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    I don’t even know what to call this

    I love Erin O’Connor (what I know of her from her blog, that is) to death, but I hate opening her site because what she reports always makes me want to punch something. Get a load of this:

    The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire has forbidden RAs (students who work as residential assistants) from leading Bible-study groups in their dorms. Administrators claim they are compelled to forbid RAs from engaging in this activity because RAs who lead such groups risk seeming “unapproachable” to the students entrusted to their care.

    Last summer, RAs who had been leading Bible study groups in their dorms–not as official dorm activities, but privately, on their own time, in their own rooms–received a letter from Associate Director for Housing and Residence Life Deborah Newman forbidding them to continue and threatening them with disciplinary action if they did. When one RA questioned the edict, Newman informed him that “as an RA you need to be available to your residents both in reality and from their perspective.” The suggestion is not only that students who work as RAs don’t have the same First Amendment rights that other students have, but also that religious RAs are off in some nether world, and that leading religious study groups violates in some manner their obligation to live in “reality” and to share their residents’ presumably godless “perspective” on life. Newman has also forbidden RAs to lead Koran- and Torah-based study groups.

    She also links to FIRE’s report on the matter.

    When I entered college, I was a creationist. None of this wimpy-ass, evolutionist-placating Intelligent Design crap, either–the religion I was brought up in believed that the Genesis account of creation was only marginally non-literal. That is (IIRC), the order of events was accurate, but since length of time doesn’t bind God as it does us, the actual space between the steps was not necessarily what we humans, with our limited understanding, would know as a single day. I’m probably misrepresenting it somewhat–ten years of Japan-dwelling atheism and you get a little rusty–but that was the basic idea.

    Anyway, my point is, both RAs I had the two years I lived in campus housing were very, very liberal. I think they were both atheists. But aside from the occasional Saturday when, coming back from church services, I’d be teased good-naturedly for being the only person on the hall who wasn’t rising for the first time that day after nursing a hangover, it was never an issue. Yes, our differences in beliefs also emerged when we were discussing academic or intellectual issues, but it was a university, so I guess we just figured that, you know, that was what was supposed to happen. I would have found it incomprehensible if someone had asked whether I found Elise “unapproachable” because she was pro-abortion or Bob’s “perspective” alienating because he didn’t like my letter to the editor about some retarded column saying David and Jonathan were gay. (If you think I don’t like gay leftism now, you can imagine what I was like when I was a conservative Christian!) What the hell does that have to do with a burned-out light bulb in the bathroom or whether Professor Soandso in the biology department is a good teacher?

    Actually, I didn’t go to Penn right out of high school. My parents’ dream was for me to go to the college affiliated with our religious sect. It was in the middle of nowhere in eastern Texas (halfway between Tyler and Longview, for anyone who knows the area). I was devout at that time, too, and while I thought the academic standards were likely to be somewhat slack, it seemed a worthwhile sacrifice to be at a Godly college.

    Until I actually got there and experienced it in practice. There were some ritual pronouncements about being all Berean and proving everything by testing it against reality and counter-arguments, but in the classroom and college-run discussion groups, you were shut down immediately if you deviated from the party line. I ventured the opinion that perhaps some women might hypothetically be able to serve in combat positions in the armed forces and WHAM! I was cut off.

    After six weeks of this, I snapped. I might not have minded a frank Bible seminary, but the post-Enlightenment bait-and-switch act was more than I could take. I called my parents very agitatedly, and they sorrowfully sent me an Amtrak ticket home to Pennsylvania. I worked for a year at my high school restaurant job, reactivated my application to Penn, was reaccepted, and started gratefully the next fall.

    When, in due course, I started hearing people talking about how silenced they were on campus, I thought they were insane. These were the most stridently voluble silenced people I’d ever encountered. There was a women’s studies program. The newspaper always seemed to have at least one gay columnist. The WEB Dubois College House was expressly devoted to housing students who wanted to work for black community interests. There were arguments–real, substantive arguments over competing ideas–inside the classroom and out.

    Most of the time, my religious beliefs made me the freak, but I don’t remember more than two or three people in the entire four years I was in college being frankly disrespectful, even during that screaming match after we watched The Accused and had a discussion about rape. The idea was still in the air that people were supposed to bring their most sincere, reasoned beliefs to the table and pit them against each other. Everyone got a fair hearing, and everyone got the chance to approve or disapprove of what he heard.

    But you could already see things hardening. It was in 1993 that the Eden Jacobowitz incident occurred, after all. Now, apparently, you don’t even have to make specific remarks that could offend a given group at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. You just have to sit around reading a book that might kinda indicate something vaguely different about your “perspective” from those of unnamed hypothetical students. Oh, and you probably won’t be surprised by this from the FIRE page:

    FIRE also pointed out a 2004 article in UWEC’s student newspaper in which the Office of Housing and Residence Life praised an RA who for three years in a row staged the controversial feminist play The Vagina Monologues as an official “residence hall activity.” This praise came despite the RA’s acknowledgement that “with the Vagina Monologues…she [did not have] as much time as she would have liked for her wing.” UWEC has failed to respond to FIRE’s letter.

    Well, she was probably still approachable in spirit. It’s not as if she’d been reading the Bible, or anything.

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