With this post, we are initiating Diversity University, an occasional series on the connection between the non-cognitive choices college students make and the jobs for which they will be qualified when they graduate—diversity qualified, that is. This is a huge topic; we will highlight research that made us think.

Envisioning the goal

Where do most college students dream of working? You can probably guess.  Maybe you can close your eyes and see the Google logo.  For a large number of students, the dream job is in tech, which we’ll define here as hard and software-producing companies synonymous with innovation, research and development. In 2015,  a job at Google was ranked number one among millennials. Why? Tech is the future, and that’s exciting. The major companies offer excellent training, high salaries, and seemingly infinite opportunities for growth. Don’t forget great benefits and beautiful offices in desirable  locations. No wonder Forbes Magazine calls tech, “sexier than anything else.”

Knowing how to reach it

What’s the best college major for getting there? The answer to this one is obvious, too.  According to one undergraduate blogger it’s, “computer science or anything with ‘computer’ or ‘software’ in it’s name.” Other majors are desirable, but the demand for computer programmers alone is projected to exceed supply until 2020.

Losing sight

And yet, there are hardly any women  in tech. [*] Many write off the lack of gender diversity in tech as a pipeline issue—a dearth of female students interested in studying STEM subjects.  But studies show women outnumber men in their introductory computer science courses. That’s important pipeline news. Women are also more likely than men to switch out of their STEM majors. In fact, almost a third of women in college will change from STEM majors before they graduate. The question is, why does she start out interested and then leave?

A vision of inclusion that fades

Research tells us that it’s not because men are better students in these fields or that women lack the study habits of their male peers. Rather, it appears that it gets harder and harder for her to envision a career in the field that once interested her. The lack of a support system for women in STEM, classroom bias in favor of male students, and stereotype threat, anxiety that her behavior might confirm—to others or even to herself— negative stereotypes about women in tech all contribute to her decision to forgo a career in tech altogether.

A vision of exclusion that sharpens

Put on the spectacles of a female college student; one that’s met the challenges and is doing well. Sadly, here’s what you might see: Men dominate tech.  In 2014, women held only 26% of computing jobs at ten major tech companies.  And according to a Silicon Valley [SV] analysis organization, men in SV tech earn 61% more than women. Even if a woman in tech swallows the wage disparity, she may be in for a distinctly female-UNfriendly experience. In fact, women are very likely to leave the field.

Looking through her lens

Leaders of the tech industry say they want her. If that’s true, they should take a look through her lens at culture where she may not feel welcome, may have to work harder to be perceived as competent as her male peers.  She’ll find few role models of her gender, and she may get paid less.  It’s a dark vision that industry leaders need to try harder to brighten.

[*] We will examine the issue of people of color in the tech industry in another post.

Last week, I attended and led a roundtable discussion [*] at the third annual conference of the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment [CREA]. I had read and thought quite a bit about CREA before the conference, but what I learned made me reflect on how diversity programing, including DiversityEdu, should be designed and evaluated.

The Core Principle

The core principle of CREA, as expressed by the editors of a seminal text in the field, Continuing the Journey to Reposition Culture and Cultural Context in Evaluation Theory and Practice, is that:

“Without the nuanced consideration of cultural context in evaluations conducted within diverse ethnic, linguistic, economic and racial communities of color, there can be no good evaluation.” [**]

Before I went to the conference, I understood that the practice of CREA pertains to the evaluation and assessment of learning programs, whether that program is a technology program for fourth graders, an intervention for anger management, or a course in diversity skills for college students and faculty like DiversityEdu.

What I learned at the conference is that CREA applies to the design of learning programs, too. Accordingly, the inverse of the statement above is an equally core principle of CREA:

There can be no good evaluation of learning programs unless the developer, learners, sponsors, and all stakeholders in the program, position themselves within the context of diverse ethnic, linguistic, economic and racial communities of color.

