The Diversity, Inclusion, Equity Paradox

First, I know that it’s typically referred to as “diverity, equity, and inclusion” because DEI sounds better than DIE. but honestly, DIE is how I feel when campus conversations arise on this particular topic 🙂

Below is an except from a keynote I gave in February.

I want to say something about the status of diversity, equity, and inclusion activities within higher education. And I do so recognizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is important—I have many friends who do this work and in doing this work make their organizations and institutions better and more supportive for Brown and Black folks. But I want to share this quote from the book Pym, by Mat Johnson: “The diversity committee has one primary purpose: so that the school can say it has a diversity committee. They need that for when students get upset about race issues or general ethnic stuff. It allows the faculty and administration to point to it and go, “Everything is going to be okay, we have formed a committee.” People find it very relaxing. It’s sort of like, if you had a fire, instead of putting it out, you formed a fire committee.”

Often times these diversity conversations focus on two things 1) increasing awareness around the status of Brown and Black folks and 2) developing programs (usually in the form of mentorship programs). And I think we should invest some time in recognizing that a) there is already a substantial amount of awareness about the status of Brown and Black faculty, staff, and students in higher education and 2) programs do not necessarily bring about systemic change. Which means that many university diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are designed to maintain the status quo with a bit more access—not change the structures completely. Knowing this is important because it gives us a different lens we can use when thinking about our own locations and what we can do to heal and redress the type of trauma institutions maintain.

This is a critical point–colleges and universities are very well aware of what they need to do to address inequality. But doing these things would “cost” white faculty/students access and privileges. An inherent contradiction–one that white people generally see no point in resolving because again, the systems benefit them.

This, I think, should be a call to action for white faculty and staff who consider themselves allies or want to engage in allying behavior–make decisions in the best interest of Brown and Black people even if it means creating a professional disadvantage for yourself. Start there. Explain to people why you are doing so. Point out the systemic inequities and make your personal actions confront them.

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