Perspective, Insight, & Humor
DEI One-Stop-Shop

DEI One-Stop-Shop

Puzzle Peeps-byGerdAltmann-Pixabay
Puzzle Peeps-byGerdAltmann-Pixabay

Here is the info you need, compiled from my research and writings on the subject.  Much of my research is Kentucky related, as the state legislature has been sucked into the Culture War.  I address the many objections to DEI below.

What is DEI?

In short, DEI refers to programs and initiatives addressing Diversity (people from the rainbow of sub-cultures), Equity (fairness, equal opportunity, and justice), and Inclusion (belonging and feeling valued).  DEI principles may be applicable in:

  • Workshops and trainings,
  • Course content,
  • Education methods,
  • Student enrollment or classroom makeup,
  • Community service and social justice work,
  • Scholarships,
  • On-campus housing communities,
  • Student centers,
  • After-school programs,
  • Employment screening tools, etc.

DEI initiatives around Equity promote social justice as a value that is actionable.

“Diversity” represents all cultural sub-groups, including gay and trans, white and non-white, differently abled (both physically and mentally), religions, classes, ages, and genders.

How popular is DEI?

It is popular in educational settings.  Educators understand the value of DEI initiatives to increase their ability to engage students, whether through more diverse content or more equitable and welcoming class environments.  To that end, institutions have adopted DEI policies and/or created staff to administer them.

Do DEI programs in higher education raise the cost of tuition?

Minimally.  First, tuition (in Kentucky) is set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, which illuminates this issue well:  “[S]tate cuts to higher education over the last decade have shifted a larger portion of college costs to students and their families.”

Further, tuition cost is impacted by a multitude of factors, like increased operating costs and a shift in the burden of higher costs to families, who are encouraged to take on student-loan debt.  There are also capital projects, including facilities to accommodate increased student population, as well as increased research and program offerings, which respond to the needs of a changing society and technological advancements and make universities competitive.

Naturally, there is an interest in faculty salaries.  At University of Kentucky, for example, top salaries are not for DEI employees, but for top administrators and athletic coaches, ranging from $400K to $1.7Mil.  Salaries for DEI faculty range from $50–105K, with a few outliers being more—but still below $400K.  Most importantly, all staff appear to wear multiple hats, with their DEI role being one.  This suggests that cutting programs may have little if any impact on faculty and salaries, thus little effect on tuition cost.

Do DEI programs cause division?

The rationale here is that diversity programs focus upon our differences and thus divide us, sometimes causing reverse discrimination of white heteronormatives.  But there is not substantive evidence of this—just a boatload of conservative rhetoric plus an anecdote here and there.

My experience has been completely opposite.  People who learn about cultural differences experience empathy, which produces insights and understanding of the sub-group, thus leading to respect and improved relationships.  Think about how you respond differently to a person on the autism spectrum once you learn more about it.

The most basic form of Diversity Training (DT) is teaching an accurate, unvarnished history of American sub-cultures.  Kathryn Wiley, a white professor from Howard University, eloquently explains her reaction to learning a more detailed African-American history:  “[M]y entire understanding of this country changed...I gained significant respect and reverence for communities of color...It made me more committed to our democratic ideals and to building community...It made me feel a healthy sense of responsibility to those different from myself.”  Wiley indicates that if others could have this experience, they would have a renewed sense of civic responsibility.

What If DEI makes white students feel bad?

There is anecdotal evidence that some white students have felt bad after hearing accurate, unvarnished American History.  It is an educator’s responsibility to manage those feelings appropriately.

Imparting historical knowledge is just the beginning; helping students evaluate and process this information are essential steps in the education process!  And the only way educators can do that is with appropriate training.  This is accomplished by requiring that all educators are trained in best practices to deliver and discuss emotionally challenging topics.  This would be facilitated by...a DEI officer.

"Imparting historical knowledge is just the beginning; helping students evaluate and process this information are essential steps in the education process!"

Are public universities bastions of liberal indoctrination?

Although this makes a great conservative rallying point, this assumption has been debunked by research.  As conservative Matthew Woessner of Penn State observes, “[Our] results do not paint a picture of conservative students under siege.”

One explanation for this myth stems from the erroneous idea that the term “liberal” in Liberal Arts Education means the same as the word “liberal” which is opposite from a “conservative” political ideology.  But “liberal” in academia comes from the Latin “liberalis,” which means “relating to freedom,” as in thought.

This myth also assumes that 1) all professors are progressive, and 2) aren’t “professional[s] capable of divorcing their own political ideologies from their work,” says Dr. Kelly Wilz, University of Wisconsin professor.

Most important, it doesn’t accurately reflect what occurs in a classroom.  Educators present information and then, as Dr. Wilz explains, “get [students] to think critically...not...tell them what to think.”