Applying the Core Principle: The Design and Evaluation of DiversityEdu

The goal of DiversityEdu has always been to increase the cultural responsiveness of the learner. The topic I set for my roundtable was how to bring the principles of CREA to the design of diversity learning programs, including DiversityEdu, so that increased cultural responsiveness is the outcome for the learner. I am still reflecting on all I learned from the roundtable participants and conference presentations I attended, but my takeaway may be summarized as follows:

Cultural responsiveness can be the outcome of a learning program only if cultural inclusion is the goal and cultural context is the basis for the design, implementation, and evaluation of the program.

A Program Designers First Step

[*] I wish to thank Professor Stafford Hood, Professor of Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Psychology in the College of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and members of 2016 CREA conference committee for the opportunity to conduct a roundtable; and the participants at the DiversityEdu roundtable for generously sharing their expertise and thoughts.
[**] Hood, S., Hopson, R., and Frierson, H., Eds. (2015). Continuing the journey to reposition culture and cultural context in evaluation theory and practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc. Introduction, p. Ix.
[***] Mertens, D. M. & Zimmerman, H. (2015). A transformative framework for culturally responsive evaluation, in Hood, S., Hopson, R., and Frierson, H., Eds. (2015). Continuing the journey to reposition culture and cultural context in evaluation theory and practice, pp. 275-287.

Picture the scenario

A college’s multicultural students association calls a meeting. It’s about classroom climate. The conveners announce that there will be no names or identifying labels. The meeting is packed with students and faculty members. Students describe professors’ microaggressions: instances where they said or did things that made students feel denigrated, excluded, and negatively stereotyped.

Overwhelmed and out of strategies

Later, several faculty members talk about how shocked and discouraged they had been to recognize descriptions of themselves and their classrooms. One says the students were making mountains out of mole hills. Another disagrees, saying that it’s very important to focus on the negative effects microaggressions on students. A third faculty relates how the meeting left him overwhelmed by the complexity of responding to microaggressions. He adds, “I have zero strategies; can’t somebody give us a list of Do’s and Dont’s.”

It’s strategy time

In a thought-provoking 2014 article, Judson Laughter points out that researchers and educators have focused almost entirely on the recipient’s experiences of micro-aggression and hardly at all on the sender’s options for action. It’s time”, he argues, to “develop a proactive solution to the problem.” And a checklist won’t help until you’ve got an overarching strategy.

Try micro-kindness

Judson Laughter proposes a strategy of “micro-kindness”: reducing microaggressive interactions and their effects with “brief verbal, behavioral, or environmental acts of respect.” Unlike unintentional microaggressions, micro-kindnesses are deliberate. Like small acts of love, they’re “consciously intended to provide a potential space for positive and humanizing interaction.”

Why your checklist will always be too short

A list of Do’s and Dont’s can’t predict every microaggression one may send or every effective response a person will need any more than it can tell a potential recipient exactly what microaggression will come their way and how they should respond. However, a list can be beneficial if it helps you focus on your participation in a microaggressive exchange.

That list!

Yes, it’s there. Laughter provides a list of micro-kindnesses for the classroom. It’s there to jump-start your strategy. Use it to grow your awareness, shift your focus, and help you adopt a new, positive, and promising practice.

Back in 2004, a leading voice for diversity education at Christian institutions said in an interview, “There seems to be great potential for applying diversity training techniques used in the secular arena…”

Today, many Christian and Jewish institutions are recommitting to diversity and inclusion goals:

American Muslim institutions of higher learning, though far fewer, are expressing inclusion as integral to their educational mission. Zaytuna College states: “…We are all interconnected, and through our diverse cultural histories, we discover our shared humanity… .”

While higher education in the Abrahamic tradition has always had a basis in justice and the unity of humankind, Diversity leaders at these important institutions often hesitate to consider contemporary diversity strategies being used in secular academia. They may mistakenly hear a discord between their teachings and secular diversity concepts. These clashes are better heard as challenges.

