In ‘New York Post,’ FIRE’s Robert Shibley Warns of the Perils of Freshman Orientation

By August 25, 2011

In an op-ed for the New York Post, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley issues a warning to parents getting ready to send their children off to college: Beware the intrusion into students’ freedom of conscience by the student orientation programs at many colleges and universities. As Robert discusses, such programs too often tell students what they must think about sensitive social, political, and religious issues, and do so in manipulative and invasive ways. These programs are not only creepy and morally repugnant, they violate the sanctity of students’ innermost beliefs and personal consciences.

In his op-ed, Robert first details an ideological thought reform program at DePauw University in Indiana:

Consider the shocking account from a student trained to be a dorm supervisor — a resident adviser, or RA — at DePauw University in Indiana. One of her first duties last fall was to lead her new students through a house decorated as a "Tunnel of Oppression," where supposedly "realistic" demonstrations in each room taught lessons such as how religious parents hate their gay children, Muslims would find no friends on a predominantly non-Muslim campus and overweight women suffer from eating disorders.

Indeed, in her training to become an RA, "We were told that ‘human’ was not a suitable identity, but that instead we were first ‘black,’ ‘white,’ or ‘Asian’; ‘male’ or ‘female’; … ‘heterosexual’ or ‘queer.’ We were forced to act like bigots and spout off stereotypes while being told that that was what we were really thinking deep down." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. must be spinning in his grave.

Not only does the description of this program tend to raise one’s eyebrows, consider that, as Robert points out, at least 96 colleges and universities around the country have run "tunnels of oppression" in the past few years.

Robert’s op-ed also connects this issue to the now-infamous thought reform program that FIRE fought at the University of Delaware and brings up a creepy episode from last year at Hamilton College in New York. If you are not familiar with these cases, you’ll want to read up on them on our website to get another look at how invasive these programs can be.

So what to do about the problem? Here’s Robert’s suggestion:

How to fight this indoctrination? First, warn your children or grandchildren about it — and remind them that every public college (and most private colleges) must leave students free to make up their own minds on such controversial ideas as "all white people are racists" or "all men are responsible for rape." College is supposed to teach you how to think, not what you must think.

And, for the many students who do go through a creepy orientation program, please save any documents you’re given on the program and tell us about it at FIRE (thefire.org).

Exactly right.

Our thanks to the New York Post for allowing us to shed some light on this important topic. We hope that parents and students alike will heed Robert’s words.