This post follows the previous one and explains why I get so exercised about the politics of equity at a place like Evergreen State College. The single issue at the heart of activism at Evergreen for the past two years is mandatory diversity training for faculty. This was first proposed by the Equity Council (which was set up by the college administration and whose name changed a bit from year to year) and brought before the faculty, where it failed on a secret ballot. Equity people were furious and concluded that (a) the faculty had just demonstrated its deep-seated racism, and (b) they would have to go directly to top administrators to impose these trainings anyway. This perspective was picked up by activist students, who felt that only confrontation could rid the campus of its plague of professors who refused to deal with their own racism. This is a bit of a cartoon version, I admit, but it is broadly accurate and provides essential context for understanding why someone like Bret Weinstein got the treatment he received.
So what about mandatory training?
I agree completely that it takes a tremendous amount of skill to negotiate issues involving race, gender and sexual preference in the classroom. I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I definitely don’t think I’ve arrived at perfect wisdom. I’m always trying to improve. For me this is about both better serving the students in front of me and addressing the larger inequalities we’re all enmeshed in because we live when and where we do. I’m absolutely in favor of providing lots of resources for all faculty to work on this front.
Mandatory? Maybe, but go into it with your eyes open. It’s not like Evergreen is the first institution to set up a system of mandatory trainings. This is widespread throughout corporate America, the military, government offices, and nonprofit organizations. There is a vast literature that studies the effectiveness of these programs in meeting their goals. Of course, the findings will differ from one situation to the next, but generalizing, here’s how it went: the first generation of studies, up to maybe ten years ago, was largely negative. They looked for across-the-board, average effects and found almost nothing. The conclusion at that point is that you can’t reach the worst apples by subjecting them to mandatory retraining. That’s what I was aware of when the Evergreen debates first flared up. When the shit hit the fan I went back and looked up the latest round of studies, and I’m glad I did, since now there is a new generation of them, more careful and fine-tuned than the first.
The new studies don’t look for an overall average effect; they are more interested in how the specifics of each program interact with the context (the other things that are happening in the institution that puts the program in place) to get or not get results. Out of this has come a much more nuanced and realistic sense of what trainings can do, and what else should be done concurrently so the combined effect really gets at racism, sexism, etc.
Now I’m not an expert in all this. Please don’t put me on a committee, because I’m just an amateur who reads a few studies and tries to increase my knowledge. There are people out there who really know about this stuff, and we should look to them. The absurdity of the conflict at Evergreen is that no one charged with addressing diversity and inequality in the classroom made a single reference to the accumulated knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in mandatory trainings. You won’t find any awareness that there even is such knowledge in documents like the Equity Plan, and none of this learning has gone into the drafting of Evergreen’s version of the program.
What to make of this? What I conclude is that “equity” at Evergreen for this crowd is purely symbolic. It’s about showing you care and want to do something, which means you are on the right side of the issue, while anyone who opposes you is on the wrong side, racist and irredeemable. But that isn’t going to solve the problem. If you reallycare about achieving equity you will want to approach the issue the best way you can. You will draw on the accumulated knowledge of people who have studied this stuff to create the most effect program possible, and you will also establish a process to see how effective it is in your own context. (See “adaptive management of complex systems”.) Why should I even have to say this in an institution of higher education, where learning from existing knowledge in order to change the world is the core of the mission?
But it gets worse. What a lot of the grumbling about mandatory diversity trainings, which has now been decisively suppressed at Evergreen, was ultimately about was a fear that this would devolve into mandatory ideological boot camp. Is this paranoid? I don’t think so, precisely because the people organizing these events at Evergreen, and perhaps elsewhere, are not motivated by the philosophy that you study the research, apply it, and assess outcomes. I’ve been to many of them, and, while some have been better than others, it’s clear that a lot of the content is ideological. The primary form of argumentation is appeal to authority rather than addressing the evidence. Now it happens that I’m open to the content of this ideology, because my values are also about overcoming eons of oppression. Nevertheless, the form of these events, their dogmatism and group-think, offend me. And again, what matters to me and should matter to anyone who shares my values, is not affirming righteousness with ever more elaborate terminology but actually changing the world: achieving real, demonstrable liberation. You can’t do that if you don’t question yourself and allow the possibility of evidence proving you wrong.
