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Doors, not destinies

DEI has become a supreme value in U.S. culture and an idolatrous end in itself

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IT’S POSSIBLE THAT HALF of Americans are still living blissfully unaware of DEI. If asked, most of us would approve of diversity, and equity, and inclusion. Isn’t that what America is all about?

DEI has taken a meandering journey from the civil rights movements beginning in the 1960s. Here’s how AcademyHealth and the California-based Greenlining Institute describe its progress: “The focus in the 1960s into the mid-1970s was on tolerance, meaning the acceptance of integration in workplaces, schools, and communities. From the mid-1970s into the 1990s, the focus was on multiculturalism and being aware of the achievements of various racial and ethnic minorities.”

Today, assuming that people of European descent will be outnumbered by minorities in 15-20 years, “there has been an increased emphasis on accountability to ensure that diverse groups are represented at all economic and social levels, often using social media to hold government, corporations, and civil society accountable.”

This seems only fair. As a means to the end of a just and mutually respectful society, DEI could serve some useful purpose. The trouble comes when DEI is itself the end: a never-ending, rock-turning, dark-corner-grubbing search for violations of a shifting ideal. Right-wing media teem with case studies: for example, the ordeal of Amy Wax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

The lady has credentials. She has served in the U.S. Department of Justice and has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. She has published widely in law journals, authored books, and won awards for excellence in teaching. She earned tenure in 2001, which is supposed to guarantee her freedom to voice opinions without fear of reprisal. But running into the DEI buzz saw has put her career in jeopardy.

The trouble began in 2017 when students complained about a column in which Amy Wax mourned the “breakdown of bourgeois culture” and its consequences, claiming that “all cultures are not equal.” In 2022 the dean of Carey Law filed a formal complaint asking for an investigation of further sins. Wax had allegedly denigrated the intellectual capacity of black students, stereotyped Asian students as timid and conformist, and invited a white supremacist to speak to her class (this was Jared Taylor, who calls himself a “white advocate”).

Judging by her own comments quoted online, Wax tends to stereotype other cultures and ethnic groups—a no-no in polite academic society, where it’s perfectly OK to stereotype whites. But DEI as a policy depends on group stereotypes. Harvard’s own admissions bias against Asian students, who were consistently rated as “unlikeable” and lacking “courage and kindness,” led to the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action last summer.

Meanwhile, Wax’s case has lumbered through faculty courts, online editorials, and podcasts. In January the Carey Law School hearing board recommended that she be suspended for one year at half-pay, that her named chair be removed, and that in all her speaking appearances she disassociate herself from Penn Carey. If not for tenure, she would probably be out of a job.

Wax insists she’s a victim of “cancel culture”—already a shopworn complaint. But it’s hard to argue with her when considering other professors’ inflammatory statements against whites, conservatives, and Christians, all uttered with little or no consequence. From its beginning as a plea for tolerance to its demand for white accountability, DEI has become the supreme value in classrooms and boardrooms—an end in itself rather than the means to an equitable and just society. It should be a subordinate value, not an ultimate one; a door not a destiny. When doors become destinies, they shut on the very values they’re supposed to uphold.

The Bible calls this idolatry, and the right is not immune. Capitalism, family values, and Christian nationalism (however defined) can also become ends in themselves, rather than means to a universal good. “You shall have no other gods before Me” applies to all of us. Is that your destiny in view, or is it just a door?

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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