The Freshman Experience: Social Justice Indoctrination and Academic Handholding

It took less than a week into the 2016-2017 academic year for several outrageous stories to surface on college campuses.

At the University of Texas at Austin, thousands of students protested the state’s new campus carry law by wielding sex toys in a campaign called “Cocks Not Glocks.” The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee told students that using the term “political correctness” is a microaggression. And in North Carolina, Appalachian State University prominently placed a bulletin board on campus denouncing white, male, able-bodied “privilege” in its student body.

While those cases may have overwhelmed some new students, for many others such extremism on campus had already been normalized. That’s because each year, incoming freshmen are inundated with similar politicization and rhetoric during new student orientations and welcome week celebrations. Examples from some of North Carolina’s public universities help to illustrate the depth of the problem.

At UNC-Asheville, students are required to attend a session titled “Multicultural Awareness with Multicultural Student Programs.” Students then take a 10-minute “comfort break,” presumably a necessity after the mental anguish incurred in the session.

At UNC-Chapel Hill students participate in a session entitled “Exploring Our Stories.” The session description explains that:

Interactive Theatre Carolina will lead a workshop that will invoke thought and conversation about our personal identities and how they intersect. You will be participating and sharing in reflective conversation regarding the diversity of experiences and perspectives.

UNC-Wilmington students are required to attend sex-segregated “campus safety” sessions. Women are given tips on how to deal with unwanted attention and information on women-only “rape aggression defense courses.” Men are told “how much of a man you are should not be measured by how much you can drink.” Both men and women are given the definition of stalking, but only women are given information on how to deal with personal stalkers.

During orientation, first-year students are even encouraged to seek self-segregated living arrangements on campus. At UNC-Chapel Hill, Living Learning residence halls are designated for students who want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals. These halls include “Pride Place,” which is restricted to LGBTQ students and their allies, and “Unitas,” a house that “actively works to challenge stereotypes and prejudice based on identities such as gender, race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation.”

(Similar living arrangements at other universities have sparked controversy. The University of Connecticut was accused of racial discrimination after announcing that a new “ScHOLA2RS” residence community would provide living space only for students who identify as African-American males.)

Students’ assimilation into campus culture—and campus politics—described above doesn’t end with orientation. It continues during the week before classes start, commonly referred to as Week of Welcome. This week is intended to help students acclimate to their new living arrangements and provide an introduction to campus life, but it’s often used to inculcate a social justice worldview.

North Carolina State University’s “Wolf Pack Welcome Week” features signature events such as Respect the Pack. At this event, students make a vow to dedicate themselves to increasing “diversity” and “inclusion” on campus. In a video from the event, students explain that they “respect the Pack” by correcting microaggressions, promoting cultural competency, respecting others’ gender identity, and not “appropriating” others’ cultures.

During this year’s event, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson told students, “You are all here to pursue your dreams. And you deserve to do that in a safe and welcoming environment.”

Unfortunately, at some universities promoting such “safe and welcoming” environments and “progressive” thinking seems to be second only to coddling students academically.

East Carolina University (ECU) recently introduced a new “adulting” program designed to teach freshmen how to cope with the difficulty of college. And ECU is not alone; nine other UNC system schools require new students to take “freshman foundations” courses. These courses are designed to help students cultivate better learning habits, develop personal career goals, navigate the university, and examine social issues.

At Elizabeth City State University, for example, students are required to take a year-long course titled “Freshman Seminar” that teaches “time management skills, test-taking strategies, academic rules and regulations, and a variety of other skills…to enhance the transition from high school to college.”

Similar programs are in place at North Carolina Central University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University. And this is not an isolated trend; the National Resource Center for First Year Experiences and Students in Transition estimates that 61.7 percent of four-year institutions provide such first-year seminars.

Most universities across the country only require these courses for students deemed underprepared or at risk of failure. But many North Carolina universities require all students to take them. As a result, universities are forcing students to pay for classes that they may not need and frustrating those who would otherwise excel in a more demanding academic environment.

Besides, the “soft skills” that these orientation courses are supposed to impart should come from general education curricula, not fluff classes that promise an easy “A.” If universities took more seriously their duty to craft structured and rigorous general education programs, there would be no need for these additional freshman-specific courses. And if they raised their academic standards and refused to admit underprepared students, the problems that the courses are intended to address would go away altogether.

While cases involving indoctrination and academic handholding—already front and center in the new year—are cause for concern, some universities have taken the high road, and should be emulated. The University of Chicago, for instance, recently welcomed students to campus with a letter reaffirming its support for a free and open marketplace of ideas. The letter read:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Kudos to the University of Chicago. Too many universities are subtly and not-so-subtly teaching students to view the world through a narrow ideological lens. Meanwhile, they are pampering students academically, thereby instilling a weak work ethic in a millennial generation that desperately needs just the opposite.

