Tuesday, January 26, 2016
A Different Kind of Diversity Fear
*And I do mean that as a genuine question, not a rhetorical one. Perhaps the current structures are the best we can do at the moment until broader societal parameters are changed!
LEARN. Possibly by saying something wrong, apologizing, and learning better.
"but it's too hard!" is not acceptable at this level.
At most colleges and universities, there is an official institutional doctrine on things like diversity, affirmative action, and sexual harassment. And it is best not to be perceived as holding views on these matters that depart in any significant way from officially-received doctrine. There really is no academic freedom here, especially if you are not a tenured faculty member or if you are an adjunct part-timer.
This is reminiscent of what things were like when I was working at Large Telecommunications Company. We were required to attend frequent meetings on diversity, affirmative action, and sexual harassment. The company had put in writing that an employee’s annual performance review rating could be adversely affected if they had or were perceived to have “difficulty in supporting affirmative action”. Consequently, at these meetings employees were reluctant to express any opinion that could be perceived by management as differing in any appreciable manner from the company’s official line on affirmative action or sexual harassment. If they said anything, they felt reduced to repeating slogans that were deemed to be “politically correct”. After all, this was a corporate environment , not an academic setting, there was no such thing as academic freedom, and the purpose of these meetings was strictly to inform the employees about official company policy on these matters, and hopefully keep the company out of the courtroom.
Yeah. That's happening because the diversity coalition is, weirdly, eating its own supporters. We see this in grant writing and wrote about it in "Cultural Sensitivity, Cultural Insensitivity, and the 'Big Bootie' Problem in Grant Writing." The story is hilarious and demonstrates the dangers of saying almost anything about diversity, since the line between cultural sensitivity and insensitivity barely exists and move constantly.
Scott Alexander wrote about similar matters in "Radicalizing the Romanceless.
Jonathan Haidt has also written about the dangers of victim culture.
It takes only one well-meaning but inadvertent comment to end up pilloried. The optimal solution for someone who values their job is the one your prof came up with: silence.
In a world where we have millions of refugees pouring into Europe (and millions more who can't get there who are living in even worse circumstances), a mosquito-born virus (that may also be sexually transmittable) that apparently causes microcephaly, and an even shakier long-term prognosis for climate — we see academics upset that a yoga class is taught by non-Indian instructors (cultural appropriation, don'cha-know).
Even tenure won't protect you against remarks misinterpreted or taken out of context. Better to say nothing.
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