As part of its focus on diversity, Oklahoma Christian University recently hosted a speaker who encourages her clients to read or view works that include a project linking the United States’ founding to slavery and another work criticized as portraying all white people as racists.
Imago Dei is Latin for “image of God,” but at Oklahoma Christian University the college has launched an Imago DEI program in which “Dei” has another meaning. It’s shorthand for “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
As part of that program, the school recently hosted consultant Jen Fry to lead a faculty and staff event earlier this month.
At her website, Fry describes her business as “a social justice education firm that uses conversation to educate and empower those within athletics through an anti-racist lens on issues of race, inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, and equity.”
Such trainings and seminars have become common at public universities in recent years but are also becoming part of the landscape at private universities like Oklahoma Christian University. The events are not without critics.
Imago Dei is Latin for “image of God,” but Oklahoma Christian University has launched a program in which “Dei” is shorthand for “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
“The best thing that can be said about it is that it’s a scam and a waste of money that could be going to buy things that are actually useful to students,” said Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and author of the new book, The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics Is Dividing the Land of the Free.
Gonzalez said the events, touted as efforts to combat racism, often do the opposite.
“What this so-called ‘anti-racism’ training inculcates in young minds that are very impressionable are very racist concepts,” Gonzalez said. “If you dig deeply into them, they will teach that such habits as punctuality or hard work or delayed gratification or even the use of reason are the results of ‘whiteness.’ I cannot think of a more toxic, poisonous, racist thing.”
He noted that discouraging those traits among non-white children hamstrings those children’s upward mobility throughout their lives.
“I cannot imagine that educators and parents allow these things through the door,” Gonzalez said.
Fry’s website provides some clues to the worldviews incorporated into her work. On her resources page, Fry recommends a wide range of books, podcasts, and documentaries.
For those interested in “rescuing theology from white supremacy,” Fry recommends the “reclaiming my theology” podcast. The host of that podcast, Brandi Miller, says, “There are so many things to reclaim our theology from: white supremacy, patriarchy and misogyny, capitalism, homophobia, ableism, and more.” On her Twitter feed, Miller describes herself as someone “Helping Jesus People Suck Less.”
Fry also offers recommendations for those interested in learning how policing and mass incarceration “evolved from slavery and segregation.”
She also encourages people to read The 1619 Project by the New York Times, which defines much of the history of the United States as directed by the issue of slavery. The project has drawn fire from historians of all ideological stripes.
For example, 12 Civil War historians and political scientists who research the Civil War wrote a joint letter declaring “that The 1619 Project offers a historically-limited view of slavery, especially since slavery was not just (or even exclusively) an American malady, and grew up in a larger context of forced labor and race. Moreover, the breadth of 400 years and 300 million people cannot be compressed into single-size interpretations; yet, The 1619 Project asserts that every aspect of American life has only one lens for viewing, that of slavery and its fall-out.”
The academics warned, “The remedy for past historical oversights is not their replacement by modern oversights.”
For those interested in “whiteness” and “privilege,” Fry recommends White Fragility, a book by Robin DiAngelo that has also drawn much criticism.
Perhaps the most strongly worded critique of DiAngelo’s book has come from a man of the political left, Matthew C. Taibbi, a political journalist and longtime writer for Rolling Stone. In his review, Taibbi wrote, “DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horse---t as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.”
Taibbi writes that White Fragility is “based upon the idea that human beings are incapable of judging each other by the content of their character, and if people of different races think they are getting along or even loving one another, they probably need immediate antiracism training.”
DiAngelo, who is white, is a consultant who provides diversity trainings in a wide range of settings. Taibbi writes that a central tenet of DiAngelo’s book “is that racism cannot be eradicated” and requires lifelong vigilance.
“A useful theory,” Taibbi writes, “if your business is selling teams of high-priced toxicity-hunters to corporations as next-generation versions of efficiency experts—in the fight against this disease, companies will need the help forever and ever.”
“Diversity” training has been big business for some time. In 2017, Iris Bohnet, a professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, reported that about $8 billion a year is spent on diversity trainings in the United States. That number is expected to increase due to corporate response to unrest and protests in recent months.
Oklahoma Christian University declined to report how much Fry was paid for her work at the school. As a private institution, Oklahoma Christian University is not subject to open-records laws that apply to public universities.
In its announcement that Fry would be speaking on campus, Oklahoma Christian University also said she would be “the first of many planned training opportunities for OC employees and students led by the DEI committee named Imago Dei.”
The release also stated, “Diversity, equity and inclusion at Oklahoma Christian University is rooted in the fact that each of us is created in the image of God.”
Gonzalez said some Christians have embraced diversity training out of a misguided belief that it adheres to Christ’s admonition to “love your neighbor.”
“They’re being misled,” Gonzalez said. “Any Christian—anybody of any religion—that falls for this is really falling for something that is very worrisome.”