Freshmen: Here Are the Friends and Values We Want You to Have

For years, some colleges assigned new students roommates from different regions, races or classes. The idea, not very controversial, was to broaden the horizons of freshmen.

Now a more intrusive version of that plan has turned up via the University of Denver, where the chancellor believes a bit of social engineering will push students toward a diverse range of friendships. The chancellor, Rebecca Chopp, argued, “I don’t think it is enough to leave new relationships to chance. … Let’s cultivate practices in which students make friends not by chance but because we are cultivating friendships around community values.”

This idea does not always go well. In 2006, the University of Delaware infamously issued before-and-after surveys to find out whether students had become more willing to date people of any gender, race, ethnicity, or religion following the Office of Residence Life’s intervention, which it called a “treatment.”

Toward that end, mandatory one-on-one sessions with resident assistants asked students to reveal, and then discuss, their “sexual identity.” But this wasn’t enough: college men were putting up “a higher degree of resistance to educational efforts” than the women. Thus, one Delaware dorm hired “strong male RAs.” This kind of 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.”

At Delaware, the “community values” being pushed by the university were, for example, this version of anti-racism:

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.

Fortunately, Chancellor Chopp’s ideas are more like Cass Sunstein–style “nudges” than like Delaware’s “treatment.” In addition to requiring students to have roommates selected by the university, Chopp would support year-long “orientation programming,” perhaps mandatory, to ensure that students are having enough diversity in their contacts with others.

It may seem valuable, as Chancellor Chopp has put it, for colleges to be “cultivating social and intellectual skills in the context of community. Let’s … think consciously about how students are developing their character and wisdom.” But that sounds manipulative. Asking freshmen to share a room with a roommate with a different background seems harmless. Guiding students toward values the college thinks they ought to have sounds too much like Big Brother.

Adam Kissel

Adam Kissel

Adam Kissel is an independent scholar living in Arlington, Virginia.

33 thoughts on “Freshmen: Here Are the Friends and Values We Want You to Have

  1. I guess that explains why DU put my non-partying son with a major drug dealer and then chose not to do anything about it. He didn’t get into any trouble. Now that is worth a $60k education!

  2. So, these “strong male RAs,” are they strong enough to explain to the police how that child pornography got onto their personal computers?

    What about the Chancellor? Is she that strong?

  3. So, my dad had his ancestry checked using his DNA and it turns out that I’m 99% European and 1% African.

    Does this make me not racist? If not, at what percentage of European descent would the not-racist label kick in? If I were to have children with a 99% African/1% European woman, would our kids be racist as a 50/50 mix? Or must you be majority non-European to be considered not-racist?

    And if that doesn’t clear me and I am racist by definition, how can I ever not be a racist? I’m assuming I could be a racist who does not act in a racist manner, but only if a non-European person were able to judge my actions as non-racist. But what if two non-whites disagree on whether my actions are racist or not? Perhaps the one with the lowest amount of European DNA would automatically win.

    I’m getting very close to the point of saying, “OK, you say I’m a racist? That I can’t not be a racist? If that’s the case, I’m a racist, then. You defined me – why shouldn’t I live up to the label? I just can’t help it… I’m as much a victim of this as you!”

  4. When I was in college (arguably in the Dark Ages), students were encouraged to attend mixers in dorm lobbies, student unions, etc., in order to meet people from different backgrounds and opinions. Even in the cafeteria, or classrooms, or at sporting events, it was possible to make friends and get to know people you might never have met otherwise.

    Meeting a stranger who is to be your roommate was uncomfortable enough. Forcing young people to room with people completely outside their comfort zone is asking for trouble, and probably reinforcing stereotypes because of unintended conflicts.

  5. It is a challenge to get students, especially freshmen, to accept new ideas that directly conflict with what is projected in the (usually incorrect) media……now we’re worried about whether they have the “correct” attitude about personal concerns?! I’d be happy if I could convince my psychology students that the science is NOT limited to what Dr. Phil and his kin do on TV and that just because someone has a website doesn’t mean the information they’re offering is true beyond the owner’s opinion……..

  6. This is not an entirely new idea. In the 1970’s Princeton University explored an initiative drafted by their Committee For Undergraduate Life (CURL) that explored similar attempts social engineering. That plan included university assigned roommates, dining tables and other planned social engagements to better mold the student’s experience.

