Arizona State University placed a resident assistant on probation four days after he objected to a diversity training exercise that he said reinforced negative stereotypes and portrayed Christians as hateful and narrow-minded.
Ryan Visconti, a 22-year-old political science student from Mesa, said he believes he was placed on probation because he spoke with the Tribune about the Jan. 11 role-playing exercise that was required for his dorm job. Visconti also filed a formal complaint Jan. 13 at ASU.
He said supervisors told him that part of the reason he was placed on probation was because he missed a different training exercise on homosexuality and gay marriage. He said he skipped the exercise because of his negative experience with the earlier activity.
“They told me the probation wasn’t about me talking to the newspaper — it was about other things,” said Visconti, who is on probation until his graduation this spring. “It just seems strange that I get put on probation after the article came out.”
His employer, ASU Residential Life, said the probation was based on performance issues unrelated to the Tribune article that appeared Jan. 21.
Residential Life spokeswoman Diana Medina said she could not speak about the probation because Visconti has not given ASU permission to discuss his employment records.
An attorney from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale-based nonprofit organization that defends religious freedom, is now looking into the situation on Visconti’s behalf.
“Any time a state entity takes a position on things like religious topics that deal with how people should believe, it can raise some constitutional issues,” said David French, the alliance’s director of the Center for Academic Freedom.
During the first role-playing exercise, Visconti was assigned the identity of a gay Hispanic and told to visit different “life stations” and attempt to create a “perfect life.” The stations included booths for housing, employment, transportation, church, jail and banking. At each booth, individuals gave Visconti scripted responses based on his assigned identity.
He was banned from the Christian “church,” forced to live in a “ghetto apartment” and allowed to choose between jobs as a “construction worker” or “landscaper.” Visconti said the exercise suggested that only white males can graduate from college or earn big salaries — and everybody else in society is a victim of discrimination.
“This is nothing but an ultra-clear example of what is being taught in universities today,” Visconti said. “If you are a straight, white, Christian male, all of society’s problems are your fault and you are privileged.”
According to Medina, Visconti had the option of discontinuing participation at any time during the exercise.
She said Residential Life uses similar training exercises every year that are developed from national leadership conferences and are designed to increase sensitivity and awareness about different social, racial and economic groups.
Resident assistant Pat Battillo, a 20-year-old business management junior, participated in the same training exercise as Visconti and found the exercise rewarding and valuable.
“It has really helped me as an RA and opened my eyes to different groups and their views on religion, sexual preference and life,” he said.
Battillo said he was given descriptions of the exercises before he completed them. Some of the exercises even had warnings that some of the situations in those exercises might be sensitive.
Medina said many other participants besides Battillo found the exercises valuable. However, she said Residential Life is reviewing its training program to see if changes are necessary.
Readers speak out
Visitors at evtrib.com have posted more than 230 comments about ASU’s diversity training. Here is a sampling:
• “Exercises designed to create tolerance, like this one, have long been intolerable.” — Michael
• “Shouldn’t ‘diversity’ incorporate diverse ideas?” — Jack L.
• “Great ... state-run institutions brainwashing students with vile stereotypes that indoctrinate hatred and bigotry against certain unpopular classes of people (those with religious beliefs).” — BradGates
• “Exercises like this can be a good thing, but only if they’re done right.” — Dave
• “We need more sensitivity training, not less.” — Cindy
• “There are plenty of struggling families that are doing their best to get by in life regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation.” — Kevin
• “I am white and would like my privilege. I have been waiting for the easy path for 33 years.” — Ryan