University of Delaware Strains Promise of ResLife Oversight

August 28, 2008

After the University of Delaware had to retreat from its coercive thought reform curriculum in the residence halls, Vice President for Student Life Michael Gilbert promised the faculty and trustees that this year’s program would be closely monitored by a new Assistant Vice President for Student Life. The faculty and trustees approved the new, only somewhat improved, program partly because of the promise of strong oversight. The reason such monitoring is required is that the same people who ran last year’s program, especially ResLife directors Kathleen Kerr and James Tweedy, have designed and are directing this year’s program.

As I have stated before, it seems crazy to trust ResLife to act responsibly after what happened last year. The ResLife directors are the same people who pressed students (1) to reveal the origins of their sexual awakenings in private one-on-one sessions with resident assistants (RAs); (2) thought it was right to ask students to ask students, in surveys, whether they were willing to be close friends with or date people of various races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities; (3) thought it was necessary for "strong male RAs" to break the "resistance" of males with "traditional" views; (4) called their re-education battery a "treatment" for students’ allegedly incorrect thoughts, values, attitudes, and beliefs; (5) thought it was valuable to coerce students to reveal their political beliefs and then shame students with the "incorrect" views in front of their peers; (6) thought it was good practice to encourage RAs to record the names and room numbers of students with whom they had the "best" and "worst" one-on-one sessions; (7) thought they should coerce students to act out the worst possible stereotypes they could think of in a bizarre attempt to force students to show their own alleged bigotry; (8) pressed to make students aware the program was mandatory, while claiming to their superiors it was not; and (9) repeatedly rebuffed all serious concerns brought to their attentionfrom parents, students, faculty, and othersabout their "curriculum."

Gilbert told the Delaware trustees that the new Assistant VP would "provide supervision and direction" for the 2008-2009 ResLife educational program. But FIRE has learned from two independent sources that the new overseer, Dawn Thompson, will not be joining UD until early November. Dawn Thompson is currently the Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she directs a large staff.

By November, it will be too late. For one thing, the orientation activities (hopefully not like these) will be long past. Freshmen will have been on campus since August 31. For another, the one-on-one sessions with RAs (which are still featured in the program) will have been ongoing for months. The "community standards" and "behavior expectations" meetings will have occurred long ago. The "How do you define love?" discussion, which could be great or could be a coercive invasion of privacy, will already have occurred in October. (See the whole 20082009 plan here.)

Without Dawn Thompson arriving until November, it is the same people overseeing their own program.

By the way, Thompson is not entirely an objective outsider. She and Gilbert worked together in ResLife at UMass Amherst before Gilbert either resigned or was fired by Michael Gargano, Jr., in March 2005 during a very controversial period at UMass and in the UMass dorms. (See also Gilbert’s PhD dissertation at UMass Amherst on "living-learning communities" here.)

I fail to see how the program oversight will be at all effective in the fall semester. Will Thompson really be in a position to investigate student complaints on her Day One in November? Will she really be able to step in and cross swords with an ingrained ResLife establishment months into the programming? Students at the University of Delaware will need to be on guard to protect their privacy and their rights.

Schools:  University of Delaware

Cases:  University of Delaware: Students Required to Undergo Ideological Reeducation