All posts by Gilbert T. Sewall

Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, is co-author of After Hiroshima: The United States Since 1945 and editor of The Eighties: A Reader. He is also a non-fiction book reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

You Will Attend Purdue’s ‘Safe Zone’ Training Session

On January 18, the academic leadership of Purdue University received a letter from Mark Smith, dean of the graduate school. It said:

On behalf of the Diversity Leadership Team, I’d like to invite you to attend a special safe zone training session …  arranged exclusively for deans, associate deans, and department heads.

This, you must understand, was not an invitation but a disguised summons. Diversity enthusiasts like Smith stress on our overwhelmingly liberal campuses that faculties need lots of training amid non-minorities to protect gays, women and ethnic and racial minorities. 

We hope all (or at least most) of our faculty will become safe zone certified in the near future, which would be a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale.  Many thanks in advance for your support and participation.

What does safe zone certification mean? It sounds ominous, and it is.

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

Safe Spaces are of course designated places on campus where identity groups and their allies cluster to avoid supposed stereotyping, marginalization, and persecution. LGBT Safe Zone certification goes much farther, involving indoctrination sessions, where correct principles are announced, not debated, semi-coerced faculty pledges to act as “allies,” then displaying rainbow badges on office doors or in classrooms to signal support.

Are identity groups at Purdue in such peril that high campus officials need to sign a contract and be formally designated, after three hours of training in diversity principles, as safe zone certified? There’s very little real discrimination left on campus of the kind that LGBT activists want to quell; except for the rare kook, pretty much everyone opposes the kind of intolerance and homophobia presented as threats. Even sympathetic faculties think such diversity training sessions are a silly waste of time. Yet they are also career essentials.

This veiled coercion should offend liberals – but doesn’t. It should terrify anyone unwilling to profess full allegiance and faith to the diversity catechism.

What’s disconcerting, or should be, Purdue is one of the saner colleges and universities around, with a big STEM element, and run by the able president, Mitch Daniels. We are not talking about Wesleyan or Bard. Purdue is a land-grant university in the state that gave the nation Dan Quayle and Mike Pence. It’s a long way from Vermont or the Left Coast. And what’s going on at Purdue is also going on — often far more aggressively — at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. With American Federation of Teachers endorsement, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is pushing safe zones in middle- and high-schools nationwide.

Purdue explains in its promotional flyer that “the purpose of the Safe Zone program is to challenge homophobia, transphobia, cisgenderism, and heterosexism by encouraging welcoming and inclusive environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer or Questioning, Asexual, and Ally.” using language almost identical to hundreds of other programs. (Intersex and Asexual are recent Purdue additions.) As the flyer puts it,

Upon completion of the workshop, attendees can choose to become a Safe Zone member by completing a contract expressing their commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion.

A loyalty oath to the diversity movement is being sought here. The parallels to the McCarthy era loyalty oaths are striking. There’s more:

Additionally, Safe Zone members display a placard in a visible location such as a door to an office or residence hall that identifies them [and] dedicated safe spaces on campus for LGBTQ people to connect with allies in the community.

At schools nationwide, then, a placard or rainbow-colored sticker appears on an office door so the kids will know a professor’s office or classroom office is a “safe zone” occupied by an “ally.” Whole hallways in august universities are now so decorated. Don’t these badges stigmatize non-stickered faculty?

Moreover, when a graduate dean writes such a letter to fellow deans and department heads across this 38,000- student university, who signs ups and who doesn’t will be noted, however obliquely. Who gets Safe Zone certified, that too: who obeys and who does not, who answers the call. When Smith calls the advent of safe zones a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale, he signals to deans and department heads that diversity is the right and proper metric, the sacred creed of the modern university. Put up your rainbow sticker or suffer the consequences.

The word ally utterly misses the mark of education. It re-purposes college life and degrades it. Safe Zones encourage instructors whose expertise is in literature or social science to dive into private spheres that might best be left to other authorities such as family, or if need be, psychologists. Instructors have a task to perform: cerebral, ethical and aesthetic. As allies, they turn into life coaches or voyeurs.

Laity assumes that after the good laugh, higher education will get a grip. But the summonses and the autos-da-fé are destined to go on. The campus Diversity Machine operates with religious zeal, and it hates heretics. Federal regulations, state and federal money, tuition payments and student loans, and prevailing moral sentiments are its batteries.

The outlay and opportunity cost are vast. The debasing process to get your rainbow sticker requires personnel, offices, training sessions, facilities, and centers. This apparatus not only crowds out academic learning. It mixes a large number of single-interest ideologues with serious scholars, leading to institutional confusion and turmoil.

Don’t forget that Purdue is a public institution. Safe Zone indoctrination sessions, ally contracts, and rainbow stickers are your government at work. But federal safe-space directives to public and private colleges and universities alike try to make sure that no one is left behind. Legislatures and taxpayers, tuitions and endowments, bear the burden. So do society and culture.

Harvard’s New Diversity Veto: “I Don’t Feel I Belong”

Harvard has just launched a University-wide Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging. “Inclusion” is a solidly established campus buzzword. But until now, Harvard’s overseers and sprawling diversity bureaucracy have not thought it necessary to put the feel-good word “belonging” in the title.

Harvard President Drew G. Faust has convened the Task Force to examine ways to help members of the “increasingly diverse community feel that they truly belong.” The goal is to make all 29,000 Harvard students feel “included” and “solicit ideas about ways to strengthen our shared commitment to building a community in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

Related: Harvard to Supply Life’s Meaning to Students

And wait. Hasn’t Harvard spent a quarter of a century – maybe half a century – making inclusion the primary goal of institutional change? The Task Force’s organizing statement announces, “Harvard has a plethora of diversity officers, programs, and initiatives.”

