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The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

In Critique and Defense of DEI

The Ways in Which DEI has benefited Parker but needs to change
In+Critique+and+Defense+of+DEI
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

DEI has been nationally under fire recently, for both good and bad reasons. Many have recognized the overreach of some DEI programs. With overreliance on censorious policies, placation of students, and general destruction of freedom of speech and thought, some DEI programs have actively hurt the learning and work environment. As such, a certain group of advocates have called for the dismantling of the DEI industrial complex (an industry valued at $9.4 billion) and return to policies that are neutral to DEI or actively seek to undo some of its influence. I certainly am also of the opinion that DEI has gone too far, however, I do think those calling for its dismantling are reactionary and ignore the tangible benefits it brings. In order to try and keep two thoughts in our heads at once, we must take a more objective view of the subject and acknowledge what’s working and what’s not.

To start, what has the practical impact been? The DEI industry has developed over the past decade or so and really took off during the pandemic following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement that followed. DEI initiatives have since ballooned, becoming standard in offices and schools across the country, but its tangible effects have been hard to track. 

Many long articles attempting to study DEI have been scarce on hard data, making it difficult to understand specifically what its impact has been, although that impact does seem largely positive. A majority of Americans, 53% according to the Pew Research Center, believe that DEI initiatives and training has had a net positive impact, and it’s hard to deny the advantages that having a diverse workforce brings. In finance for example, a study conducted by Dr. Sheen Levine showed that ethnically diverse teams successfully predict stock behavior 58% more often than homogenous teams, and many studies have shown the tangible benefits of diversity from the school building, to the neighborhood, to the office. 

However, several employees of companies utilizing DEI training have reported that these policies executed badly have had more negative than positive impact. Because businesses who work in this space are unwilling or unable to conduct studies on the practical handling of things like unconscious bias training, it’s up to individual anecdotes to fill in the gaps. 

According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, many DEI practices start with an arbitrary speech or a collection of generic intervention and discussions that do little to actually address the problem at a given institution, which can actively hurt the mission of DEI. Additionally, many of these training and other interventions tend to be one off, which further hurts the ability to build momentum or trust within a given institution and, therefore, its ability to effect change long-term. In short, xeroxed DEI initiatives hurt more than they help yet are pulling in a ton of money, and the DEI industry’s unwillingness to self-study means it isn’t improving. 

But the most insidious issues of DEI aren’t found at large businesses, in my opinion, but at schools and universities where freedom of speech and thought are paramount. The purpose of a school is to expose you to new ideas and engage in rigorous debate about it, and diversity undoubtedly exposes you to more of those unique and different perspectives, however, the efforts taken to safeguard the feelings of increasingly diverse populations in schools and universities have only served to hurt a culture of free discourse and education. To suppress difficult speech, be that conservative speech or controversial speech that may be offensive, is to stop necessary conversation. The solution to misinformed or offensive speech should not be to shout it down but to counter it with logic. To quote Frederick Douglass, “There can be no right of speech where any man, however lifted up, or however humble, however young, or however old, is overawed by force, and compelled to suppress his honest sentiments.”

DEI has been used to suppress much of this speech, from colleges rescinding invitations to speakers who express views that are considered offensive (one judge was shouted down during a speech at Stanford Law for refusing to use preferred pronouns for example), reactionarily shutting down an exchange of ideas over the subject. These forms of censorship are as insidious as those being imposed in republican states which seek to “protect” students from immoral content, the same reason many liberal institutions are abridging free speech. This restriction of speech is often started by students (39% of students said they’d support barring someone from campus who’s against abortion) but these policies have calcified and become institutionalized where restricting unsavory speech has become the default. 

Finally, in terms of societal trends, social media and constant internet access has created a liberal echo chamber wherein censorship and canceling has become commonplace, making students think they’re entitled to not have to deal with difficult topics or differing opinions. This needs to change.

At Parker we’re not at the flashpoint of culture wars in the way many universities are today, but it’s still important for us to take a look at the DEI policies we do have. To start, we have an emphasis on DEI dialogues and exercises that I think hurt more than they help. I’ve written about this topic before so I’ll keep it brief, but the fundamental problem with these settings is that they’re used just to tick off the box rather than actually cultivate any kind of trust through which real conversation can be had. Additionally, unlike the classroom setting where race is often discussed effectively, there isn’t the time to really discuss what students want to talk about or the issues that are most pressing. The issues underlying these conversations haven’t necessarily changed, but I want to suggest a different tack than  I might have in the past. 

I’ve previously advocated making these conversations more frequent and acted upon, but that might be the wrong approach. Instead of doubling down on training and dialogues, we moved these more specifically to the classroom. There’s already a level of trust in a classroom that’s lacking in arbitrary groups and already a trust between teachers and students which could lead to productive inward conversations that could accompany works taught in class. Many classes already have some version of this, but to formalize it and try it out doesn’t seem like it could hurt.

Another issue Parker has with DEI is our ideological uniformity. Once again this is an issue I’ve pontificated on in “The Weekly” but Parker does have a serious problem with actual conversation about controversial subjects. I’ve spoken with several classmates who have felt unable to express a more conservative position or question narratives presented in class. The sheer power of the dominant ideology (middle of the road liberalism disguised as radical) doesn’t allow for contradiction nor to be challenged. This lack of conversation about other ideologies, though, often doesn’t create people who all have the same ideology but simply profess to and thus never have their ideas challenged. DEI, for example, is an issue I feel some trepidation about criticizing because of how dominant it is at Parker and that could only be worse for someone forced to write a diversity statement during the hiring process. Once again I believe the only way to combat this problem is with radical free speech, allowing students, however misguided, to voice their opinions and be challenged should they not make sense. 

There’s a lot more to talk about with DEI but I think there’s one letter that encapsulates the problems with DEI today: B. I’ve used DEI throughout this piece but not the B (belonging) for a simple reason, it’s too wishy-washy. Diversity can be measured empirically, equity can be measured (inclusion is a little more difficult but if you were to look at the makeup of a given group at the school I think you could somewhat measure it), but belonging is fully intangible. It’s really a feeling and can be the product of many intangibles that really cannot be changed despite best efforts. I mean the school has a sizable teen population which has always been characterized by some level of dejection, not very conducive to belonging. The word is just too difficult to address but represents the movement away from data and towards feelings in trying to create social progress which I don’t think is the right approach. One should be physically safe in a school environment but not necessarily intellectually safe, and if one is never offended in a classroom, a school has failed in its mission to educate. 

Diversity is a great thing in my opinion. It helps expose one to more views, it creates more efficient learning environments, it helps rectify past wrongs and much more. These benefits are largely being ignored by those who seek a “return” to the meritocracy (which doesn’t appear to have really existed) but we must also acknowledge the failings of DEI and work to correct them. 

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About the Contributor
Arjun Kalra, DEIB Coverage and Internal Development
Arjun Kalra is a senior in his fourth year on "The Weekly" and his first as the Editor of DEIB Coverage and Internal Development. Sophomore year he had a column centered around ways Parker can be improved. Outside of "The Weekly," Arjun is a Model UN captain, photographer, amateur filmmaker, and an avid cook.