Notes for a New Harmony

Here are some criteria for effective diversity learning that harmonize rather than clash with core tenets of faith-based institutions. Call them composer’s notes:

Consider this example of a microaggression, that is, a subtle message of exclusion or degradation, usually sent unintentionally:

A White professor commences an in-class review of last night’s assignment. “This was a tough one,” she tells the class, “and it got harder as it went along. So, let’s start with…uhm… Shaniqua,” the professor concludes, calling on one of the two Black students in the room. The professor learns later of Shaniqua’s blog post describing the humiliation and anger she felt when the professor called on her, a Black student, to give the answers to the easiest part of the assignment. Meanwhile, the professor tells her colleagues, “This is a ridiculous complaint. Since when does calling on a student make her a victim of racism?”

Victimhood and coddling?

Back in September, the notion that students describing their experiences of microaggressions are turning petty incidents into claims of victimhood was the subject of two articles in The Atlantic. “The Rise of Victimhood Culture,” is an exposé of a scholarly study where the researchers deduced the following: Student claims of harm from microaggressions reflect a rising “culture of victimhood.” In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the authors argue that campus policies for responding to microaggressions are “dangerous” attempts to “shield students from words, ideas, and people that might cause them emotional discomfort.” This shielding, the authors contend, coddles the student mind, rendering it so weak as to subvert higher education and ultimately, the knowledge and reasoning that underlie American democracy.

The Atlantic articles sparked much debate. This blog is not the right forum to engage that debate. My purpose here is to make a fundamental point: the articles incorrectly characterize the import of students’ descriptions of microaggressions. These reflect not a culture of victimhood, but a culture of experiential reality. Campus policies and practices to address microaggressions aren’t dangerous coddling; they open the student mind to empathic interactions with people from all backgrounds.

Microaggressions on campus are real, harmful, and must be addressed.

Campus microaggressions are common:

Research tells us that microaggressions are associated with

Addressing microaggressions enhances learning and opens minds.

Research clearly establishes the importance of addressing microaggressions on campus. It requires empathy and exploration of the experiential reality of others, skills proven to open avenues to richer, deeper learning. An expanding body of research indicates that empathy improves academic performance, including on multiple choice and standardized tests.

Serious scholarship and thoughtful discourse about campus culture and policy are good, but let’s be clear that understanding and addressing microaggressions enhances learning and opens minds.

From coast to coast and in every sector of American life, people are grappling with momentous issues of diversity and inclusion. Just this week, the Oscars were infused with issues of race, and transgender school students in South Dakota seeking appropriate bathroom facilities is top news. Diversity issues like immigration and voting trends along racial, ethnic, and religious lines are central factors in the presidential race. Police shootings, campus protests, Affirmative Action rulings and discourse over social media are compelling us to take a hard and sobering look at how far we are from fully including people from all backgrounds in the opportunities of society. The importance of diversity in business, the economy, and education is well established, but there is very clearly an urgent need for more effective responses.

In the professional workplace and academia, diversity training has been the mainstay. But both research studies and articles in the popular press tell us that, all too often, training doesn’t work. Whether true or not, the perceived failure of training has bred deep diversity resistance. We are sorely in need a more effective solution to exclusion.

Learning vs Training: Is there any difference?
Yes, there is definitely a difference. Training takes a top-down approach where the trainee is usually passive, but learning means gaining knowledge and developing personal skills from the bottom up.  Here is a summary of the differences:

Learning vs Training

Why Does it Matter Now?
Training can raise diversity resistance and charges of political correctness. Learning facts and developing skills doesn’t question personal beliefs or political viewpoints. Training can be divisive by implying that majority group members need the training, but the training only benefits minority group members. Learning is inclusive: everyone can develop skills for personal engagement with diversity that serves everyone’s career and makes a more inclusive and innovative workplace.