Using Power for Evil: The Dangerous Ignorance of Trump’s Diversity Training Ban
by Kelly Wheeler ’21
On Sept. 4, the Trump administration issued a directive prohibiting all executive branch agencies from using government funds to hold diversity training for their employees. In a nation that is flooded with racial tension, this decision is extremely harmful and runs counter to everything that our country desperately needs to establish justice and harmony. The directive demonstrates ignorance of the problems plaguing American society, and, as a result, works to block any progress toward amending them.
According to Russel Vought, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for the Trump administration, diversity training is problematic because it “seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.” Given how diversity training aims to educate groups of people about each other’s differences so they can work better alongside one another, this statement is both concerning and misguided. Diversity training is not designed to create division—it is designed to bring people together by enhancing people’s understanding of others’ perspectives and experiences. Moreover, values such as respect, cultural awareness, and unity are central to diversity training—so in opposing diversity training, the White House is vehemently opposing these values as well.
In defense of the Trump administration, some research has found that diversity training can be ineffective or even counterproductive at times. However, if the President and his team are basing their directive on this research, they would know that these negative effects can be overcome if training sessions are made voluntary (which eliminates the backlash that sometimes arises when people feel forced to attend mandatory training), or if diversity training is accompanied by other diversity-focused initiatives (creating employee resource groups, mentorship programs, etc.). Yet, the Trump administration has decided to forgo all diversity training without offering any alternative efforts that would promote a positive attitude towards diversity and inclusion within the executive workforce. Instead, the memo offers an empty statement that the President “intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed,” neglecting to identify any specific ways in which he will do that.
Diversity training can be extremely uncomfortable, as it requires its attendees to have difficult conversations; however, whether it is talked about or not, racism and prejudice exist in our society. By preventing executive branch employees from having these tough discussions, Trump is effectively choosing to ignore racial issues, which, in turn, prevents any improvements from being made. For the Trump administration, it is much easier to avoid discomfort by prohibiting discussions about white privilege and the critical race theory (both terms which the memo refers to using quotation marks, suggesting they are fictitious concepts).
Banning training that educates people about racism, discrimination, and prejudice allows these societal issues to go unaddressed. These issues are a part of our nation’s past and present. Unfortunately, thanks to our current leadership, it seems as though they will continue to be a part of our future as well.