Updated: Nov 2, 2020
An executive order from the White House released a few weeks ago is now being legally challenged by the NAACP and other national civil rights groups. The order established a bizarre ultimatum: entities that receive federal funds must cease any equity-related training, or else forego receiving those dollars in the future. Sadly, at least two postsecondary institution has given in to this pressure, temporarily halting its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) education and training and citing this Executive Order as the reason.
This ultimatum is not only bizarre – it is dangerous. It pits postsecondary institutions’ need to remain solvent and desire to keep tuition low for students against its ability to be the engines of social justice and economic prosperity they aspire to be. While loss of funding is certainly something to fear in today’s uncertain economic climate, giving in to these pressures and cancelling DEI training could send an irrevocably harmful message. It could signal to students, particularly Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ students, that efforts to ensure they are valued and successful are dispensable, and that the success of all students historically marginalized is less important than the institution’s bottom line.
However, this policy need not be the nail in the coffin of equity that it appears to be, or perhaps, that it was intended to be. Let’s reflect on what the executive order did not prohibit. It did not prohibit intentionally diversifying faculty. It did not prohibit taking equity goals out of a silo and integrating them seamlessly into the overall institutional strategic plan. It did not prohibit review of curriculum to make it more culturally inclusive. It did not prohibit robust scrutiny on policies and processes to identify and remedy structures that uphold systemic racism. The executive order prohibited training, but it did not prohibit transformation. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is Student-Ready Strategies’ intent to boldly and unapologetically continue that work, and we encourage all institutional leaders to do the same.