A few days ago, I received some troubling news from a friend. One of her friends has a daughter who is a freshman at UCLA. The daughter brought home a book she was given by the school which all incoming freshmen are given to read over the summer. They are then assigned to participate in discussion seminars regarding the book. The book is entitled, "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers. It is part of what is called the "UCLA Common Book", a book selected each year to be given (free) to all incoming freshmen. It is under the auspices of the Office of Residential Life (ORL).
"Zeitoun" is an account of a Syrian-born man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who lives in New Orleans with his American-born wife. When Katrina hit New Orleans, Zeitoun remained behind to look after his house and other properties. While paddling his boat from house to house, he is arrested on suspicion of looting and held for about 20 days in a special detention camp set up at the Greyhound bus station before being released. During his time in detention, he was reportedly called "Al-Qaida" and "Taliban" by some of his guards.
This is the book given to all incoming freshmen for this academic year. The previous year's selection was entitled, "Mountains beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. It is the story of an American doctor working in Haiti during the time President Clinton sent in the military as the Haitian military government was being pressured by the US to resign. Here is an excerpt:
Here is my concern; If these two books are given to students to give them an ideal of two admirable persons who perform inspiring deeds, then that is great. Yet, I have the feeling that the message here is that of injustice in America. What is the intention here-to inspire or to send the message to young students that America is a bad place? What is the purpose of these mandatory discussion groups? Of course, I am not in a position to accuse without seeing this program first-hand. Yet, on the surface, it smells like more indoctrination coming out of our universities. Of course, we have our dark chapters and have made tragic mistakes. We do acknowledge them, however, and educate our young about them so as not to repeat them. Yet, in too many instances, it seems that the teaching point on many university campuses is that America is a deeply flawed country in need of radical change. I disagree. I also question who is paying for all these (hardcover) books to be given to all these students.
So let's take a look at the UCLA entity that is promulgating these book assignments. That would be the Office of Residential Life (ORL) part of the Student Affairs Department and under the directorship of Suzanne "Seppy" Seplow, which would seem to be an innocuous office dedicated to administering student housing, right? Here is their web site.
What I am not clear on is how this office fits in with the UCLA Housing Department, a separate entity. Yet, ORL is clearly involved (and "works closely" with the Housing Office)on housing issues. If you peruse this site, you will see references to "social justice", which is really a modern-day code word for radical leftist change in American society. Note also the themed-housing units on campus, one for African-Americans ("Africa-Diaspora") and another for "Chicano-Latinos". That to me raises red flags. It may well be that both of these dorms are inhabited by a mix of students from different backgrounds, but if they are in effect segregated, I am against it. To me that represents a drastic step backward in terms of integration and can only result in further balkinization in American society-which seems to be the agenda of many in academia.
I am not the first to take notice of the Office of Residential Living at UCLA. Below is an article by Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars in March 2008:
Let me play Devil's advocate here. There is a plausible reason for African-American themed and Hispanic themed dorms. That is the fact that blacks and Hispanic students are under-represented in the UC system and current affirmative action restrictions exist in California that prevent admissions based on race. The thinking is that many of the black and Hispanic students on campus are coming from environments where they are not used to mixing with peers from all the other groups represented on campus and thus, have a need to be around others with whom they can relate and seek advice. One can agree or disagree with that reasoning. It is my understanding that such dorms are open to anyone from an outside group who has an interest in the particular theme. The danger I see is that the end result will be segregated units on campus and a continuation of tribalization, something I feel is not good for our society.
The final questions I have is what is the true role of the ORL, why a university housing entity is issuing assigned reading to students, and does this department have an ideological agenda that goes far beyond student housing?
Just a few simple questions.