And what about the students?  Dr. Wilz asserts, “[This idea] presumes that students are so gullible and incapable of free thought, professors can shape their minds...”

All ideas are welcome—but not all ideas have merit.

Does DEI stifle Free Speech?

Dr. Wilz articulates that, in a classroom, all voices are welcome—but not all ideas have merit.  Students are expected to defend their positions with evidence; if they cannot, they may sense pushback from other students...“because they have not survived the challenge of scrutiny. The resistance I see is from people who can’t take that scrutiny and who can’t defend their ideas,” she says.

One example I frequently encountered was the issue over gender:  Some students assert in classrooms that there are only two genders, and they use their beliefs and religion to support their view.  Other students and professors push back, citing scientific evidence that gender is more of a spectrum.  Which idea has more merit?

That is Democracy with a capital “D” in action.

In contrast, anti-DEI legislation bans a wide swath of speech in favor of a conservative worldview—hardly democratic.

Legislators can’t claim to support Free Speech while banning speech they disagree with.

What are WOKE policies?

The term is thought to have originated in the 1930s in African-American communities and then was popularized in songs by the black artist Lead Belly.

A woke person today is someone who is alert (awake) to racial or gender prejudice in society.  This article is an excellent education into both sides of the Woke Culture War.  It’s easy to understand why some people may fall on one side or the other.

For example, pro-woke people would support BLM, display pride flags, use sensitive (politically correct) language, or support gender-neutral bathrooms.  Anti-woke people would oppose affirmative action, forced use of a preferred pronoun, being politically correct, Critical Race Theory (systemic racism), and canceling a college speaker because they have controversial views on race and power.

“A woke person today is someone who is alert (awake) to racial or gender prejudice in society.”

Is DEI a trademarked program that can be banned?

No, it is not.  But anti-DEI legislation implies that there is a standardized, packaged DEI program that is causing harm to students and faculty, and thus should be banned.  Moreover, it links DEI with “divisive/discriminatory concepts,” like systemic racism, and prohibits presenting these concepts as fact.

Anti-DEI legislation also arbitrarily demonizes benign terminology, when diversity, equity, and inclusion are valid training and educational concepts.  It’s like saying, “We legislators fundamentally disagree with CRISPR technology, so you may not teach that in a biology course.”

Kentucky’s anti-DEI legislation facilitates litigation.  So, would an attempt to teach any portion of “diversity, equity, or inclusion” be met with a legal challenge?  Can an institution mandate training which shows professors how to treat diverse students fairly?  That’s Equity.  Or how to welcome all viewpoints?  That’s Inclusion.  Or how to expand educational materials to reflect under-represented minorities?  That’s Diversity.

Would a professor be sued for assigning The Color of Law; A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, a book exploring systemic racism caused by Redlining—because it explores a “discriminatory concept” as fact?

Implementation of anti-DEI legislation would be a legal landmine.

By banning concepts, legislators ban discussion and thoughtwhich is unconstitutional.

Does the anti-DEI movement have roots in white supremacy? 

If your antenna went up because this sounds like white supremacy, you’d be correct:  The anti-DEI movement is an orchestrated effort by national groups promoting anti-multiculturalism manifestos.  Stay tuned for a deeper exploration.

What are the consequences of anti-DEI in education legislation?

If anti-DEI legislation passes in Kentucky, out-of-state organizations are poised to press for boycotts of Kentucky businesses, conventions, and educational institutions.  Recruitment for the 51K jobs Governor Beshear has procured is in jeopardy, plus retention as well as recruitment of students and teachers, as Kentucky becomes perceived as unwelcoming and anti-intellectual.

Anti-DEI legislation ignores the experiences as well as contributions of minority sub-cultures.  Programs intended to help minority students feel included and valued and which give them the tools to succeed at school risk elimination.  In classrooms, it chills accurate historical education and the accompanying discourse which attempts not only to make sense of our many challenging episodes but also to encourage civic participation to improve the lives of minorities.  Instead of educators being respected as experts and professionals, they will be scrutinized, micromanaged—and sued.

The bottom line?  It won’t improve the quality of education.

Are there better solutions?

Are there professors incorrectly administering diversity programming?  Undoubtedly.  But eliminating trained experts in higher education is the wrong fix!  Instead, legislators should ask the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to facilitate institutions strengthening their DEI initiatives, with training to:

  • Assure “viewpoint diversity,” and
  • Promote best practices for discussing emotionally challenging topics, like systemic racism, so no one feels bad, and
  • At the bare minimum ensure all professors know basic educational pedagogy!
Midnight Blue Flourish

Contact your legislator and tell them to stop legislating the Culture War and oppose anti-DEI in education legislation!


Kimberly Kennedy
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