By Amna Khalid
U.S. colleges and universities will be embracing diversity training with renewed vigor this fall.
In response to the killing of George Floyd, the massive Black Lives Matter protests and pressure from students , dozens of colleges and universities have made public commitments to new anti-racism initiatives.
The University of Florida will require all students, faculty and staff to undergo training on “racism, inclusion and bias.” Northeastern University will institute “cultural competency” and “anti-racism training” for every member of the campus community. And Ohio Wesleyan University will mandate “universal diversity, equity, and inclusion training.”
Given the vital importance of confronting past and present racism, we believe it is imperative that colleges and universities address racial disparities and discrimination in higher education head-on. However, as scholars who study race and social inequality, we know that diversity training suffers from “ chronically disappointing results .” Recent research in psychology even suggests that diversity training may cause more problems than it solves .
What diversity training looks like
Called into a typical diversity training session, you may be told to complete a “ privilege walk ”: step forward if “you are a white male,” backward if your “ancestors were forced to come to the United States,” forward if “either of your parents graduated from college,” backward if you “grew up in an urban setting,” and so on.
You could be instructed to play “ culture bingo .” In this game, you would earn points for knowing “what melanin is,” the “influence Zoot suits had on Chicano history” or your “Chinese birth sign.”
You might be informed that white folks use “white talk,” which is “task-oriented” and “intellectual,” while people of color use “color commentary,” which is “process-oriented” and “emotional.”
It also features terms that are more obscure, like “adultism,” which is defined as “prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions against young people, in favor of the older.”
Disappointing results and unintended consequences
In terms of reducing bias and promoting equal opportunity, diversity training has “ failed spectacularly ,” according to the expert assessment of sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev . When Dobbin and Kalev evaluated the impact of diversity training at more than 800 companies over three decades, they found that the positive effects are short-lived and that compulsory training generates resistance and resentment.
“A company is better off doing nothing than mandatory diversity training,” Kalev concluded .
Some of the most popular training approaches are of dubious value. There is evidence, for example, that introducing people to the most commonly used readings about white privilege can reduce sympathy for poor whites , especially among social liberals.
There is also evidence that emphasizing cultural differences across racial groups can lead to an increased belief in fundamental biological differences among races . This means that well-intentioned efforts to celebrate diversity may in fact reinforce racial stereotyping.