We had a post a few weeks back about the RHA’s social justice-diversity-sustainability training program and examined its impacts in context of theUniversity of Delaware’s own program which, when implemented in 2007, quickly drew the attention of The FIRE because of its heavy-handed, ideologically-driven approach and was subsequently dismantled. Thanks to the help of a certain disenchanted member of the RA community (alias yet to be determined), we now have the pleasure of sharing with you all the official RA training program for the Fall 2010 semester. Before delving into our cursory analysis of the document, it bears emphasis that it is exclusively available to RAs. That is, residents are neither granted access to the document nor are RAs supposed to tell their residents that their programs have been planned around the “learning objectives” defined therein. Without further ado, here’s a few quick points below the fold:
1. The shroud of secrecy around the program is curious, to say the least. There’s really nothing especially damning, mostly because we have no reason to believe, at least in the absence of anecdotal evidence, that the “learning objectives” and programming recommendations necessarily correlate to the reality of the situation. Nevertheless, it’s not wholly surprising, given the post-Delaware paranoia of like-minded RHAs.
2. Right off the bat, there are indications of who’s pulling the strings. The “Take Action requirements” mentioned on the first page are evidently subject to some sort of oversight by the community directors. Further, RAs are required to document their programs on a mysterious “web-based Program Tracker system.”
3. It goes without saying that the “Learning Outcomes” defined on page two are by no means universally accepted. Sustainability is defined as entropy-defying “perpetual and cooperative environmental, social, and economic systems,” and social justice is “the full participation of all groups in a community that has been shaped to meet their needs,” and one that “requires participation from all to assure that each member is physically and psychologically safe and secure, and has equitable access to resources and opportunities” [emphasis mine]. That’s an awful lot of extrapolation. We’ve made this point before, but the unsustainable pervasiveness of these terms in higher-ed speak has left their meanings wholly malleable, subject to the whims and fancies of whoever chooses to use them.
4. The training packet takes on a regular pattern from here on out. Every month has calendar of notable events followed by a list of issues and concerns and example events for each of the learning objectives, conversation topics and holidays, and, lastly, the “Take Action” checklist. The “Issues and Concerns” are farcical, and include such presumptive problems like “Adjusting to administrative red tape,” and, interestingly, “feelings of inadequacy and inferiority” caused by “discrepancy between high school status and grades and initial college performance.” Did the RHA just make an argument against the RHHE? That’s just August and September. It gets better. I’ll refrain from sharing the more comical ones here, because, frankly, this post would never end. The take-away is that RHA apparently does not hold its residents in very high esteem; they’re helpless, subject to paralyzing concern regarding friends, family, and finances, and must be saved.
5. The “Take Action” plans at the end of every month are the most concerning parts of the training program. Each month, RAs are required to create a bulletin board geared towards one of the learning objectives, carry out conversations with three residents, the content of which must be reported on the sheet itself, collaborate on an “active” (read: required) hall-wide “Learning Outcomes Experience,” and hold a community building event. The checklist is the strongest evidence we have that every official Residence Hall event must be targeted towards one of the learning objectives, though its by no means definitive.
That’s all for now. It’s pretty clear from what we have access to that the UA’s program is nowhere near as insidious as Delaware’s now defunct version. Nevertheless, the point remains that, despite the actual ideas subscribed to, the RHA is trying to shape culture in Residence Life. Of course, this reflects the trend in higher ed generally. Learning, instead of being confined to the classroom, should be implicit in all interactions between student and University official, trained professor or not. Just in case the dangers of such an approach are not clear, from the archives:
…using state institutions to inculcate particular values and mould the zeitgeist to square with a pre-packaged, pre-approved set of beliefs, regardless of how innocuous they may be, is a danger in and of itself and at odds with the most basic premises of liberal democratic society. Some people will have values and opinions that you disagree with and indeed even find offensive, just like some other people may have values that match your own. This is how a free society works and in that society, the university should value above all else free discourse, free thinking, and free minds. Explicit attempts to shift the discussion in one direction or the other (we’d be making the same argument if Student Affairs and the RHA were trying to convince dorm residents to drink before noon on a regular basis, read the Desert Lamp, and be cynical about all things political), are, to put it frankly, antithetical to the most fundamental principles of a free society. And as a semi-reputable academic institution in such a society, ensuring the health and vibrancy of the marketplace of ideas should never take a backseat to what the administration deems pertinent to their own self-interest.
Worryingly, the curricular model is not confined to the Residence Halls. Look no further than the Rec center cum- community center/mall/think tank.
The newly revamped Student Recreation Center this fall is introducing a new retail space, a Think Tank site, two massage rooms, a computer lab, a cafe and a bistro.
The additions are part of a new philosophy that emphasizes broad-based use of the facilities to encourage more students and faculty and staff members to use the space.
“What we intend to do here is really critical in terms of the increased collaboration and access to the community, both at the UA and in the Tucson community,” said Frank Farias, the assistant vice president of student affairs and UA BookStores executive director.
“We want to influence their lifestyles and help with their confidence,” Farias said. “And we want Campus Rec to be redefined as something more than a place just for physical activity.”
Another area of emphasis is tying the center’s offerings in with academics, O’Mahoney said, noting that Kidd’s responsibility also will be involving UA faculty and staff members at the Biosphere 2 and Flandrau: The University of Arizona Science Center in outdoor adventure trips.
“We sometimes feel Campus Recreation, with the physical boundaries, may be viewed by others as an island,” O’Mahoney said.
“But as far as recreation goes, there are more opportunities for experiential education. It’s an easy tie with academics,” she added. “A student doesn’t need only to be sitting in a class for learning to take place.” [emphasis mine]
The progression is clear. Part administrative power trip, part bureaucratic self-validation, the curricular movement has taken the two places on campus students are most likely to retreat to when their minds are fatigued from the daily toil in the academic sphere (and, therefore, the two places where such ideas are least likely to meet resistance)– the gym and their homes– and turned them into arenas of inculcation. More as it comes.