The next debate in the culture is upon us, and it concerns Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in education. Schools and universities throughout the nation are hiring administrators and adopting programs designed to advance the objectives of DEI. A growing number of universities are offering DEI degree programs. Congress has made clear that “it is in the best interest of the United States” to provide federal support to DEI programs. The President promulgated an executive order confirming his administration’s commitment to advancing these programs because “diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths.”
While our nation’s educational and political leaders reaffirm their commitment to advancing DEI, the situation on the ground throughout our Nation’s communities appears more mixed. Protests have broken out throughout the nation led by parents claiming that DEI programs do more harm than good. Lawsuits have been brought alleging hostile environments as a result of DEI practices. The Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Springfield Public Schools employees who were forced to participate in mandatory “equity trainings.” The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the allegedly racially divisive trainings. In response to political pressure, state and local governments throughout the nation are passing legislation designed to ban DEI curricula. Just this past month, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order banning DEI in schools.
As sides are being chosen, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a fact sheet this past month to inform schools, educators, and parents that DEI “training and similar activities in most factual circumstances are consistent with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI).” The fact sheet affirmed Congress’s and the President’s commitment to DEI. The fact sheet stated that Title VI does not categorically prohibit activities commonly associated with DEI programs because they do not “categorically create a hostile environment on the basis of race.” The fact sheet provided a list of activities commonly associated with DEI efforts—such as trainings, climate surveys, and investigations concerning racial disparities—that it says comply with Title VI.
Although it is true that these activities do not necessarily create a hostile environment based on race, the fact sheet ignores the ever-growing number of anecdotal reports of situations that do create such an environment. The fact sheet highlights that studies show “students report less discrimination and bias at institutions where they perceive a stronger institutional commitment to diversity.” Yet many other studies indicate that the impact of DEI programs is at best negligible, and at worst outright harmful. Recently, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Joshua Diemert seeking a declaration that Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative created a discriminatory work environment. Mr. Diemert allegedly suffered racial harassment from his colleagues after he spoke up against racist messaging at a required workshop.
The fact sheet may have important implications for the growing debate over DEI as it provides insight into the Department of Education’s position on the matter. However, its utility appears relatively limited in light of the concerns of parents and students who appear increasingly skeptical of DEI in education. It is unlikely that such government reassurances will quell the ongoing dispute as the controversy surrounding DEI grows into a cultural fight.
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