Games or Grooming?

As a professor, I see a handful of unmitigated happy times for students on campus each year, and fall matriculation is one of them. Fall is the time when high school graduates say goodbye to their parents and begin that passage into a new phase of life called college. 

Much of the passage is eased by orientation events in the first week, activities not as hedonistic as in, say, the 1960s or 1970s, but still enjoyable by any measure—pizza parties, Frisbee, school club fairs, all to the backdrop of loud, pulsing music.

Happy times, indeed, and many folks are more than willing to help in this transition, the hardworking people who mesh the gears of orientation. These are student volunteer guides with matching t-shirts, worker-bees to help with dorm move-in, and such people of generally good heart.

But given what you already know about higher education, you knew there must be a catch. And you’re right.

Others lurk about the orientation scene too, and they are not so benign. These are the grinning glassy-eyed middle-management functionaries of “student affairs,” variously called “student life” or “student success” or “residential life,” who can’t wait to get to the meat of the agenda they call “student development.”

Let’s discuss.

College student affairs are the province of a coterie of self-appointed “educators” who arrogate to themselves much of the prestige that goes to faculty and the curriculum. Many of them are armed with master’s degrees from education schools, and they run a fake curriculum on most campuses called the “co-curriculum.” In doing so, they set themselves up as a kind of faux faculty, calling themselves “college educators.” Hopes are high that you don’t notice or know the difference.

What is usually unknown to either students or parents is that these characters have a long-range plan of “student development” that they call the “curricular model.” It may vary somewhat by campus, but it’s unusually standardized by virtue of off-campus, nonacademic, nonprofit groups with a clear and toxic agenda. This student development team consists of amateur psychotherapists with problematic master’s degrees running encounter group therapy sessions without a license.

What kinds of activities do these folks engage in to “develop” students? Let’s speak directly to the new student about the upcoming experience. 

The Social Justice Mission

Aside from organizing dorm move-ins and showing the way to the dining halls, these persons—all of them—are engaged in a social justice mission to transform you. Again, these are not faculty (except perhaps for a handful of grievance studies professors), and they have taken this mission upon themselves. They call it “transformative education.” This was once called reeducation, and it has little or nothing to do with your classes or your professors. It’s pure ideological indoctrination that has infiltrated into the university through the nonacademic side door, brought in by mediocre bureaucrats who seriously believe themselves to be “boldly transforming higher education.”

Their program is stage-by-stage. I try to limit this take to the initial stage, but I also provide insight about what is to come. Here, we focus on the first steps in one of the activities these characters spring on students. 

You’re asked to participate in “games.” Yes, games.

This seems innocent enough, maybe even fun. But these are not typical games of competition or of skill. These are revelation games. They constitute a kind of grooming or conditioning for what’s to come.

Revelation games are designed to elicit personal information from you. They’re designed to soften you up for the social justice liturgy to come. These revelation games go by various names, such as “Fishbowl” or “Circle of Voices.” A well-known game that appears ubiquitous both at the secondary school level and at the university is called the “privilege walk.” You can download your own instruction sheet here, which cautions that: 

This is a very ‘high risk’ activity that requires trust building and safety for participants; introducing this activity too early in the training or before building trust risks creating resentment and hurt that can inhibit further sharing and openness.

All revelation games are like this one in that they share the key persuasive goal of putting you at ease and building “trust” in a step-wise grooming process. Your facilitator will talk about how she is “modeling vulnerability” and that you, too, should “make yourself vulnerable” and divulge all sorts of personal information to a room full of strangers whom you have no reason to trust. Certainly, you have good reason not to trust your facilitator. 

The “sharing and openness” begins with requests for seemingly insignificant information and gradually progresses to more intrusive queries about friends, family, beliefs, fears, hopes, sexuality—a raft of information that these amateur psychotherapists have no business knowing. You may be asked to “journal” or write your “reflections” of a personal nature. Some of these activities may suggest that you’ll be having an innocent “dialogue,” and who’s not up for a “dialogue?”

But there is, in fact, no dialogue in this “development.” You discover that your development consists in learning a primitive party line, abandoning any badthink you picked up at home, and embracing a new ideological belief system. If you dissent, your dissent is branded as “resistance.” This idea that your opinion or argument or your own beliefs constitute “resistance” to their argument (they will eventually break down your “resistance”) is a key marker that you face a conspiracy theorist.

Teaching Paranoia, Promoting Conspiracy

Thus begins the inculcation of a noxious and problematic antiracism, a primitive Manichean ideology grounded in paranoid personality disorder and codified in policies promoting conspiracy theory.

When you find yourself in one of these scenarios, recognize that you are in a threatening situation with people who are practicing amateur psychotherapy, and who mean you harm. The techniques I have described are used almost universally in colleges and universities nationwide, they have been developed in “training institutes” run by off-campus, nonacademic, nonprofit firms, and they constitute the first stage of a behavior modification program that psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton calls “thought reform.” It has a long history. 

