What Yale tells us about race on college campuses

May 15, 2018

Running to give a final exam I was struck ungrammatically correct with thoughts about Higher Education’s continual ineffective dance with human difference.

Here is the deal: Diversity training doesn’t work. 31 years and counting, a huge cottage industry of pundits, professors, and consultants, and countless hours of mandated training and we still find ourselves talking about race and gender on college campuses.

The cycle is the same. A student or administrator says or does something and the college responds with the same line, “We are deeply troubled. This is not who we are. We will do better to ensure we are more inclusive.” At some point, we need to realize that inclusion is not our problem.

Our fixation on the numbers (diversity) and the positions they fill (inclusion) obscure the real question of how can we be authentic human beings from a myriad of intersected identities and work with other human beings from a myriad intersected identities to get our work done.

That’s the problem with Diversity and Inclusion. It can describe the whos and the whats but not the how that is our daily campus lives together. D&I is based on a flaw belief that a training session can make some one less racist, sexist, homophobic, or -ist anything. As a member of the clergy I can tell you that sometimes no matter how well you preach no one sermon can create conversion. Humans don’t work that way. Persuasion is both a cognitive AND spiritual process. Which is why students who had to sit through the diversity training sessions at the beginning of their university careers are still our biggest offenders — because in the end, we gave them no tangible guidelines of dos and don’ts based in the daily reality of the classroom and campus.

We all belong to tribes that we love and value. Sure, skin color is a tribe but it is not the only one that frames our moral reality. Generation, geographical origin, vocation, class, gender, sexual identity, and political ideology. They all intersect to create our own unique cultural language. Those tribes frame the way we think and act. We always think that our tribe(s) is better and other tribes have much to learn. Fine. But one thing is also true: the college campus is where all the tribes meet to learn and work. No tribe is inherently evil or inherently good. We ALL have something to learn in order to bridge the tribal causeway. You need to learn my language and I need to learn yours. Not so that we can be friends but so that we can at least work together in authenticity and respect to focus on the tasks that brought us to campus.

What I believe we must embrace is a philosophy that says, “look no matter how you feel or what you believe, here are the basic rules of interaction on our campus. More importantly, these are the basic skills and behaviors necessary to succeed in a the global work place. We hope they will make you a better person morally but if they don’t-fine but you still need to practice these behaviors to be a part of our community.”

If we trained our police, administrators, faculty, and students to move beyond the dance of forced politeness and inauthentic discourse that masks our intertribal insecurities and provide them the cultural guidebooks of each tribe’s rituals, behaviors, values, and language (just like we should for study abroad), we might find they are better at living and working on our campuses.

If we took the same care to to learn the unique worldview and communication needs of the communities that assemble on our college campuses that we do when we stock up on our Lonely Planet books for vacation to foreign locales, then that work might pay off in ways that increase the civility and intertribal relationships so that we can educate and be educated.

I know, I know. How dare I disrupt the well honed but ineffective machine of Diversity education? What I am proposing is nonsense, radical, but intelligent. Culturally intelligent, that is.