UNC-Chapel Hill’s Diversity Residence Is Divisive

This year, a plan for a “gender-neutral” housing complex at UNC-Chapel Hill drew lots of attention, first from the state legislature, and then from the university system’s governing body, the UNC Board of Governors. The plan was intended to permit gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered students to live with members of the opposite sex. The idea was short-lived; only four students signed up for the 32 openings, and the Governors ruled that students of opposite sexes can only share dorms if married or related.

However, had it survived, it would not have been the most extreme housing concept on the Chapel Hill campus. UNITAS (“unity” in Latin) is a housing program run jointly by the Anthropology Department, the Department of Housing and Residence Life, and APPLES, the service learning program. Focused on a single theme of “diversity,” it is part coursework, part dormitory, part extracurricular activity, part social club, and part community service—and all political indoctrination.

Its mission statement appears fairly benign, though obviously tilted toward a left-wing perspective:

UNITAS is based on sociocultural diversity and is committed to helping students discover similarities through differences. Our group actively works to challenge stereotypes and prejudice based on identities such as gender, race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation. In order to break down barriers, all residents are assigned roommates based on sociocultural differences rather than similarities.

But its emphasis on community organizing and activism and coursework that promotes hostility toward capitalism and toward white males suggests something more sinister. It appears to be part of a new trend on American campuses of using residential programs almost as radical left-wing political re-education camps. The most publicized such program was at the University of Delaware several years ago, which was, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “described in the university’s own materials as a ‘treatment’ for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs” on “politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism.”

In that program, students were forced to express views of the United States as a systemically oppressive nation and that whites are universally racist oppressors, as well as discuss intimate details of their sexuality.

UNITAS appears to be the next step in the indoctrination process: instead of taking students as they first arrive on campus and trying to shock them out of their family-, community-, and church-influenced sensibilities, the UNC program takes students who, for the most part, have already completed their first year and are somewhat open to leftist ideology, isolates them together in a specific dorm, and molds them into an activist “vanguard.” Unlike the Delaware program, which was required of every new student living on campus, it is purely voluntary.

During the time they live there, they must participate in community activities, perform community service (known as “service-learning”), and take two three-credit courses offered by the Anthropology Department.

Those two courses, ANTH 092 in the fall and ANTH 093 in the spring, are the defining element of the program; the syllabi of the two courses show the program’s real intent.

Most of ANTH 092 is spent creating an intellectual framework through highly politicized readings and discussions on diversity. Toward the end of the fall semester, the focus shifts to discussion and theoretical understanding of service learning, activism, and community organizing.

Program literature describes ANTH 092 as “constructing a toolkit for identifying and understanding oppression, and ways of working toward social justice.” The second semester—ANTH 093—is largely about putting this toolkit to use in a service-learning project, which is focused on volunteer work. The syllabus describes it as “an action-oriented framework for addressing issues of social responsibility and social justice.”

It is difficult to know exactly what occurs in the classes, discussions, and activities, but the intellectual content of the program is revealed in the main textbook for both courses: Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurienne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, among others. The choice of texts shows the program’s true colors: in assigned reading after assigned reading, there is a steady drumbeat sounding the message that all groups in our society, save one, are continually victimized by systemic oppression. The members of that one group—straight white males—are depicted as the victimizers and oppressors and as continually seeking to deviously maintain a system in which they are privileged above all others.

Racism is defined so that only whites can be racist. In a sub-chapter entitled “Racism: For Whites Only?” the president of Spelman College, Beverly Daniel Tatum, answers her own question in the affirmative. She uses a definition of racism that says it is not mere prejudice, but “a system of advantage based on race,” or rather, “prejudice plus power.” Since only whites are advantaged in our society, only they can be racist: “The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy,” she bluntly states. She adds that “all Whites benefit from racism,” just not equally so.  

By making racism, something that is now considered one of the greatest sins of our society, applicable only to one group of people, she in effect condemns that group as less worthy and more wicked than others.

And she is hardly alone in Readings in Diversity and Social Justice. In one assigned reading, entitled “How To Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It For Social Change,” a fictitious white student describes how she would like to get together with others born into privilege and discuss how “the wealth was stolen. To look at how the labor was stolen from the Chinese people and African American people and how this land was stolen from the Native Americans.”

