The “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” training mandated at the University of Oklahoma advises students that support for equality is wrongheaded, and the training even portrays the lives of all racial minorities as the equivalent of a house fire.
“Equality means sameness, so treating people equally means treating everyone the same,” the OU training material states. “But sometimes, equality isn’t actually fair.”
In another section, the OU training declares, “Equity means fairness, which is about giving everyone what they need to be successful. It includes the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all (students) while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Equality is different—it means sameness, so treating people equally means treating everyone the same, whether or not that is fair.”
That message, and other components of the OU training, disturb many who view it as antithetical to the values embraced by leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s that ended racially discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws.
“The grounding of the civil rights’ movement was a focus on equality of opportunity,” said Ian Rowe, senior visiting fellow at the Woodson Center. “What seems to be the current zeitgeist is this idea of ‘equity,’ which means equality of outcome. And those are two very wholly different propositions. I think in a free society we absolutely want equality of opportunity for every person to have the chance for a great education, for a foundation where they can pursue their talents in unlimited fashion. The idea of equality of outcome is virtually impossible to achieve in every essence of what it means to live in a free democratic society where you have unlimited potential.”
Rowe is co-founder of Vertex Partnership Academies, a network of character-based, International Baccalaureate high schools opening in the Bronx in 2022, and previously served for 10 years as CEO of Public Prep, a network of public charter schools educating more than 2,000 students in the South Bronx and Lower East Side of Manhattan. He holds a degree in Computer Science Engineering from Cornell University and a master’s degree from Harvard Business School, where he was the first black editor-in-chief of the Harbus, the Harvard Business School newspaper.
Founded in 1981 by Robert L. Woodson, Sr., the Woodson Center’s focus is on helping residents of low-income neighborhoods address the problems of their communities. Prior to founding the center, Woodson was active in civil rights issues starting in the 1960s, including as head of the National Urban League Department of Criminal Justice.
Rowe warns that the diversity programs mandated at many colleges ultimately increase racial and social division.
“While many companies, many schools, higher education, are tripping over themselves to implement these kinds of diversity-and-equity trainings, there’s virtually zero evidence base that shows that these programs are actually effective at their purported intentions,” Rowe said. “And in fact, they have the exact opposite effect.”
The diversity programs mandated at many colleges ultimately increase racial and social division.
One reason such programs can increase division is they often rely on broad stereotyping.
In one video included in the mandatory OU training, a group of students discuss plans to attend a meeting of Black Lives Matter. When one student suggests, “No offense, it seems like All Lives Matter would be a better way to bring people together, because black lives aren’t the only lives that matter,” he is quickly rebuked.
Another—white—student responds that “saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is like the fire department showing up at your house when it’s burning down and spraying down the house across the street instead of yours because ‘all houses matter.’”
Another student adds, “Like, of course all houses do matter, and we’re not saying that they don’t, but right now we’re focused on this one particular house because there’s a freaking fire.”
Rowe said broad statements that characterize the lives of a large group of people based solely on their racial background are one reason that “initiatives that are supposed to improve relations between races often end up perpetuating the very negative stereotypes that they’re claiming they want to avoid.”
“Those kinds of arguments emerge when you have an ideology steeped in race reductionism where there’s no other characteristic that matters other than race,” Rowe said. “And so you make these blanket descriptions that give you the impression that every black person is oppressed and every white person is an oppressor. And that leads to intensely toxic and poisonous relationships between people of all races.”
While OU’s diversity training suggests the lives of all black citizens are comparable to a house fire, the reality is far different, Rowe noted.
“There are millions and millions of black people who are living ordinary lives, living in the middle class and the upper class, who’ve embraced, for example, the principles of family, faith, hard work, free enterprise, entrepreneurship, as the means that they’ve achieved that success,” Rowe said.
He said students’ time would be better spent learning about those “ingredients of success.”
“By having that focus on studying success versus being obsessed with failure or obsessed with hatred, it’s not that you’re saying the discrimination doesn’t exist, but it’s acknowledging that even in the face of discrimination there are pathways of massive success,” Rowe said. “Maybe if we focus more of our attention there, we’d see more people of all races being successful.”
Recently, the Woodson Center launched 1776 Unites, which is described as maintaining “a special focus on voices in the black community who celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase the millions of black Americans who have prospered by embracing the founding ideals of America.” 1776 Unites acknowledges “that racial discrimination exists,” but the group’s founders “dissent from contemporary groupthink and rhetoric about race, class and American history that defames our national heritage, divides our people, and instills helplessness among those who already hold within themselves the grit and resilience to better their lot in life.”
Rowe said 1776 Unites’ curriculum materials, which have been downloaded more than 7,000 times primarily by high-school teachers nationwide, “capture the African-American experience in the United States in a very authentic and complete fashion to create a compelling, empowering alternative to the curricula being put out by Black Lives Matter or the 1619 Project, which we believe have a very defeatist view of the black community.”
“We’re trying to create, with our essays, with our scholars, with our curricula, a different vantage point that tries to celebrate the founding principles of our country—even if the founders didn’t always follow them within their own lives,” Rowe said.
In their diversity training materials, OU officials have described the university as a place where ending discrimination on campus “is a challenge.”
If OU officials want to address that problem, Rowe said officials should pursue a different path than the one they are now on.
“The antidote to racism is not ‘antiracism’ the way that these programs are being played out,” Rowe said. “The antidote is humanism where we recognize the individual dignity of every person that is due their individual respect and humanity. We’ll make much more progress on relations between and among all races when we actually recognize our common humanity.”
On Oct. 20, 2020, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs submitted an open-records request for all materials presented in all mandatory diversity training courses for OU staff and students. OU acknowledged receipt of that request but has not provided any of those materials as of Feb. 11, 2021.
OCPA obtained the student training materials independently.
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]