- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Some colleges are rethinking diversity initiatives in the wake of the Trump administration’s crackdown on “divisive concepts” in workplace training for federal contractors.

The University of Iowa on Friday cited Mr. Trump’s threat to pull federal funding from contractors that espouse a “malign ideology” in employment training seminars as reason to reassess its own training.

“[A]fter consulting with multiple entities, and given the seriousness of the penalties for non-compliance with the order, which include the loss of federal funding, we are recommending that all units temporarily pause for a two-week period to evaluate any trainings, workshops, or programs that may include language or materials that could be deemed in violation of the Executive Order,” said a statement from Liz Tovar, interim associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Southern Illinois University anthropology professor Roberto Barrios told The Washington Times that his speaking slot at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at John A. Logan College was postponed when school officials scrapped diversity events following the president’s executive order.

“To me, this is deeply personal. Teaching ourselves to think critically about race, class, gender, sexuality is a matter of life and death,” said Mr. Barrios. “Sometimes people think it’s liberal fluff [but] then you look at Dylann Roof, who went in and killed nine beautiful people. That child was denied a critical race relations course in the United States.”

(Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is serving a life sentence in federal prison for fatally shooting nine Black people in a church in South Carolina in 2015.)

Officials at the University of Iowa and John A. Logan College, a community college in Carterville, Illinois, did not respond to requests for comment.

Iowa’s flagship university reported in July hundreds of millions in federally funded research opportunities for 2020, including $115 million from NASA to study satellites. John A. Logan President Ron House cited “several million dollars in federal money” in an interview with The Southern, a newspaper in Carbondale, Illinois, as a reason for canceling the Hispanic Heritage Month event.

But they’re not the only colleges feeling the pinch from the president’s executive order.

University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel called Mr. Trump’s Sept. 22 order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” “very troubling,” saying “[t]he educational efforts this order seeks to prohibit are critical to much-needed action to create equitable economic and social opportunities for all members of society.”

On Wednesday, The Courier, a newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reported that the University of Northern Iowa’s administration was reviewing its training in light of the executive order.

Mr. Trump’s executive order last month invoked marches on Selma and the memory of Abraham Lincoln to decry “hierarchies based on collective social and political identities.” The order also threatened withholding federal funds from contractors and investigations by the Justice Department into trainings that perpetuate “racial stereotypes and division.”

“All of this is contrary to the fundamental premises underpinning our Republic,” the order reads.

It defines “divisive concepts” as ideas that postulate that “meritocracy” is racist or that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist.”

Scholars have debated the impact of diversity education on students and campus communities. In 2018, researchers reported in Social Psychological and Personality Science an “unexpectedly negative outcome” that persons exposed to a belief in “color blindness” — rather than the more contemporary notions of “multiculturalism” — showed more belief in “race essentialist” beliefs.

Jeff Snyder, an associate professor of educational studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, has in the past questioned the effectiveness — if not the intent — of diversity training. But he called the executive order “heavy-handed” and “profoundly misguided.”

“The initiative appears to be cutting off vital conversations about race in the United States and other significant diversity topics,” Mr. Snyder said in an email to The Times.

Last month, Mr. Trump announced a grant to develop a “pro-American curriculum,” chastising a “web of lies” being taught in U.S. classrooms to combat racism.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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