out, unless used in conjunction—as in "do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?", thereby avoiding the assumption of heterosexuality.

My emails, online profiles, and bedroom decorations are subject to inspection if I am suspected of violating any diversity policies.

I was told to place myself on something called the Riddle Homophobia Scale.  I chose the "acceptance" level.  As it turned out, "tolerance" and "acceptance" are still considered "homophobic" ("implies there is something to accept"). Ultimately, I was told, I should aim to find myself nurturing GLBTQA, wherein I will realize that "gay/lesbian people are indispensable to our society", and will view GLBTQAs with "genuine affection and delight," manifested by an eagerness to be an ally and advocate for their community.

I was expected to sign a statement that said, among other things:

"I am committed to educating myself and others about oppression, heterosexism, and homophobia, and combating them on a personal level. I am committed to working toward providing a safe, confident support network for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community…I am the product of a heterosexist culture and I am who I am. I do not have to feel guilty about what I know or believe, but I do need to take responsibility for what I can do now. I will struggle to change my false/inaccurate beliefs or oppressive attitudes towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."

All this at a Catholic university!

And that was just the bit about sexual orientation. A few racial and cultural lessons were slipped in as well. They were equally ridiculous. But GLBTQA issues took up the greater portion of our time in diversity and Safe Space training—interestingly, given our location in a city with a huge black and immigrant Hispanic population.

At one point, the 60+ of us were divided into "break-out" groups to discuss different problems as a group. My group was given the following problem:

"Weisia is an international student from Poland, who is beginning her [college] experience as the first member of her family to go to college. Moreover, this is her first time in the United States, and she is living with Gina, a student from an upper class, predominantly-white, suburban college prep school. Weisia brought two small suitcases with her on the airplane. Gina, with the help of her physician parents, brought a truckload of items to school, including a $50 high-speed, state-of-the-art hairdryer, a new neon-colored George Foreman Grill with 3 settings, and her entire wardrobe, including 14 pair of shoes. Within the first week of school, Weisia comes to you distraught. She has realized that she has not brought all the 'necessities for college life' with her. Gina apparently suggested that she purchase certain items, and even provided her own shopping list which included Mentadent, Kleenex, make-up, and 24-pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade, and a high-powered television antenna. Weisia only has a $20 bill with her."

We were then expected to define and address the issues within this problem, which could be located on the "wall of oppression" (a poster of a brick wall, each brick emblazoned with the a word like "ageism", "ableism", "classism", "beautyism", "racism" or "ethnocentrism").

Once we pinpointed these transgressions, we could discuss how to overcome them, and how to include the Office of Student Diversity staff.

One of the Student Diversity staff members turned to our group and said: "We're not trying to change anyone's world view, we just trying to help you understand the world differently."

No-one blinked an eye.

(The spokespeople for our group decided that, yes, this was a case of discrimination, even if the American girl, Gina, didn't realize it. Ignorance is no excuse, and the RA should take Gina aside and explain to her that intruding behavior was discriminatory and that she should share her expensive things. Ironically, my friends in the advising office tell me that if I want to have a good time, I should make friends with the exchange students. Coming to an American school is not cheap, and they usually have money to burn!)

The encouraging thing about Kevin Carter's report was the backlash he observed post-brainwashing. No such phenomena took place after my experience. The few of us RAs that have banded together—all female, the men say nothing, perhaps because many are themselves gay—quietly whisper "hypocrisy" in back corners of basement apartments. But any more than that threatens our employment.

And, for a broke college student, free room and board plus a stipend makes it impractical not to sell out our values.

Athena Kerry (email her) recently graduated from a Catholic university somewhere in America.