DEI’s “Grape-Nuts problem” | WORLD
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DEI’s “Grape-Nuts problem”

The University of Florida jettisons its DEI office—and more of us should, too

The Century Tower and University Auditorium at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Irinka-s/iStock/Getty Images Plus

DEI’s “Grape-Nuts problem”
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On March 1, the University of Florida made a shockingly countercultural announcement. “The University of Florida” says the administrative memo, “has closed the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, eliminated DEI positions and administrative appointments, and halted DEI-focused contracts with outside vendors.”

The announcement brings the University into compliance with Florida Board of Governors rule 9.016, which prohibits expenditures of taxpayer dollars on “’Diversity, Equity or Inclusion’ or ‘DEI’ [which] is any program, campus activity or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.”

Over the last decade far more universities and industries have followed the trajectory of University of California at Berkeley, whose DEI staff ballooned from 118 in 2014 to 190 in 2023, with a price tag north of $25 million per year. Under the Biden administration American taxpayers funded $16.3 million for diversity training for federal agencies.

Why should more organizations, academic or otherwise, follow the lead of the University of Florida rather than Berkeley?

Harvard professor Roland Fryer offers a straightforward reason: “Our intuition for how to decrease race and gender disparities in the workplace has failed us for decades. … The average impact of corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training is zero and some evidence suggests that the impact can become negative if the training is mandated.” The Harvard Business Review  concludes that under such training “your organization will become less diverse, not more.” Indeed a massive body of empirical literature suggests that DEI training often reinforces rather than reduces biases, increases minority turnover, diminishes employee morale, and has an adverse psychological and physiological impact on minority employees.

DEI programs often encourage and reward employees for detecting discrimination and oppression in most if not all interactions. Such a desired outcome is based on the dogma of acclaimed DEI guru Robin DiAngelo. In her award-winning guide to social justice education, DiAngelo declares that the question about discrimination should be “How is it manifesting here?” not “Is it manifesting here?” Believing we are nails and we are constantly threatened by hammers from all directions is sure to take a toll. Indeed, the empirical research suggests that “the more people perceive themselves to be surrounded by others who harbor bias or hostility against them … they become more likely to experience anxiety, depression, psychogenic and psychosomatic health problems, and to act in antisocial ways, often to the detriment of their professional success and overall flourishing.”

Want to gauge whether your DEI training is truly inclusive? Simply try to inject a healthy dose of marginalized perspectives into the DEI session.

A solid reason either to drastically revise or, following the University of Florida, altogether eliminate DEI training is what we may call “the Grape-Nuts problem.” A Jerry Seinfeld quip from the 1980s has since become a comedic cliché—namely, Grape-Nuts cereal contain neither grapes nor nuts. DEI, as currently practiced, contains neither diversity, equity, or inclusion. It promotes a monolithic, hegemonic, power-based ideology. It spotlights the “anti-racism” of ideologues like Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, or the radical gender theories of John Money, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler.

Want to gauge whether your DEI training is truly inclusive? Simply try to inject a healthy dose of marginalized perspectives into the DEI session. Cite minority voices like Columbia’s Musa al-Gharbi, Brown’s Glenn Loury, Stanford’s Thomas Sowell, or Vanderbilt’s Carol Swain. You will learn quickly that DEI is not an effort to center all black voices, only those that faithfully support the white, yes, white ideology embedded in DEI.

Consider such core DEI concepts as “white fragility,” “white privilege,” “whiteness” (as a pejorative), racism as “prejudice plus power” (a vice, it is argued, only whites can exhibit). All four of these cardinal doctrines of DEI education originate not from minorities themselves (a majority of whom repudiate such notions), but from far left white feminists—Robin DiAngelo, Peggy MacIntosh, Judith Katz, and Patricia Bidol-Padva, respectively.

Becoming the very thing it seeks to eradicate, DEI training advances a pernicious form of white supremacy. It privileges the perspectives of certain white leftists while using social pressure and workplace power-differentials to marginalize voices of color or anyone who might question established DEI orthodoxies. In doing so, DEI has become a self-mockery, a hegemonic power claiming to dismantle hegemonic power. The joke is on us.

DEI delivers the opposite of what it promises. It delivers not diversity but a narrow ideology. It delivers not equity but different advantages and disadvantages based on pre-judged hierarchical group identities. It delivers not inclusion but the systemic coercion and exclusion of those who dare question its methods.

Most prefer the path of least resistance. They quietly endure ideologically charged training. They sign whatever politicized pledges they must to renew their contracts. Is there a better way, one that leaves our integrity intact? Yes. We must be courageous enough to form the tip of the spear through the paper-thin hegemonic power of the current DEI industrial complex. (It may also demand from us a serious effort to develop what the Colson Center’s John Stonestreet calls “a theology of getting fired.”) Practically, this could be as simple as asking certain revealing questions during DEI training sessions.

If we care about true diversity, then we should follow the University of Florida. DEI is not right and does not work.

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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