Interview: Greg Lukianoff of FIRE on Unlearning Liberty
MR. DRISCOLL: Is it true that the police have occasionally been called in by a campus when they believe that a student has violated a campus speech code?
MR. LUKIANOFF: Absolutely. One of the most ridiculous ones that I heard that, actually, I don't think it's in the book, was one of these programs that they have. And believe it or not, they have these very serious-minded "diversity programs" where they'll explain how great these programs are. And they had one of these -- I went to a session about the program that they had at Syracuse. And they were really trying to sell people on this program.
But it was such a ridiculous program because what it meant was paid university officials were going around reading what students had written on their dry-erase boards and then writing them down. And if they found something particularly offensive -- dry-erase boards are the little things they put on their doors to leave messages to each other -- and when they find something offensive, they would take some action against it.
But they found an Asian student -- someone had written "I like rice" on her dry erase board. So they called the police. And when the police showed up and they talked to this Asian student, she explained that she had written "I like rice" on her dry-erase board because she does, and she was kind of making a joke out of it.
And it was amazing to think that they wasted the police's time to -- and then couldn't really wrap their head around the idea that it's kind of like, yeah, someone was making a joke. This is the way twenty -- nineteen, twenty-year-olds talk. They can be self-deprecating. They can be working with many levels of irony. But nonetheless,
even -- and despite the fact that this program, by its own measures, actually increased the number -- the amount of hurtful and offensive speech within that dorm, they still thought that this was a great idea.
MR. DRISCOLL: On the FIRE web site, you have a press release that begins, "The University of Delaware subjects students in its residence halls to a shocking program of ideological reeducation that is referred to in the university's own materials as a 'treatment' for students' incorrect thoughts and beliefs." Could you talk a bit about this and explain why someone at the University of Delaware didn't stop to say, my God, calling it a treatment sounds absolutely Orwellian; maybe we should stop and think about this for a moment?
MR. LUKIANOFF: Well, if people read the book for no other reason, read it for the University of Delaware case. There's no way I can explain how horrible that case was without taking up a couple hours of explaining it. And the idea that it should have dawned on them that calling it a treatment was -- meant something wrong, they were so far gone in this entire program, I don't think that there was any, really, hope for common sense to prevail.
So the entire program was designed as a psychological treatment for all 7,000 students in the dorms. And this is not for students who have done something wrong; this is just for students attending University of Delaware. And the entire goal of it was to prevent their horribly, presumably racist and sexist students from being racist and sexist.
Now, what makes this particularly funny was they had surveyed the students about their attitudes about all sorts of issues before they came in, which is pretty invasive by itself. But the results were that this was a very tolerant, open-minded generation of students, to nobody's surprise. But nonetheless, since the residence life officials had been trained by someone named Shakti Butler, who has a program that explains that -- without any sense of irony about saying this whatsoever -- that all whites are inherently racist and that no nonwhite can actually be racist.
They saw it as -- that the duty of this program was to fix the moral illness of American society, and it included high pressure programs, like, there was a floor exercise that was mandatory, where if you -- you talked about various social issues, and if you're on the wrong side of that social issue, you went to the -- to one wall, and if you're on the right side of it, you went to the other one. Which basically equals a flat-out public shaming of people with "wrong" points of view.
But probably the creepiest part of it was that they had these mandatory one-on-one meetings with your RA. And one of the incidents that I talk about in the book, which is -- and all this is fully documented -- was a freshman girl who had to go to her mandatory one-on-one with her male RA, and she had to fill out a questionnaire about what races and sexes she would date, with the goal of getting her to be more open-minded about what races and sexes she would date.
When she got to the question, "When did you discover your sexual identity?" her answer was: “None of your damn business.” And that is absolutely an appropriate answer to give to a state employee who wants to pry into your sex life. But the amazing thing is not just that this program happened but that she actually ended up getting written up for being supposedly rude to her RA, who was asking her questions that he had no right to find out the answers to.