Students would be better served by a freshman experience that focuses more on communicating respect for free speech, intellectual diversity, and academic rigor than on encouraging social justice zealotry, or work habits that lead to feelings of entitlement.

  • DrOfnothing

    “Women are given tips on how to deal with unwanted attention and information on women-only “rape aggression defense courses.” Men are told “how much of a man you are should not be measured by how much you can drink.”
    — How is this extreme? Are you asserting that women don’t need to know how to defend themselves against sexual assault, that men _should_ be measured by their alcohol tolerance, or both?

    “to inculcate a social justice worldview.” Please define what this entails. Are you arguing instead for a “social injustice worldview?”

    “Both men and women are given the definition of stalking, but only women are given information on how to deal with personal stalkers.”
    –presumably, this is because the limited number of female stalkers (1 in 6 women report being stalked at some point, as opposed to 1 in 19 men) don’t pose a physical danger to the men they are stalking.

    “At Elizabeth City State University, for example, students are required to take a year-long course titled “Freshman Seminar” that teaches “time management skills, test-taking strategies, academic rules and regulations, and a variety of other skills…to enhance the transition from high school to college.”
    Similar programs are required at North Carolina Central University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University.”
    “These courses are designed to help students cultivate better learning habits, develop personal career goals, navigate the university, and examine social issues.”
    –Except for the latter, what is objectionable about this? Do you oppose good learning habits and career goals?

    “And if they raised their academic standards and refused to admit underprepared students, the problems that the courses are intended to address would go away altogether.”
    –Yes, these are programs designed to help marginal students make it through. One can see, given the general Social Darwinism advocated by the Pope Center, why this would be objectionable. Before condemning these measures, it would be worth assessing to what degree they actually succeed (or fail) in increasing performance. After all, there is always going to be a proportion of any incoming Freshman class that are the least-prepared, no matter how rigorous acceptance standards are. It’s also worth noting that these courses are generally either pass-fail or 1-credit, so an “easy A” is either impossible or irrelevant, depending.

    The claim of indoctrination on college campuses really begs the question to what degree students are “indoctrinated” by media and consumer culture _prior_ to arriving on college campuses. Given the current state of racial antipathy in the US (Ferguson, the Dallas assassinations of police, etc.) it seems a denial of reality to assert that these issues should not be openly discussed and debated on US college campuses. Frankly, most students are not going to take a lot of these events seriously in any case–anyone who has ever been to college went through an orientation of one sort or another, and they are profoundly forgettable experiences. I challenge anyone reading this article who graduated more than five years ago to recall any details of their orientation beyond an awful hangover and possibly a correspondingly awkward romantic entanglement.

    What is perhaps most surprising is the assertion that, given the GOP presidential candidate is a racist, delusional, narcissist who openly advocates violating the US Constitution, somehow the encouragement of social tolerance and open-mindedness to college Freshman, along with workshops on good study habits and setting career goals, is the “extremism” we should all be concerned about!

    • goldushapple

      What’s surprising is that assertion is taken as fact and such programs for “social tolerance” are implemented.

      Try again.

      >>Far from being a rational, objective, or ideologically neutral
      assessment, this perspective seems indicative of a radically
      _Conservative_ ideology that far outstrips the “extremism” of the
      ideological stances described in this article.

      You don’t even know what’s “indicative of a radically Conservative ideology.” You’re just bothered that Pope Center holds views contrary to yours and you have some sort fetish with the site, saying such drivel. You’re projecting your own BS.

      • DrOfnothing

        Goldushapple, if you had read the other comments on this article, you would see that this one is simply factually inaccurate. I don’t object to opinions contrary to my own, though I will vehemently argue against them. More fundamental concerns with the Pope Center are accuracy, consistency, and some level of intellectual integrity–it is an ideological engine, and claiming to be fair and objective is, with each passing commentary, more and more distant. If you don’t believe that hypocrisy, partisanship, and false claims of objectivity are fundamental obstacles to the operation of an informed democracy, then we will simply have to agree to disagree.

  • bdavi52

    Right Thought — Right Speech — Right Walk — Right Dress — Right Words — Right Attitude: this is the way you must be to be here at Stepford U.

    This is not education; this is indoctrination. This is training on How to Think & Speak According to the Book of the Politically Correct. This is Big Brother.

    “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

    ““Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

    Welcome to the New Age.

