Diversity Trends 2023 – by Dr. Gail Dawson

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Hosea 4:6

Throughout the years, the approach to dealing with “diversity problems” has included fundamental concepts, such as education, training, and communication. While the terms diversity training and diversity education are sometimes used interchangeably, others differentiate between the two terms. Diversity training involves providing people with skills and tactics to enable them to navigate a specific diverse environment while diversity education is more comprehensive and involves mindset shifts and frameworks that enable one to utilize broader knowledge to navigate various, complex environments. Communication also plays a key role in building awareness of similarities and differences as well as building respect and trust among people from diverse backgrounds. Together, diversity training, education, and communications have been regarded as essential in creating diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Although diversity training and education were already gaining in popularity in the early 2000s, the events of 2020 and the protests that followed highlighted racial and gender inequities which resulted in increased emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). King, Guilick, and Avery (2010) reported that, at that time, roughly two thirds of companies and more than 60% of colleges and universities had implemented some form of diversity training or education. As a result of the events of 2020, Indeed.com reported that diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B) job postings increased by 123% between May and September of 2020.   However, diversity and inclusion were not embraced by everyone.

The past few years have spurred an increase in what some might characterize as “anti-diversity” legislation. According to aclu.org, 10 states have passed legislation that restrict discussions of race and gender in the classroom with a total of 33 states introducing new bills to censor discussions. In addition, legislation has been proposed or enacted to limit diversity training or ban discussion of “divisive” topics on college and university campuses as well as in K-12 education. Meanwhile, many state lawmakers and local school board officials are pushing to ban books – most of which are written by or about BIPOC, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups. Proponents of these bills refer to diversity as divisive concepts and suggest that they will leave people feeling guilt or shame due to their race.  While inducing guilt and shame can be harmful, banning discussions can be even more harmful.

Diversity discussions can be difficult, but have the potential to provide a wealth of information and knowledge that can lead to greater understanding of multiple perspectives, greater empathy, and better overall outcomes for everyone. I don’t think discussing “divisive” topics is really the problem. I think the problem is that we, as a people, don’t engage in meaningful conversations. Too often, we focus only on defending our position instead of genuinely trying to understand other perspectives. Our own perspective and beliefs are so ingrained and tightly held, that we don’t allow room for other perspectives. Even worse, many people are so obsessed with “winning” and have an attitude of zero-sum gain that they see protecting the rights of others as loss of rights for themselves.  With this mindset, some seek to destroy or decimate everyone that has views that don’t align with theirs.

It seems that we live in a world of extremes, especially when it comes to politics. Each side seems to care only about their side and not about what is best for everyone. Politicians seem to care only about the members of their party and seem to forget that, in their respective positions, they should be serving all the people in their jurisdiction. Few are willing to contemplate bipartisan solutions that consider what would be best for diverse groups of people. Personally, I consider this to be a disturbing and dangerous trend. However, there are some rays of hope.

The 2022 midterm elections results were historic for diversity. Some notable outcomes include Wes Moore becoming the first Black governor of Maryland and the third Black governor in US history; Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Tina Kotek of Oregon becoming the first LGBTQ women elected governors; Summer Lee becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania; and Maxwell Frost becoming the first member of Generation Z and first Afro-Cuban elected to Congress. To me, it was especially encouraging see Maxwell Frost’s comments about working together and crossing the aisle to get needed legislation passed.

While the trends in some areas focus on banning or restricting diversity discussions, I think we need more genuine conversations about diversity. As Fannie Lou Hammer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Gail Dawson PhD

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