Stetson University's ‘Values Day’ dominated by liberal causes

Through service projects, workshops, and a keynote address, Stetson University spent Tuesday instructing students to embrace environmental sustainability, social justice, and gender non-conformity.

“The entire mood of the event was lopsided towards the left … from the keynote speaker to panels about the importance of transgender issues,” freshman student Zachary Gunn told Campus Reform. “While I respect other people’s right to hold their own beliefs and values, I would also like my values represented on such a day.”

Freshman Jennifer Roberts concurred, saying, “It was pretty clear that the school was trying to tell the students what they should think about certain subjects, pertaining to liberal views,” adding that she was less than enthusiastic about attending some of the seminars, “because it doesn’t represent who I am.”

Stetson’s annual “Values Day” program, in which the entire community is expected to participate, “is designed to continue dialogue between students, faculty and staff, so that the Stetson University community shares, learns and appreciates our shared core values.”

Among those shared values, to judge from the program schedule, are acceptance of “the mainstream scientific view on climate change,” commitment to “social justice,” and support for expansive definitions of sexuality.

Classes and offices on campus were closed for the day to facilitate participation, and Gunn claimed that the syllabus for his mandatory First Year Seminar course listed Values Day as one of three “days of service.” Failure to participate in any one would result in “an automatic lowering of your grade by at least one full letter.”

There are over 100 freshman seminar offerings this semester, however, and Vice Provost for Campus Life and Student Success Lua Hancock told Campus Reform that "the syllabus for each First Year Seminar is at the discretion of the faculty member teaching it," and students are free to select any course they wish.

"Many classes at Stetson, including First year Seminars, will include a component of engagement in the community as we feel that experiential education is a powerful learning tool," she added.

Older students faced no such mandate, though all Stetson students are required to participate in at least three approved cultural events each semester, one of which is Values Day, in addition to their regular coursework. The purpose of the cultural credits, according to the university’s website, is to allow students “to more fully embrace the university’s mission and values.”

Stetson’s core values include Personal Growth, Intellectual Development, and Global Citizenship, the latter of which involves “commitments to community engagement, diversity and inclusion, environmental responsibility, and social justice.”

Several students who attended the Values Day programming told Campus Reform that those themes were certainly in evidence Tuesday, but complained that contrasting viewpoints were variously ignored or discouraged.

At a panel titled “The Science of Climate Change, the Pope and Policy,” for instance, students were informed that opposition to the recent papal encyclical on climate change is confined to political and religious conservatives whose objections are rooted in ideologies that conflict with scientific facts, according to an audio recording of the panel provided to Campus Reform.

“We have this ideological resistance that doesn’t have anything to do with science,” said Dr. Jason Evans, a professor of environmental science and studies. Noting he frequently hears people cite arguments that climate change is “all made up,” Evans asserted that “having someone like the pope really helps to kind of get through that.”

Religious studies professor Phillip Lucas offered a similar assessment, saying, “American political conservatives will always smear this pope for his critique of free-market capitalism,” because his pronouncement “calls into question one of their fundamental ideological principles, which is the ultimate good of free-market capitalism.”

Lucas then turned his attention to religious conservatives, claiming that “between 55 and 65 percent of evangelicals deny that human activity is affecting the earth’s climate,” and discounting criticisms coming from those quarters as “predictable.”

Calling the panel “one of the most outrageous things” he experienced during the day, Gunn told Campus Reform. “There were no dissenting opinions on the entire panel, and I imagine this is because none would be tolerated,” he speculated, adding that “the sheer amount of attacks on the free market was frankly painful.”

The climate change panel was just one of twelve offerings during the first of two workshop blocks Tuesday afternoon, but descriptions of the alternative workshops provided on Stetson’s website suggest open-minded students might easily have taken issue with any of them.

The description of a workshop on the topic of Rachel Dolezal (the former NAACP leader who identified as black despite being born white) reads: “Social scientists agree that race is a sociocultural construct rather than a real taxonomic category. So why has America become so outraged by Rachel Dolezal’s decision to ‘become’ black?”

Another workshop—called “Could you join a cult or act violently?”—sought to draw parallels between the recruiting practices of Middle East extremist groups and those of Western cults, while a third was billed as an opportunity for students to “examine multiple social identities in the larger context of social power and privilege … to gain a deeper understanding of diversity, intersectionality, and the complex dynamics of oppression.”

Sophomore student Setyo Laksono, who also attended Values Day last year, said that the events “are leaning more toward progressive ideas, especially the ones dealing with sensitive topics like the one about global warming, and I wish that they had differentiating viewpoints—that there were other viewpoints of other stances.”

At one event related to climate change, Laksono recalled that students were asked to raise their hands at the outset if they believed in global warming. “I don’t think that was the best way to gauge the viewpoints of the audience,” he argued, explaining that “if you’re that one person or that second person who doesn’t believe in global warming and everyone else in the audience raises their hand, you’re going to feel uncomfortable about raising yours.”

Laksono said that while he thinks Values Day is “a good idea” overall, he also believes that, “in the future we should work toward having more viewpoints, more diversity, in our discussions.”

Hancock told Campus Reform that she would encourage students "to give their feedback directly to the Values Day Committee, which can then address those concerns for future events," adding, "Students are welcome to come to us with any concerns and are encouraged to share their honest opinions."

Zachary Gunn did just that, and reported in an email to Campus Reform that he has already been invited to participate in next year's Values Day Planning Committee to ensure that the event represents the views of all students. "I am eagerly looking forward to next years Values Day," he remarked, "in hopes that I can send another email containing a story of success."

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