Does anyone at Harvard still know that plethora means excess, overabundance, surplus, glut, surfeit, profusion? I mean: does anyone still take Greek at Harvard?

As with other Ivy League universities, two years of race-fueled protests and threats have cowed university administrators. The Black Lives Matter banner and Rainbow flag fly over the First Parish Church in Harvard Square. In a December 2014 open letter to Harvard students, College dean Rakesh Khurana proclaimed, “I have watched and listened in awe of our students, faculty, and staff who have come together to declare with passion, grace, and growing resolve that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and to call for justice, for ally-ship, and for hope.”

(Note what happened. Khurana gave Harvard’s backing to a controversial and aggressive racial group that many who fully support racial justice want to hold at arm’s length.)

Related: Asian Americans Move Against Harvard

“The diversity of our student body at Harvard College should be on the forefront of this paradigm shift,” Khurana announced. Two years later, President Faust and Dean Khurana are making that shift.

The idea of belonging raises the ante from mere inclusion. Accommodating the feelings of students of color and others who don’t feel right about, say, the American flag, white instructors, Eurocentric courses, or standard grammar will take a great deal of institutional work since disdain for authority and privilege is a calling card for many protesters.

No doubt, in those elegant offices overlooking Brattle Street and in Massachusetts Hall, another thick coat of Diversity Varnish will make everyone feel good. For whole offices, the Task Force will provide an ongoing sense of identity, purpose and leadership. Plethora gets lots of $120,000 jobs with fab benefits. Plethora gets new action workshops to attend. Plethora has grant deadlines and federal titles to worry over; it has initiatives to initiate.

The Primacy of Feelings

Listen to the ambitions of Harvard’s appointed diversity mongers interviewed in the Harvard Gazette. One of the Task Force’s three co-chairs, professor of education and government Danielle Allen, wants to ensure “thriving for all” so “all feel that they belong”:

Achieving a sense of belonging for all members of the Harvard community is an important measure of whether people are thriving. Even our efforts to be inclusive — to recruit a diverse faculty, students, and staff — will be strengthened by greater success at ensuring thriving for all. When all feel that they belong, we will feel the benefit of the full application of their talents to our shared problems and questions.

Archon Fung, the Academic Dean and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the Harvard Kennedy School, says, “At its best, life at Harvard is transformative for the people who are here, because they experience new ideas, encounter people with different perspectives and experiences, and become members of communities of learning and exploration.”

Harvard Muslims Feel Uncomfortable 

Fluent in Harvard’s white noise – transformative, different perspectives and experiences, communities of learning and exploration – Fung continues: “President Faust’s charge had a very broad conception of diversity that includes not just race and class and gender but also different levels of physical ability, religion, different ideologies, and political views.”

What does diversity of physical ability, religion, ideologies, and political views entail for Fung? “I know from talking to Muslim students that many of them feel uncomfortable and isolated and at some risk even in our University and our School environments. That’s a dimension that merits particular attention,” he says. This covers religion, I guess. But here’s the kicker. Fung maintains, “Without self-conscious efforts to create more inclusive environments, we reproduce behaviors and practices and a culture that is suited probably to people who’ve been here for a long time, but not suited to the different kinds of people who now are part of the community.”

“Not suited to the different kinds of people” now at Harvard? What does this mean, Professor Fung? It reads to me that you are covertly or not-so-covertly challenging Anglo-Protestant inheritances and European legacies that have built Harvard into what it is today, declaring them unsuitable for newcomers. With or without intentional malice, you seem to be undermining and diminishing Western heritage.

What do you have in mind as an alternative specifically and in detail? After exorcising those behaviors and practices and culture, and I assume, freed from white, Christian, straight male shackles, what’s next?

I can be sure you don’t like the Harvard Clubs nor the evident tendency for students of many backgrounds to self-segregate by class, background, and intellect. But what do you mean by transformative? What precisely needs to be transformed?

At Harvard, there are few real achievement problems, with a few exceptions, and those that do exist, are often readily fixed. The degree to which undergraduate oversight has advanced at Harvard over the last half century is remarkable and laudable.

Harvard remains the cream of the crop, and it’s good at what it does. Diversity at Harvard is as fait accompli as it can humanly be. Not only has Harvard widened access with astonishing speed. Harvard and other leading universities have re-graded the playing field to give advantages to just about anyone who can play a diversity card.

In this already diverse community of winners, then, something else is going on with the Task Force. The Task Force seems like another ascriptive power grab – a paradigm shift filled with ill will toward Western culture and its American vernaculars. I may be wrong, Professor Fung. Please advise.

Many Harvard opportunists – Fung and Khurana would be good examples seek to dispossess phantom exclusion and forcibly refigure the past. Not to comply with this revisionism is to hate and possibly run afoul of the law. To be a bad person.

If you advocate, defend, study and revere a curriculum or culture said to be suited to people who’ve been here for a long time but not suited to the different kinds of people who now are part of the community you need self-criticism and re-education.

Harvard’s faculties and alumni, acting in good faith and with vast generosity, have done just about everything that can be done for decades to broaden opportunity and access for all. The loudest complaints often come from the students and professoriate that have been carefully groomed and admitted on a preferential basis.

How Will This Accommodation End?

No doubt the Task Force could lead Harvard’s 29,000 high performers — competitive, status-conscious, ambitious, and pursuing different courses of study — to definitive, final Harvard-quality answers about inequality, social conflict, inclusion, and most touchingly, belonging.

The Task Force could declare Harvard cured of its obsession and absolved of its manifold sins. See you later, Plethora, and thanks for doing such a good job. But I doubt very much that’s how this absurd charade, being launched at the expense of a great institution, will end.