Is diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice a left-wing agenda or liberal propaganda? Whether you find yourself considering this to be true, or interacting with people who do, I’ve got some strategies to help you. Option 1 is to be S.T.I.L.L., and option 2 is to think of R.B.G. Read on to see what I mean!
I’m a service provider, and just like anything, people have opinions about me and what I do or say. After twelve years of providing nearly weekly professional development workshops and speeches worldwide, I’ve received many evaluations. Mostly all positive, it is, unfortunately, the negative comments that stick with me the most.
In an evaluation after a keynote speech and breakout workshops delivered in Idaho this past January, someone’s evaluation accused me of “perpetuating liberal propaganda” and the “left-wing agenda.” This point-of-view isn’t surprising when you consider the U.S.’s polarized state and the type of rhetoric many news stations broadcast.
Just this week, an opinion article from the same region claims, “There should be hell to pay for Idaho colleges’ social justice focus.” They argue that Idaho colleges need to “get back to their core mission” and abort efforts like the BUILD program that, according to his argument, cause a financial burden on their institutions.
Core Mission of Education?
So what is the BUILD program:
The BUILD (Boise State Uniting for Inclusion and Leadership in Diversity) certificate program supports campus educators to gain knowledge and skills to contribute to a welcoming and inclusive environment on campus, demonstrate your commitment to our continuous efforts towards an inclusive Boise State University, and become a campus leader who is better prepared to promote and support inclusion and diversity efforts.
That sounds fantastic to me! The BUILD program sounds like it directly supports B.S.U.’s values:
Boise State strives to provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation. Boise State University is committed to personal and social development, educational excellence, and civic engagement. Membership in the campus community is a privilege and requires its members to conduct themselves ethically with integrity and civility. Boise State University upholds these shared values as the foundation for a civil and nurturing environment. Campus community members are expected to adhere to these common values.
If the core mission that the hell-to-pay opinion author was referring to were simply to educate students, the BUILD program would still actively support that mission.
Do No Harm
As a right of passage, doctors swear to uphold the Hippocratic oath, an oath of ethics, confidentiality, and non-maleficence, or the more common mantra of “First, Do No Harm.”
At my Order of the Engineer Ceremony, I pledged “to practice integrity and fair dealing, tolerance and respect…”
While educators don’t have an official oath or pledge, it seems inherent to me that if you choose to be an educator, the ethical, no-harm, fair-dealing, and respectful approach would be to serve every student using inclusive and equitable practices. To not do so would be unethical and harmful.
Yet people who are up in arms at the thought of inclusive practices, act as if they are going to then be excluded. That is literally the opposite of what it means! Inclusion means we make room for everyone, which may require modifications, but no one is getting pushed out. (Watch our short animation answering the question, “What is the difference between diversity and inclusion?“)
Are you with us or against us?
It’s one thing if you want to write an evaluation after a workshop to express your opinion to the facilitator. It is another to actively work to halt efforts to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments that serve everyone and defend the systems that perpetually don’t provide these outcomes. That’s what is happening in a nearby town of Southlake, Texas.
Southlake Carroll School District has a history of racist incidents. In response, a council of 60 students, parents, and staff have spent months assembling recommendations to boost cultural competency in the affluent and overwhelmingly white community. As a result, protests erupted with other parents accusing the council of promoting a “left-wing agenda” and forming “diversity police.” They pursued legal action on the district, hinging on a meeting technicality. A judge granted a temporary restraining order, halting all efforts to move the community toward basic civility and civil rights.
Activist Ginetta Sagan famously said in one of my favorite quotes, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” That is not what is demonstrated by opposing activists in Southlake and Idaho. Activism against equity and justice is simply oppression. It’s an abuse of power and a harmful manifestation of bias, prejudice, and discrimination.
Let’s be part of the solution
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be an oppressor, and I’ve dedicated my life to learning how to advocate for the marginalized and minoritized and to teach others how to do the same.
I must tell you, though, I didn’t always feel this way. Until I learned about bias, privilege, systems of oppression, I was absolutely complicit to injustice. Without knowledge of these things, educational equity and social justice can feel like a threat, and that is why we have programs that equip people with knowledge and strategies for action.
Rest assured, I didn’t figure it all out at once. It’s been a journey, and one I will never complete, but my commitment to this effort is one I can never forego. Just like for people, for organizations, one workshop won’t solve the problem. It requires a commitment to equity and inclusion, ongoing efforts to shift the culture and climate, and purposeful strides to revamp policies and procedures.
No matter where you are, it’s never too late to join the journey of increasing your awareness and taking action that leads to meaningful change. Together, we can make the world better, but we have to stop fighting against the good. Equity, inclusion, and justice are good for all of us, and equity, inclusion, and justice are imperative for our colleagues and students from historically marginalized and minoritized populations.
If you ever find yourself up in arms at the ideas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, you can use the acrostic reminder, and be STILL.
Before you say anything or act, stop.
Ask yourself why you feel what you do. Sit with it. Reflect on what you are feeling.
Ask questions. Seek to understand.
If someone is telling you their experience, listen and believe them. If you are from a dominant group (white, male, middle+ class, heterosexual, Christian, or able-bodied), LISTEN SOME MORE.
Understanding and taking action to address bias, prejudice, privilege, and discrimination is part of the ongoing journey and practice of becoming a more inclusive person. To get started, read White Fragility or Waking up White, or other books on our reading list. We also have a recommended watch list.
If you find yourself faced with others who are up in arms at the ideas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, you can use the acrostic reminder, and think of RBG (the late Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg):
Pre-check: Are you safe? If not, abort! If so, proceed.
I find that if you ask someone questions, and get them to unpack their logic, they either didn’t mean what they said, or they talk themselves out of it. (If someone says something deeply egregious, definitely don’t ask them to repeat it!)
Sometimes you need to walk away, unfollow, or disengage. Sometimes people aren’t ready to listen or ready to change their views. It’s best to invest your energy on what you can control and what you can influence.
If you are in a space where you are ready and able to provide some guidance, then take the opportunity to influence change wherever possible.
For a limited time, we are offering a bundled discount for a series of five 1/2 day virtual equity workshops for $10,000 (20% discount). Contact us today to book your workshop!