An Attack on Diversity: The Impact of President Trump’s New Executive Order

Diversity training has become a normal process for employers in the United States, particularly in higher education. Training staff and new hires on diversity makes sense given the very diverse nature of the campus student body, faculties, and professional staffs at universities across the country. But a new executive order from President Trump threatens schools with diversity training programs and ties federal funding for other areas to those programs. The Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping targets perceived “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating” training for federal employers and agencies, contractors, or grant recipients. 

The executive order particularly affects public schools, and campuses are responding in different ways. The University of Iowa paused all diversity training, citing concerns such as the withdrawal of federal funding if it were to continue the trainings. This move emboldened students to respond and call for the university to resume its training. In contrast, the University of Michigan issued a statement affirming its commitment to diversity training.

“The educational efforts this order seeks to prohibit are critical to much-needed action to create equitable economic and social opportunities for all members of society; to confront our blind spots; and to encourage us all to be better teachers, scholars and citizens,“ said the statement issued by Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel and Susan M. Collins, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Overall, school response has been mixed, with several schools such as George Washington University announcing they are monitoring the executive order and its impacts.

The executive order has also been the impetus for new discussions about the overall effectiveness of diversity training. The Chronicle of Higher Education compiled research results about diversity training, with some studies finding diversity training can benefit some, while others finding training can actually make diversity views and perceptions worse.

But many scholars, non-profit organizations, and associations have condemned the executive order. Nonprofit Quarterly wrote a piece about how nonprofits can fight the executive order through litigation, support diversity groups and organizations, and commit to continued diversity training. As an organization that is committed to racial equality, ACUI sees diversity training as an important tool for creating change, said ACUI Chief Executive Officer John Taylor. “Everyone should be concerned with this executive order and its potentially silencing impacts," he said. The American Society of Association Executives, of which ACUI is a member, also published a letter calling for the White House to repeal the executive order. 

“More than 62,000 associations across the country play an important role in training America’s workforce, and are among the vanguard seeking to confront pervasive inequalities in hiring practices, leadership advancement, compensation and organizational culture,” said ASAE President Susan Robertson. “The association community understands that our workplaces mirror what is happening throughout our society. At a time when racial injustice and inequality embroil our nation, it is unconscionable that this administration orders federal agencies to disregard the world around them.”

The actual enforcement of the executive order remains to be seen, but it appears many schools are sticking to diversity training and initiatives even as the order has already had a chilling effect on trainings in the federal labor force. New diversity positions at schools such as University of Georgia foreshadow a future focus on diversity in higher education, but at the U. S. Justice Department, which has 115,000 employees, all diversity and inclusion training for employees was suspended Oct. 8.

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