    The plan was not implemented after some students and many alumni questioned whether this was appropriate treatment for legal adults, thought to be among the nation’s brightest.

  7. Sounds like the kind of “re-education” Communists used to impose on countries they’d just taken over.

    Why on earth would anyone *pay* a school to put them through *that*?

  8. “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.”

    This is an opinion. Any college treating it as a fact is guilty of malfeasance. I suggest a class action suit against the University of Delaware for all their white male students during the time of this false proclamation.

  9. So will Chancellor Chopp insist that full-paying foreign Muslim students share rooms with Jews and homosexuals to broaden their diversity?
    (Crickets.) Thought not.

  10. Back in the mid-80s when I was in college, we hadn’t even dreamed of this level of behavioral indoctrination yet. I would get in so much trouble if I had to endure college these days.

  11. May I recommend a school where education matters most? St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, provide excellent educations without such nonsense.

  12. I remember a lecture by a guest speaker when I was in college that included the idea that whites are “inherently racist.” That’s the term she used. A student (much braver than I) stood up and asked a question during Q&A. He was very sneaky. The first thing he did was agree that whites were inherently racist and there probably wasn’t anything they (this student was of Indian descent) could do about it. He asked if there were any others that had the same flaw, if they overcome it, and how? The speaker said that the Jews had a similar problem when it came to the Arabs (of course she did), but that was a religion, not a race. The student then pointed at the white guy sitting next to him and, paraphrasing, said “So what you’re saying is that he – because of his race – is inferior to me. Got it.” and sat down. The speaker was not pleased.

  13. My daughter went to Rice University where the school paired her up with a roommate. I suppose it would be considered a diversity pairing. Illinois-Texas, white-black, outgoing-quiet. They became and still are great friends. I believe this was due to important commonalities. Oldest children from families of four children, Conservative Catholic-Conservative Baptist, Engineer-Architect major, Self employed entrepreneur parents. Diversity works only when certain core commonalities (character traits) exist.

  14. You are a gentle when it’s all about calculation and manipulation.

    BA! I say. Attend “Renold’s Online University” and ditch all that dumb Orwellian BS.

    That’s the ways to be an informed consumer instead of a slave or stooge.

  15. My sophomore year at Penn State was made very interesting by random roommate assignments. Down the hall from me were an Arab nationalist (a nasserite back in the day) and a Jew with a strong Zionist viewpoint from Philadelphia .
    The rest of us on the floor thought we needed to be issued blue helmets because we were a peacekeeping force. On more than one occasion we had to pile into the room when the “discussion” between the two roommates shot past heated. It never got to violence, but it did get well past polite.

  16. I’m confused. Why aren’t colleges broadening horizons by assigning male/female roommates? You mean that’s not what students and their parents want? SEXISTS!

  17. “Asking freshmen to share a room with a roommate with a different background seems harmless. ”

    No. Wrong.
    First, it’s not “asking”, it’s imposing.
    Second, it can create friction and conflict. People prefer to associate with people who share similar values, and the more intimate the association the more important this preference is. When choosing roommates, students want to minimize conflict and maximize harmony.
    Third, it’s none of their d*mn business. They should not be playing social engineers–or dare I say kommissars.
    A “nudge” deserves to be returned as a kick in the teeth.

  18. So I trust the Turks and Greeks are rooming together. As well as Pakistani and Indian students. Jews and Muslims and why not male and female captains of the athletic teams. Are the bathrooms and showers all unisex? Because you know, diversity an all that.

    1. “why not male and female captains of the athletic teams. Are the bathrooms and showers all unisex? Because you know, diversity an all that.”

      Hey hey hey…let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

    1. It’s romanticism:tin-pot authoritarianism likes to believe that uncongenial roommates become life-long friends, like O’bama and Patrick “Coupe”Duvall. That forced familiarity cab also breed contempt seems to have been dropped from the syllabus.But this supposes policy is the natural outcome of the campus authoritarian’s long standing belief that there is no right of free association not subject to amendment for their own convenience.

    2. College should be teaching people how to think.

      How quaint! You are living in the past. One day soon such talk will get you sent to the gulag.

    3. Well, this college is teaching people to make, if they can, the people who are making them feel a certain way feel a certain way themselves. Not a good way.

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