  • George

    RE: “East Carolina University (ECU) recently introduced a new “adulting” program designed to teach freshmen how to cope with the difficulty of college. And ECU is not alone; nine other UNC system schools require new students to take “freshman foundations” courses. These courses are designed to help students cultivate better learning habits, develop personal career goals, navigate the university, and examine social issues.” ECU did not introduce an adulting program. As I understand it (I speak for myself, not the university), Student Affairs did create a couple of new orientation initiatives, One is about transitioning to being adults (as in, now that you are here, you are adults, so…), the other is about learning to be more resilient (just the opposite of expecting to be protected from disagreement). It strikes me that the Pope Center should welcome both of these actions. Our COAD 1000 course, which almost all universities have and which has been around for a long time, is designed to help students cultivate better learning habits, develop personal career goals, navigate the university, avoid health problems, and the like. It does not address the sorts of social issues that concern the Pope Center such as global warming, for example. The Student Affairs initiatives were mis-reported in local papers, this was picked up by F.I.R.E., and they used it to attack an imaginary “ECU Speech Code.” ECU does not have a speech code. Here is the East Carolina Creed,” As an East Carolinian, I will carry out personal and academic integrity. I will respect and appreciate the diversity of our people, ideas, and opinions. I will be thoughtful and responsible in my words and actions. I will engage in purposeful citizenship by serving as a positive role model. Adherence to these moral principles is the obligation of every East Carolinian on- and off-campus. In doing so, our individual freedom to learn and a pledge to serve will be preserved.” Our new chancellor, Dr. Cecil Staton, who was appointed by the Republican UNC Board of Governors and its new president, Margaret Spellings, had the students who attended the convocation for entering first-year students recite the creed. He paraphrases the creed as a commitment to civil discourse. COAD 1000 is all about improving retention and graduation rates, something else I think the Pope Center supports. This 1 credit course lasts for about 1/3 of a semester and NO STUDENTS ARE REQUIRED TO TAKE IT!. You write “Besides, the “soft skills” that these orientation courses are supposed to impart should come from general education curricula, not fluff classes that promise an easy “A.” Why not have a look at the ECU COAD 1000 textbook. You still might think the course is a waste of time, but you will not think it is something that should be covered in a general education course. ECU’s general education program is structured and rigorous. Go to http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/fsonline/customcf/committee/as/liberalartsfoundation.htm
    and see for yourself. You say “if they raised their academic standards and refused to admit underprepared students, the problems that the courses are intended to address would go away altogether.” Certainly some of the challenges I face in the classroom would be reduced, but that is a separate issue from how our students understand their their responsibilities, something that is not linked to academic preparation. I assume you are aware of the general take on how millennials are thought to see things? As for the U of Chicago letter, the opposition claims that the difference between them and the U of C dean is just one of wearing different lenses. Students in my philosophy of art course will be discussing that tomorrow, since it bears on freedom of artistic expression on campus. (Should the campus gallery post trigger warnings? Should the university create spaces where people are safe from art that offends them? Is the latter not just unconstitutional but also a morally inappropriate thing or a university to do?) Their assignment is to collect the most compelling reasons advanced by both sides (same number for each side). I provided them with a number of resources, but as of yesterday, this is the most balanced discussion I have found:
    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/29/u-chicago-letter-new-students-safe-spaces-sets-intense-debate
    You note that “Students would be better served by a freshman experience that focuses more on communicating respect for free speech, intellectual diversity, and academic rigor…” That is what we do at ECU.

  • Rational Muslim

    You are wrong about Winston-Salem State University requiring a “freshman seminar” that teaches about the transition to college. It abolished that a few years back in favor of “Liberal Learning Seminars”. These Liberal Learning Seminars are offered a wide range of topics. Some of those are definitely on the liberal side of the spectrum but others do not appear to be. Here is the description:

    “Liberal Learning Seminars (LLS) are designed to bring small groups of students together with faculty or staff on a regular basis. These seminars place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, reading, frequent writing, collaborative learning, and other skills that develop students’ intellectual and practical competencies. LLS bring students and faculty together in a shared process of inquiry around a broad, sometimes interdisciplinary topic or question.

    Freshmen and transfer students with less than 30 hours are required to take a LLS in their first year.”

    In addition, their general education offerings have been opened up so that there is a lot more choice. This has its downsides. Indeed, it could probably be said that it might be preferable for a little “indoctrination” in the core Western Civilization is preferable to a buffet of courses where you can choose from virtually any history class that you wish to fulfill your history requirement (for example).

  • DrOfnothing

    Let’s give Keaveney the benefit of the doubt and assume that the inaccurate statements about ECU and WSSU were honest errors rather than deliberate misrepresentations. If so, a retraction from the author should be forthcoming shortly.

    • Rational Muslim

      I agree with you completely and I certainly did not mean to insinuate that she was deliberately misrepresenting what was occurring on campus. It is difficult to know what is happening at all the campuses and instead people tend to rely on secondhand information that is frequently outdated. Correcting the record, however, is always a good thing.

  • George

    According to NC State, the article quoted what a few students said, not the university’s policies. It would be one thing if state universities hid their policies. But everything has to be on their web site, and is. True, it can be hard to find, but all you have to do is email or call and ask for the URL. State’s description of their first year experience was pretty much the opposite of what was depicted in the article.

  • DrOfnothing

    A week on and still no retraction of the clear factual inaccuracies in this article. Very, very disappointing and speaks volumes about the Pope Center’s lack of integrity when it comes to accurate portrayals of HE policy in NC and elsewhere.