Of course, such “theft” could only be the work of the “dominant” category of people, as defined in a chapter entitled “Identities and Social Locations.” The dominant are deemed by the system as “superior, legitimate, and privileged”; they are specifically named as “men … white … heterosexual …Christian.”

In this supposed system, everybody else is viewed as “inferior, illegitimate, subordinate, and disadvantaged.” “Maintaining this system of structural inequality requires the objectification and dehumanization of the subordinated peoples,” the authors of the chapter add. They are not discussing some time in the distant past when their assessment might have been more truthful, but are authoritatively stating their opinion—as undeniable fact—that such unfairness is the current state of affairs today. Of course, there is great evidence to the contrary—in reality but not in the textbook. After all, this is a country with a popularly elected minority president that often officially grants preferential treatment to minorities in employment and college admissions.

There is little that could be considered “balancing” in the entire book. Any human difficulty, from true suffering to minor obstacles, is attributed to the dominant group’s malice, rather than to humanity’s tragic existence. Making the book required reading can only be intended to inculcate a sense of grievance and anger in those who fall into the subordinate categories, and a sense of guilt and self-loathing among those in the dominant groups.

At times, Readings in Diversity adopts an aggressive, even militaristic, tone. In an assigned chapter entitled “Unite and Rebel!” writer Elizabeth Martinez gushes at “the electrifying capacity of women of color to organize against that common enemy across racial and ethnic lines.” The enemy, of course, is “white supremacy,” whose “forces are too strong for us to battle separately.”

The book is as antagonistic to capitalism as it is to whites. In an assigned reading entitled, “What Can We Do,” author and activist Allan G. Johnson writes that “capitalism has provided the economic context for privilege and oppression…it was the engine that drove the development of modern racism.”

Even the legitimacy of the United States itself is questioned. In an assigned chapter entitled “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” Andrea Smith, who holds a Ph.D. in “History of Consciousness,” states that “it has never been against US law to commit genocide against indigenous peoples—in fact, genocide is the law of the land.” She adds that “Whiteness operates differently under a logic of genocide than it does under a logic of slavery.”

Smith equates “whiteness” with “white supremacy”—the rule throughout the book rather than the exception.

And so it goes: racism, sexism, classism, agism, adultism, ableism: “isms” ad nauseum. Other assigned chapter titles include: “Waking Up White,” “Masculinity as Homophobia,” “Symbolic Racism,” Race, Wealth, and Inequality,” “Christian Privilege and the Promotion of Secular and Not-So-Secular Mainline Christianity,” “The Dangerous Consequences of Growing Inequality,” and many more on comparable topics.

Two themes dominate: that the U.S. has an oppressive, racist, capitalist system and that all good people must choose to help to end the system. Furthermore, the oppressive system has a face: it is white, Christian, heterosexual, and male. Where such demonization of a specific group will eventually lead, it is too soon to tell. But it is hard to see how it merits both sanction and subsidy by the state of North Carolina.

And even without its extreme politicization, UNITAS is problematic academically. First of all, what do its major elements such as service learning, activism, and modern politics have to do with the study of anthropology?

Also, there appears to be a complete disregard for academic standards; almost everybody who participates in the program gets an A for the two anthropology classes. While grade inflation is commonplace today, the UNITAS program has been unrealistically generous. Over a three-year period, out of 78 grades given for ANTH 092 and ANTH 093, 64 were As, 10 were Bs, 3 were Cs, with 1 D, for a cumulative GPA of 3.76 on a 4.0 scale. Clearly, the program lacks standards.

Recently, former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels received a firestorm of condemnation when he suggested that Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States is inappropriate for educating that state’s students. But that book is indeed too biased and dishonest for quality education. The same is true of Chapel Hill’s UNITAS program—it is malicious political indoctrination masquerading as education. 

While there is great benefit in the principle of academic freedom, with university professors in charge of their content, sometimes they can push beyond the limits of what taxpayers should permit at a public university. When academics create a program that is so deliberately one-sided, false, and divisive, it is time for the adults to take over and put an end to it.