For many years now, I have attempted an open and thoughtful dialogue about equity and inclusion with members of my college community and with colleagues in my field of Learning Assistance. This occurred in the recent past when I worked at a large urban community college, where I served as a founding member of the college’s first equity committee and helped shepherd a landmark equity plan through the academic senate. As recently as 2015, the focus of all the efforts related to equity was to support disproportionately impacted (DI) students. The equity plan I helped write demonstrated demographic disparities in everything from successful completion (earning a passing grade in a single class) to graduation rates. Not all the recommended strategies for closing the DI gaps were ideas I could get behind, but in these early years, there was never any blaming or casting aspersions on either the college or the DI students themselves. We didn’t diagnose why some students were DI—we simply wrote and presented a document that identified gaps and proposed reasonable solutions. For example, we identified that male students were (and still are) enrolling in college and graduating at lower rates than female students, so male students were designated DI and in need of one or more interventions.
It wasn’t long after the newly formed equity committee at my former institution was established that the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California became a paid consultant. In place of identifying an exact equity (exact as an adjective: characterized by accurate measurements or inferences with small margins of error) CUE exacted equity (exact as a verb: to demand and obtain by force or authority). When this shift occurred, I asked frequent, public, and, I believe, thoughtful questions about the nature and purpose of this new, forced equity. I asked why the college was only and always to blame and why no shortcomings of the students could even be considered as a possible cause of under-preparedness. The answer, I came to learn, was really no answer at all. Rather, I discovered that no person who questions the equity movements’ methods is deserving of an answer. You see, to the equitycrats, those who believe the claims of the equity movement are true on their face, anyone who denies their fundamental, self-evident truths are the equivalent of flat-Earthers who still believe the sun revolves around the Earth. These true believers imagine that this new authoritative equity is something of an irreducible minimum—it is so plainly obvious and foundational that it cannot be questioned. To do so is to display one’s privilege at best, or racism at worst.
I provide this background to ask these two crucial questions: first, exactly how did the equity advocates become equity disciples, especially in higher education, where theories are to be tested, debated, and critiqued? Second, how could complex, sociological, and philosophical assertions be defended by simply doubling down on more assertions? The answer to both of these questions is that the disciples of equity, the true believers, have adopted an intellectual scaffolding and a set of presuppositions that only allow for one opinion. The equity disciples will not even entertain the thought that there may be weaknesses in their dogma, so why would they allow any room for debate, let alone critique? In fact, not even disinterested scholarly inquiry is allowed contra equity because it has the potential to result in opinions that fall outside the party line. To use religious language to explain this phenomenon, the presuppositions that drive equity require one to be either a believer or heretic. And we all know what happens to heretics!
More recently, I’ve been plain-spoken regarding my concerns about anti-racism, the all-or-nothing idea popularized by Ibram X. Kendi in the book, How to be an Antiracist. I’ve written articles, here and here, and have requested a long-form scholarly discussion at my college which would enhance the college’s current 80-person Zoom discussion on Professor Kendi’s book. I’ve attempted to engage the topic and my colleagues with an academic, professional approach. I’ve tried to be objective and courteous, and to ask and offer thoughtful questions and answers. Along the way, I’ve listened and learned about “lived experiences” and microaggressions, but there is still no allowance critical dialogue, and this at the very institutions where students are taught how to engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation. Again and again, I have been told—explicitly or implicitly over the last six years—that no alternative solutions can be proffered. Again and again, I only hear assertions made without sufficient factual backing, and there is never opportunity for rebuttal. In fact, to offer a counterclaim is to sooner or later be called uninformed, insensitive, or, the final shut down of all inquiry, a racist. In the interest of transparency, I have yet to be called a racist, but I have been called a bigot and was once accused of “tone policing.”
So, this brings me to a final question: for what other subject or issue on campus, whether curricular, programmatic, or operational, are assertions made with little substantiating data, all while allowing virtually no rebuttal or counter claims? The answer is there is no other topic. Even the once-ubiquitous SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) used by every department or division for a variety of planning purposes was open to transparent qualitative and quantitative analyses and free-ranging dialogue.
So here we are. Six years of attempted dialogue and six years of assertions based on assumptions. I’m left with only one summary statement explaining it all: The disciples of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Decolonization (DIED), as well as those of anti-racism, believe we must:
deny debate; and
In my less than 50 but more than 40 years of life, with 18 years working in higher education, I have learned that anything protected from critique cannot itself stand up to scrutiny. And since scrutiny of the assumptions and assertions of DIED and anti-racism are not allowed and do not occur, a one-party orthodoxy is the result—an equity totalitarianism. And that is where we are 6 years after my first good-willed inquiry about the changing nature of the equity movement. We have a one-party orthodoxy. I said above that only one opinion is allowed when certain intellectual scaffolding is adopted. This intellectual scaffolding is the theological underpinning of DIED and anti-racism teachings. And what constitutes the theoretical underpinnings of DIED and anti-racism? It is Critical Race Theory, the root system of a barren and cursed tree that will bear no figs.
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