Campus Free Speech

American University Could Force Students to Study Oppression, Live Under It

Turning residence halls into indoctrination camps.



American University has convened a working group to "reimagine" its general education requirements: the courses that all students, regardless of major, must take before graduating. The working group's singular aim, it seems, is to force all students to study "oppression" ad nauseam—in the form of mandatory education about inequality, colonialism, slavery, marginalization, and privilege.

The group also wants to re-organize AU's residential facilities so that students must reside with the other people in their "oppression studies" courses. They will live under the tutelage of upperclassmen with special training in the subject, taking part in projects and team-building exercises.

In other words, AU students will not merely be forced to study systemic oppression—they will be forced to live under it.

Read this document for yourself and tell me if I'm missing something:

Complex Problems (3 credits): All students, including transfer students, must take a Complex Problems seminar. … Although many Complex Problems courses will draw heavily on the social sciences (in the analysis of such issues as inequality, social violence and health care access), others will be grounded in the sciences (climate change, dementia) or arts and humanities (art and politics, post-colonial expression).

AU Experience II (1 or 3 credits TBD): A three-credit required course, taken by all AU students in their second semester, normally with the same discussion leader and students and in the same hybrid, discussion-intensive mode as AU Experience I. … Students will explore how historical violence, such as the early slave trade and genocidal conquests, shape the contemporary experiences of marginalized groups and struggles for human rights. Class materials will consider how entrenched systems of inequality marginalize some groups and privilege others.

If budget allows, the committees recommend that all students living on campus be housed with their Complex Problems cohort. Separate AUx cohorts will benefit from the work of upper-class peer mentors, who will contribute to the group while taking a three-credit 400-level peer mentoring class. Assuming that ongoing discussions around the RiSE project lead to creation of student support teams for students in their initial semesters, these teams will be assigned to specific AUx cohorts.

The Cato Institute's Walter Olson, who first reported on the existence of the working group document, quipped, "I wonder whether they will wind up calling these mentored support teams "block committees for the Defense of the Revolution."

Olson also points out that AU is hardly the first university to contemplate turning its residence halls into George Orwell's Room 101. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education previously revealed a vast conspiracy to transform the University of Delaware's student housing into indoctrination camps.

There's nothing wrong with teaching students about oppression, but classrooms rather than dormitories are the proper setting for such an education. In the classroom, students can (ideally) challenge each other and their teachers. In the dormitories, defying the authority of the indoctrinators can feel like some kind of honor code violation and result in disciplinary action.

But maybe students should learn about oppression—if only so that they can identify clumsy attempts to impose it on them.