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America’s fixation on diversity is logical. We are a nation of immigrants, a great “melting pot” of ethnicities, nationalities and cultures, brought together by a choice to be an American made by us or our ancestors, and by a shared commitment to a unique set of values that constitute what George Will has called the “catechism” of America’s civil religion.
To acknowledge and appreciate our national diversity is to embrace our American heritage and culture. But diversity itself pales in comparison to the values that all Americans share; we come together as Americans not because we respect everyone’s differences, but because we are commonly invested in a core set of beliefs enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These ideals transcend diversity.
But when it comes to acknowledging diversity, an increasing number of universities are taking an aggressive approach in mandating “diversity education” classes and programming. Shoving multicultural programming down students’ throats accomplishes little — an understanding of diversity comes through interactions and real life relationships — and while classes on diversity may be sufficient academic introductions to the subject, there is little need to mandate these courses in collegiate curricula.
Businesses have long been struggling with the question of compulsory diversity training, and have come to the conclusion that such initiatives are a waste of time and money. And as college tuition rates continue to climb higher and higher, mandating such classes is a burden families can’t afford to shoulder.
In Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies, researchers from Harvard, Berkeley and Minnesota conclude that diversity initiatives are popular not because they work, but because they create a legal safety net for employers. Indeed, courts have traditionally accepted the existence of such programs as shows of “good faith” in commitment to minimizing discrimination.
…although inequality in attainment at work may be rooted in managerial bias and the social isolation of women and minorities, the best hope for remedying it may lie in practices that assign organizational responsibility for change.
This is, of course, the same organizational responsibility that businesses avoid through meaningless diversity programs. And it is important to note that both the business and collegiate environment, inequality may be the result of differences in skill, and motivation rather than bias and social isolation.
University of Arizona sociologist Alexandra Kalev questions the impact of the compulsory nature of diversity programs in the workplace:
When attendance is voluntary, diversity training is followed by an increase in managerial diversity. Most employers, however, force their managers and workers to go through training, and this is the least effective option in terms of increasing diversity. . . . Forcing people to go through training creates a backlash against diversity.
Employment economist Marc Bendick has used surveys to gauge the effectiveness of diversity training, and agrees that while some degree of training can be useful, it will have the most impact in an environment invested in becoming more diverse. As for existing corporate diversity training, he is not optimistic:
If you ask what is the impact of diversity training today, you have to say 75 percent is junk and will have little impact or no impact or negative impact.
Granted, college classes on diversity have a slightly different objective; diversity training in business cannot be directly compared to diversity-focused coursework. The University of Southern California describes its own “Diversity Requirement” as an effort to:
…provide undergraduate students with the background knowledge and analytical skills necessary to understand and respect differences between groups of people…Students will increasingly need to grapple with issues arising from different dimensions of human diversity such as age, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.
The already ambiguous and intangible notion of inequality that businesses address takes on an even broader and vaguer context when applied in the classroom. What is the goal of a university diversity class? USC seems to be content with “respect” and “understanding”, while Providence College yearns for an understanding of “differences within the human community.” Students will undoubtedly have to contend with these and other areas of diversity, but is first approaching them from a mandatory academic perspective wise?
Indeed, part of the beauty and uniqueness of American society comes through the diversity that is woven into our national fabric. It is an intrinsic part of the American experience, something that is not taught or shoved down our throats, but experienced in day to day interactions.
It is important to note that typically these classes are not singularly based on “diversity education.” Rather, they are history, sociology or other liberal arts classes that are specifically geared towards an examination of “diversity.” USC’s list of options for the diversity requirement runs the gambit of choices, from “Men and Masculinity” to “Questions of Intimacy” and “Race, Gender and, Sexuality in Contemporary Art.” Indeed, although these courses may be entirely valid as electives, to justify their placement on a mandatory list is another matter entirely.
USC and Providence are not merely anomalies in regards to their requirements — Cornell, The University of Massachusetts, and many more mandate coursework in “diversity.” In fact, sixty-three percent of colleges and universities report that they either have in place a diversity requirement or they are in the process of developing one, according to the Diversity Digest.
This is not to say that such courses are useless; undoubtedly they provide an important insight into the study of gender and ethnic disparity. But at a time when the U.S. lags behind its competitors in math and science aptitude, students’ already packed schedules could be much better augmented with a STEM area of study, language training, or better yet, a class on Americanism. Heartland Institute Senior Fellow George Clowes points to a study by the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Public Agenda, which found that parents firmly believe that schools should place more emphasis on teaching children more about American tradition, culture and society; essentially, what it means to be an American. Says Clowes in the Heartlander:
That view is overwhelmingly shared by parents from all demographic groups–white, black, or Hispanic; immigrant or native-born. While parents support teaching students about the experiences, traditions, and histories of ethnic and national groups other than their own, they object strongly to lessons or courses that demean the United States or encourage divisiveness and diminish a shared American identity.
The potential for divisiveness, as well as the ambiguity of purpose surrounding such programs also raises questions on what students truly derive from such initiatives. Business efforts to address diversity issues have largely failed even with specific mandates; educational endeavors seeking to “explore” diversity allow little room for measuring success or failure.
There is a difference between acknowledging cultural and ethnic differences and mandating “training” on such differences. As a nation born of immigrants, a conglomeration of cultures and nationalities were fused together to form our unique American identity. To presume to confine a cultural awareness as broad and deep as ours to the classroom is to arbitrarily place limits upon that understanding.
Rather, students should be encouraged to experience American diversity authentically; through their daily interactions and relationships with other. Through such contact, we transcend stereotypes and preconceptions; we look beyond prejudices and presumptions and learn to truly value people for who they are.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged America to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence — to honor the sacred obligation, the “promissory note” of “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” True diversity comes through accepting and sharing these beliefs, not mandating classes on multiculturalism.