Finally, and here’s the crowning touch: the whole brouhaha at Evergreen was about mandatory training and similar stipulations for “reflection” on equity in annual self-evaluations, hiring decisions and so on. Meanwhile, there is no language in the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement that makes equitable treatment of students an actionable responsibility of faculty, nor was any attention given to this lacuna by our putative equity warriors. All the struggle has been about changing consciousness, and none of it has been about providing students a workable channel for redressing unacceptable faculty behavior. This says quite a bit about the pseudo-politics of equity at Evergreen, doesn’t it?
I hope it’s clear that my outrage at the way this issue has been framed at the college, and is upheld by the latest “independent” report, is miles away from the narrative about Evergreen peddled by the Right. I want to make real progress, at every scale, in dissolving the hierarchies and injustices that pervade this society, and I don’t like seeing this cause abused by those claiming to represent it.
I have been following along on your posts here at AB. Not sure what to add to this as it is always tough road to follow in treating people equally or making up for lost opportunity. Not everyone will be happy with what ever was said.
A few thoughts. If you have to live and work with people successfully, you eventually begin to understand their needs. One of the biggest problems we face in Michigan is the inability of many of the white majority in Michigan to understand. The way Detroit goes so does Michigan and without Detroit, Michigan would be a large vegetable farm and salt mine. Metro-Detroit provides 50% of the GDP of Michigan. Detroit is mostly Black Americans.
Looking at Evergreen stats; 10% are Hispanic, 5% of the campus is black, 3% is native American, 3% is Asian, 8% is of mixed race, and a small percentage is Pacific Islander. 70% white.
Perhaps I forgot what the issue is; but, are the majority of students objecting to the “Day of Absence?” As far as Bret, I think you have him pegged properly. He saw an opportunity.
Lose the words boot camp. Boot Camp breaks down people and then rebuilds them into a form which serves the Marine Corps needs. Watch the first half of Full Metal Jacket for an idea of what Boot Camp is. There was a private snowflake, joker, Gomer Pyle, etc. and it was brutal.
I was back at Loyola University Chicago a couple of weeks ago and was asked what course I thought was the most important in pursuing my Masters. I remember my Ethics course as being important to me once I left there. There were times I paid for saying “no.”
A policy only works if people believe in it. People will only believe in something if they have experienced it. I sorely(?) believe much of our fear and prejudice comes from not knowing who people are and what they believe. Boot Camp broke the doubts and hesitation down to where it did not matter.
I think you need something besides another paper document. Maybe an ethics course or something similar stressing/understanding diversity and team building. Evergreen is 70% white now and that percentage will decrease as the White population becomes the minority. We need to teach our students how to live and work together.
Well, I think the kids have already figured it out. And if my experience twenty or thirty years ago was any example, so have the professors. New days now, may be more open white ring professors. Sensitivity training won’t help them.
Meanwhile the rest of the professors, and students, don’t want their time wasted being bored to tears by mandatory diversity training. Probably the administrators could learn something about handling diversity issues… that is their job… but the professors have another job,. And the kids already know the answer. Or they did in the days before fox news, and, I am afraid to say, the professional diversity activists.
It’s hard enough getting people of the same race and same sex to treat each other decently, not to say intelligently. As for diversity training, hell, you can’t even teach mathematics in a classroom… it’s something, like everything else, you teach yourself.
Yes, boot camp is hyperbolic, not a good idea in a topic that can easily spin out into nasty territory. But bot camp isn’t so bad!
One of the unfortunate aspects of the current state of discussion, such as it is both nationally and at a place like Evergreen, is that if you doubt the specific proposals or rhetoric of those who see themselves as champions of equity and diversity, the assumption is that you are opposed or indifferent to these goals or want to define them down. What especially irks me about the remarks Bret Weinstein has made over the past year is he reinforces that narrative.
But I can’t be the only human on the planet who thinks achieving a much higher level of equality and respect is urgent *and* that we can think critically, based on the evidence, about how to pursue them. My gripe is not at all against the values of equity and diversity but turning them into symbols to be affirmed, not tangible objectives to be achieved — in ways we can and should evaluate and debate *if we care about results*.
This is so fundamental to the mission of education for democracy (Dewey) it blows me away we even have to talk about it.
