Talking About Diversity, Equity, and Belonging
Recently I attended a webinar titled "Foundations of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging". It was presented by the Dean of Students staff at an Ivy League university. The centerpiece of the presentation was a "Social Identity Wheel"which included ten categories of identity:
3) Gender/Gender Identity,
4) Sexual Orientation,
5) National Origin/Citizenship Status,
6) First Language,
7) Level of Education,
8) Physical/Emotional/Developmental Ability,
9) Religion/Spiritual Affiliation, and
10) Socio-Economic status.
The Social Identity Wheel is used to define each person's "social identity" based on their category/group memberships. The presenter suggested four "Key Terms": Social Identity; Privilege & Advantages; Marginalization & Disadvantages; and Social Location/Positionality.
The thrust of the program was to single out the Privilege & Advantages ("unearned benefits") enjoyed by whites, and the Marginalization & Disadvantages ("physical and emotional harm") suffered by BIPOCs (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color). The presenter made a pitch for program participants to become "Allies" with personal commitment to fighting oppression and prejudice.
The presenter also outlined the Dean of Students Diversity & Inclusion organization structure (Asian and Asian American Center; LGBT Resource Center; Women's Resource Center; Office of Spirituality and Meaning Making; Undocumented Student Support; Multicultural Student Leadership & Empowerment; First-Generation and Low-Income Student Support). Finally, the presenter noted that all of this university's academic colleges and units have Diversity & Inclusion offices; there are Presidential Advisers on Diversity & Equity (PADE); and Advancing Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity training modules are mandatory for university staff.
I have three observations to share. The first is a sense of sadness that an elite university is devoting this level of resources and energy to encouraging students to focus on"social identity" and personal scorecards of advantages or disadvantages. This university employs a sizable bureaucracy to run programs which emphasize our differences and separate us into categories. I wonder if comparable resources are devoted to programs which attempt to shape a shared identity for those who are or will become American citizens, and who will inherit responsibility for helping our country to overcome our racial and cultural divisions, and who should set positive examples of how the "best and brightest" come together across our differences?
One of the program's "Key Terms" is "Marginalization & Disadvantages". It is appropriate, and necessary, to teach that America's history marginalized and disadvantaged BIPOCs through chattel slavery of Africans, genocide against Indigenous people, and vicious discrimination against Asian immigrants. But it is equally appropriate, and necessary, to teach that in modern-era America BIPOCs have achieved the highest levels of every profession and occupation, and discrimination against BIPOCs has been eliminated from the American legal canon. If we want to encourage BIPOC students to be high-achievers, which is an appropriate goal for the Dean of Students Office, we should teach them the truth that BIPOC high-achievers share the character traits of optimism, shun "victim mentality", believe they can control their own destiny, and believe America is a country of freedom and opportunity.
My second observation regards who I am according to the "Social Identity Wheel": black; early 70's; male; heterosexual; American citizen; English language; advanced education; superior physical/emotional/developmental ability; Episcopalian; and top 1% economically. These might be useful descriptors of some aspects of my social profile but they are not determinative, and do not define who I am. Life experience has taught me that moral character is the most important determinant of my identity, followed closely by personal discipline. Our identities are defined most significantly by what we do and how we live -- the decisions made every day to do, or not do, the right thing and to give, or not give, one's best efforts -- and are not assembled from an assortment of category descriptors.
My third observation is that this program's underlying ideology, which is critical race theory, encourages seeing blacks as victims of America's "ongoing systemic racism". Our country is certainly guilty of grievous harms inflicted on BIPOCs, but it is also the birthplace of the noble aspirational language "...all men are created equal...endowed...with certain unalienable Rights...Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". America is the world's foremost beacon of equality, freedom, and opportunity. Who can deny that our country has progressed closer to achieving these goals? America is on a journey that likely will never end because it's unlikely we will ever be a perfect nation. But with each century, and each generation, we have inched closer to the goal. What person, or country, could bear to be judged solely by the worst aspects of their history rather than fair and balanced consideration of both their sins and the better aspects of who they are?
It's ironic that this university recently launched a major capital campaign in which one of the major goals is scholarships and support services for low-income students. Why should anyone want to support programs which practice this indoctrination that breeds alienation, encourages "victim mentality", and undermines the social cohesion critical for America's future? Every student at this Ivy League university, including BIPOCs, is blessed with having received unique opportunity and advantage. Few, if any, have a moral basis for claiming their good fortune is somehow "deserved", while others' is "undeserved".
What do you think?