More Delaware Students and RAs Speak Out
November 1, 2007
by Adam Kissel
I was an RA before they started this new curriculum at the University of Delaware. When they instituted this curriculum, they had a "you better love it, or get out!" attitude. I didn't like it, but I enjoyed making a difference in the lives of the students, so I stayed on. I saw many problems with the curriculum, and pointed them out to my direct supervisor [who] proceeded to tell me that my arguments were wrong, and that I was just stirring up trouble. I went to his supervisor … and got a similar response. Many of the former RAs who had returned were fed up with this curriculum, and any time we spoke up about it, our concerns were shot down, and we were branded as trouble makers … supervisors were selected not based on their abilities to manage dorms … but instead, those RAs who were most passionate about the curriculum got to lead the residence halls. Many unqualified people were selected as supervisors.… What concerned me the most was the focus on changing the way students think. We weren't encouraged to hold open dialog with the students until last semester because many higher ups believed that freshmen couldn't handle mature discussions. I think that they were also afraid of letting the students control the discussion. In meetings with our supervisors, we were often asked which students were most resistant to our curriculum. I felt like the secret police, *not* a mentor. They expected me to ask questions that were really personal.
We had floor meetings and one-on-ones with students, but I would never have dared asked them the questions that they are now asked. Homogeneity of thought is not required for cooperative group living. THE only mandatory sessions were about alcohol, a health center presentation about contraception because of the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, and the occasional gathering to discuss floor issues as a group.
I'm an honors student at the University of Delaware, and I have a huge problem with the way that the University has gone about its residence life curriculum. We all received e-mails yesterday stating that the floor meetings were not mandatory, just encouraged, but yet, I've had my RA call me on two occasions asking where I was when I wasn't present at one, and asking me if I would make it back in time, or when I wanted to make it up.Also, I made sure that the answers to the one-on-ones would remain private. My RA assured me that the only reason my answers were being written down was so that there would be a record stating that I had completed the activity, and I was assured that nobody would see them. Then today I come to find out that last year, the one-on-ones were read ... Nobody needs to read answers to private questions, such as when I discovered my race and sexuality. In fact, nobody needs to ask these questions of me!!
The meetings seem to be conducted in the gray area in which we still retain our right to say what we please but there is an air of apprehension for people to express personal views. Part of it is due to the fact that it is conducted in large groups, in which a mob mentality deters people from making personal statements, but responses are also deterred … by the mediator and his or her instructions from residence life and it is precisely this that is means for concern. …In one activity we were required to agree or disagree with a statement, when asked if we could abstain or be neutral, our RA promptly said that she would not proceed with the activity until everyone had taken a side. The flaw in this program was that on more than one occasion I found myself to be neutral on the statement she gave, but the nature of the program prevented me from expressing my view and forced me to take a side that I did not agree with. The RA then would pick a random person and ask them to state why they chose the side they did. She was dissatisfied with no comment and would make the entire floor wait while the person came up with a response. Nonetheless, by the end of the program everyone was forced to take a side they might have disagreed with and everyone at some point was forced to justify their choosing of the side they did, and I say forced because refusing to justify oneself was not acceptable. I would like to clarify, before we go any further, that this is a fault of the program not the RA, she was merely a mediator in this case. This brings to light another major flaw; that much of the program is forced upon us and we are forced to respond. …[In my one-on-one,] 2 of the six questions asked me to recall the precise moment I discovered my sexual identity and my race. Not only are these questions very prying, but I could not come up with an honest response so I lied as the program is dissatisfied with no comment answers. …
The way you conduct the meetings is confronting and probing. You routinely pick out individuals who volunteer to answer your questions and participate in your activities and accost them in a prying and belittling tone. These are the individuals that would normally be making the meetings engaging and interesting. But your behavior discourages participation, and it simply makes the atmosphere more tense. There is no sense of comfort. It just makes the whole meeting feel like a condemning sermon is being delivered by our R.A. It also destroys any trust that has built up between you and the other residents. If someone at a floor meeting brings up an idea, the appropriate response by the R.A. would be to encourage and facilitate discussion of the topic. This is not to be done in a probing way that belittles the originator of the idea and crushes him or her into retracting his statement. It's your choice. Which way do you want your meetings, your curriculum, and your personality to come across?The other major issue is that our floor was lied to (i.e. misled to achieve the goal of increased participation in floor meetings) by you, Residence Life, our hall director, and perhaps other parties. We were told that floor meetings are mandatory events we are required to attend. This a major issue that creates even more mistrust between the residents and Residence Life. It is not until now, over two months into the semester, that anyone has made clear that floor meeting attendance is not required. Perhaps creating events that residents would actually want to attend is a better approach than creating a bunch of unengaging, worthless activities and then dubbing them "mandatory." …Why can't we make the one-on-ones simply a sit down and chat time when each resident can get to know the R.A. and form a more personal, more trusting, relationship? I think that would be more valuable in the long run than me telling you when I discovered my sexual identity, or when I was first made aware of my race. Taking this approach you would actually know the important stuff about each resident. You would get to know personalities and goals, and you would get a sense for how all of your residents are enjoying college. It would be far more valuable to both of us than me telling you about a time when I confronted someone about an issue of diversity.