Thanks for making me laugh at my own mistake.
I do not have a good answer for you. Bret is an asshole and no champion of equality. He (they) are there at the most critical times to blow things up instead of help work things out. There has to be a way to pull them together without breaking them down and rebuilding them.
And Coberly, I’m someone who teaches equity, diversity *and* mathematics in the classroom on a regular basis. I’m not perfect, but I try, and I keep learning from my experience and that of others who do similar things and write about them. I don’t have illusions about how much one teacher can do, but we do what we can.
And where did you get the idea that a classroom has to be so sterile? You must have had crappy teachers. In reality people can do almost everything better with others than holed up in isolation.
Diversity training is absolutely necessary and should be mandatory for anyone working with groups of students. I would love to see this training available to anyone at any time, especially as an issue arises. Teachers could benefit from help desk software readily available to answer questions, and diffuse a situation quickly. Rather than looking at this as an issue, we should see it as a form of preparedness, and a tool that could be useful in any situation.
Welcome to AB. First time comments go to moderation to weed out the spammers and the advertisers.
and where did you get the idea i was advocating isolation?
i had a few good teachers and many bad ones. i was surprised to learn, when i had the chance, that i was a bad one. i had the idea i could “teach” mathematics. What a good teacher does is inspire the person to teach themselves, and maybe sometimes help them avoid wasting their time. I can’t see where butt time in a classroom ever helped anyone.
you may well be a better teacher than i was, or you might not…. i have no way to know. but if you are, you are way better than most of those i have have, and all of those my employers have hired as consultants to teach me and others to be better people.
and just to try to be more clear… people teach themselves better manners, and respect for diversity, by working together on something that matters. they don’t learn it by being preached at…. unless they take the preaching to heart and teach themselves. note, isolation not required.
sometimes a boss who says “i won’t tolerate bad manners” helps his employees learn to tolerate diversity.
i thought i was agreeing with you about “mandatory training.”
“have HAD” not “have have”
“I agree completely that it takes a tremendous amount of skill to negotiate issues involving race, gender and sexual preference in the classroom.”
Yeah–and my experience from the half dozen or so mandatory diversity training sessions I had to attend in my career is that they are usually taught by complete idiots who, were corporations and government offices not paying for these courses, would be unemployed. These courses are a racket, a drain on productivity and in many ways counterproductive (if you don’t believe that, you’ve ether never sat in one or are a blithering idiot yourself).
No bigot who ever attended these courses was ever cured of their affliction, in fact forcing them to attend likely made them even more resentful and actually showed them how they could get away with discrimination (never, ever tell anyone what you’re up to, nor ever document it).
It’s too bad that Weinstein’s extremely valid points are being dismissed by some simply because he had to go to the conservative media in order to be heard. But that’s due to how badly journalism in America has degraded in the age of cable teevee and the Internet. All I can say is I’m glad I’m now retired and don’t have to put up with mind numbing, soul destroying corporate lunacy such as mandatory diversity training anymore.
Unfortunately Evergreen is likely dead. Admissions are down 20%, even though they accept nearly 100% of applicants, and they were already below the Washington state mandated enrollment.
Who would want to go, or have their kids go, to a college with such an overwhelming fixation on race/gender/sexual orientation/ who know what’s next bias? It has created its own monster.
It was my intent to let what I’ve already written speak for itself, but I have to respond to Sammy. (1) Evergreen isn’t dead. It’s in trouble and needs to make some swift changes, but dead? No. And what would “dead” even mean? The state will not simply mothball one of its six baccalaureates. As I see it, the worse case scenario is that Evergreen gets gobbled up by UW or WSU. (2) Evergreen has extraordinary opportunities to offer to students prepared to take advantage of them. Inquiry-centered interdisciplinary team-teaching is amazing when done right, and it’s often done wonderfully at this place. Believe it or not, Evergreen isn’t one big non-stop demonstration; a lot of other stuff is going on.
Having went to smaller universities and having sent my children to places such as Ohio Wesleyan and Lake Forest; I hardily agree with you on going to smaller institutions. The diversity claimed by Evergreen presents a melting pot of cultural, urban, and country experience which will be valuable to your students once they leave. The setting has to be beautiful also and I can imagine myself wandering the hills around Evergreen.