Point: scrap ‘diversity training’

November 12, 2007

All whites are racist. At least that’s the message that a recently discontinued University of Delaware residential-hall program had disseminated to over 7,000 of its students.

As part of a “diversity training” program that students participated in during orientation, freshmen attended training sessions, floor meetings and one-on-one meetings with their Resident Assistants.

The outlandish training materials distributed to RAs included suggested discussion topics and race-related definitions, chief among them: “A RACIST: A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”

It went on: “By this definition, people of color cannot be racists, because as peoples within the U.S. system, they do not have the power to back up their prejudices, hostilities, or acts of discrimination.”

It was also suggested that RAs ask students when they first discovered their sexuality.

After the Philly-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote a letter of complaint, Delaware’s president, Patrick Harker (formerly dean of our very own Wharton), halted the program.  While Harker’s actions were appropriate, it still doesn’t explain how a program such as this even was tolerated in the first place.

Even without the blatant propaganda unique to Delaware’s program, required “diversity” workshops, seminars and exercises such as these have no place in public universities. From an ideological standpoint, the content will always run the risk of political indoctrination. From a practical standpoint, such touchy-feely measures regularly backfire, deterring the very students they are targeting from serious thought and discussion on the subject.

They instead should be scrapped in favor of historical, fact-based education that is taught in the classroom by teachers, not in hallways by RAs.

By the time a teenager gets to college, he has already formed some stance on race, gender and sexuality. Some are activists, some are racists, some are apathetic. Tell a racist or someone who thinks racism doesn’t exist that he has to participate in a “diversity day” and he’ll most likely tune the whole thing out. Kids these days are stubborn.

But they are not as stubborn as their predecessors who tolerated slavery, segregation and a whole host of racist actions against a whole host of races. Presented with the right facts and sound arguments, in the correct setting, there is undoubtedly potential for effecting change in their attitudes about race.

In other words, universities looking to educate their students on racial, sexual and religious diversity should be more like Penn.

Last spring, the college approved a new U.S. Cultural Diversity Requirement for the Class of 2012. As the DP reported, the list of potential courses includes over 160 options ranging from African American history to the sociology of religion.

By encouraging students to select diversity-related classes that interest them, a student can reach conclusions on his own—conclusions arrived at by thorough review of historical or current facts and events and a balanced set of arguments.

More often that not, extensive research of the 1960s South will grant even the most stubborn of racists some perspective.

It is a noble and worthy goal for a university to educate its students beyond math, science and the prose of Plath to prepare them to be responsible citizens of the world. But a university shouldn’t dictate the exact perspective with which its students approach their global environment.

The path to enlightenment does not start with calling all white people racist or forcing an administration’s notion of “racism” down kids’ throats. It begins with cold, hard knowledge.

Though it is laudable that Harker took the correct step in halting the program, he was less than apologetic in his letter to the university on Nov. 1: “There are reasons for concern that the actual purpose [of the program] is not being fulfilled,” Harker wrote. It is not feasible to evaluate these issues without a full and broad-based review.”

Let’s only hope Harker takes a lesson from the last school he called home and the “broad-based review” concludes that this purpose is better served through a course requirement than a residential hall program.

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Schools: University of Delaware Cases: University of Delaware: Students Required to Undergo Ideological Reeducation