In the 1960s, social psychologist Edgar Schein first pulled together the links between the theories of American psychologist Kurt Lewin and the Communist Chinese methods of thought reform, while psychologists Richard Ofshe and Margaret Thaler Singer identified the techniques, recognized their use in American cults, and chronicled their dangers to victims. The three stages of thought reform are unfreezing-changing-refreezing. One expert on Chinese thought reform, Theodore Chen, describes it this way:

The central concept is that change in beliefs and attitudes may be understood in terms of three essential phases: unfreezing, changing, refreezing. Unfreezing refers to the upsetting of existing equilibrium to produce an inclination to confess and to open the way for change; change comes with the establishment of new beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviour patterns; these are then refrozen in order to make the change stable.

Social justice education and “student affairs” thought reform follow the same formula.

“Modeling Vulnerability”

So why revelation games?

Revelation games help in the unfreezing process, preparing the new college student for the difficult process of destabilizing his sense of self and eliminating his current belief system. This unfreezing is helped along by the process of “revelation” or revealing, typically accomplished by employing intrusive games and journaling. Facilitators and, at times, grievance studies faculty are urged to model vulnerability to encourage this type of “sharing and openness.”

These techniques have been refined and practiced by American cults for decades. One of the classic works on cults describes it this way: “With group sharing sessions, or confessionals, cult members are able to gather information about the recruit’s former life. When they have details, they frequently hone in to arouse feelings of guilt and anger.” 

Cult expert Eileen Barker observes that the Unification Church employs “love bombing,” an enthusiastic envelopment of the recruit with unqualified acceptance. It is seductive and leads the target to drop his guard and perhaps reveal private information about himself. This information is used later to leverage his deeper connection to the cult. Cult expert Michael Langone observes:

As recruits lower their defenses in this ‘loving’ climate, intimate and seemingly caring conversations enable recruiters to assess the psychological and social status of prospects, to learn about their needs, fears, dependency potential, and actual and possible resistances.

Ideologues on campus and based in student affairs departments have been using these techniques for years against college students, especially first-year students. Their many journal articles chronicle these techniques and instruct practitioners how to use them, which I explain in detail in my forthcoming book

Freshmen are a particularly tempting target. Says educationist Arthur Levine: “This makes freshmen orientation—a time in which new students are more likely to listen because they are frightened—a special time for education.” He advocated the use of residence halls as vehicles for “unconventional and even troubling” guerilla messaging.

When you hear these people talk their code about “student development,” “student learning,” and “learning opportunities,” know that you are likely not in the presence of faculty but rather dealing with the modestly educated and malignly motivated amateur psychotherapists of student affairs.

Listen for the Paranoid Cult Lingo

This, of course, is only the beginning of a student-molding program run by student affairs, along with “diversity” offices and the occasional collusive faculty member. You can gain a clear understanding of how they operate from a key document in the thought reform literature, and you can alert yourself to the markers when they are applied to you, particularly in the use of language. 

Every cult manipulates language and provides its own definitions of commonly used words. This language manipulation is typical of cults, and it’s necessary for the recruitment process.

In the case of “student development,” the language is the clearest indicator that you’re dealing with the paranoid ideology of antiracism. The anti-intellectual jargon inevitably appears, and you can recognize it easily. You’ll be introduced to what psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton calls the “thought-terminating cliché.” 

The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. [It] is repetitiously centered on all-encompassing jargon, prematurely abstract, highly categorical, relentlessly judging, and to anyone but its most devoted advocate, deadly dull.

Thus enters the lingo of “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “institutional racism,” “racial microaggression,” “allyship,” “doing the work,” and a variety of “racisms” (plural) that grows by the day. You may even hear a new trope called “diversity science,” which is pseudo-scientific fakery of the most brazen sort. Lifton continues:

This [becomes] a rigid orthodoxy in which an individual shouts the ideological jargon all the louder in order to demonstrate his conformity, hide his own dilemma and his despair, and protect himself from the fear and guilt he would feel should he attempt to use words and phrases other than the correct ones.

None of this may be apparent in the first week of school, except perhaps for the occasional errant “privilege walk” dropped into the schedule.

Yes, it’s a minefield, and the nastiest parts are yet to come. Remember they have plenty of time. These folks are in no rush. While this is your first time into the ideological hotbox, they do this every year, and the thought reformers have four years to work on you. Remember to download this document as a guide to whether you are, indeed, in a critical threat situation of thought reform run by a fake “college educator.”

Meanwhile, enjoy the piping-hot pizza, legal beverages, and the free branded swag of shirts, cups, and keychains. Get to know your professors and plunge into the delight of real learning. You have time to equip yourself to deal with the faux “college educators.”

The best policy? Don’t tell these people anything. They mean you no good.

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