Finally, we’re getting an open debate about “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” in Virginia — not an honest debate, mind you, but a debate which, whether honest or not, is long overdue.
Last month, Virginia’s chief diversity officer Martin Brown proclaimed that DEI was “dead” at the Virginia Military Institute. Various parties, from Democratic legislators to Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams, lambasted Brown.
“Make no mistake: Brown did not merely threaten to terminate equity, but the entirety of DEI. And Youngkin has his back in pushing for its destruction,” wrote Williams. “Somewhere, Jim Crow is smiling.”
Ah, I see. Brown, an African-American, is bent upon dragging Virginia back to the era of lynch mobs, eugenics, and state-enforced racial segregation. With insights like that, no wonder Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Since changing the name of the state office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to the office of Diversity, Opportunity & Inclusion, Youngkin has largely refrained from making public pronouncements on the subject. But earlier this week in response to a question about Brown’s statement, Youngkin said that, while DEI was admirable five or ten years ago, it has since “gone off the rails.”
“The concept of DEI, and let’s put ESG [environmental, social and governance] in it as well, these ideas five, ten years ago were laudable,” Youngkin told reporters Monday during a ceremonial bill signing outside the Executive Mansion in Richmond. “How do we embrace diversity? How do we make sure opportunity is made available to everyone? How do we foster an inclusive environment where people feel part of as opposed to excluded?
“And ESG and DEI have gone off the rails candidly and I think they’ve taken on a new mission that is really not consistent with those key principles. And so, we’ve got work to do.”
Youngkin reiterated his opposition to equity initiatives Monday, claiming that DEI has pushed for “equal outcomes” at the expense of equal opportunity.
“We’ve got to get back to the basic principles that we know are right and away from the bombastic language that DEI has become where people all of a sudden are professing that we want equal outcomes for everyone at any costs and where all of a sudden excellence has been subordinated to equity,” Youngkin said. “Let’s put words down and go work on the things that we know are right.”
Diversity and inclusion are not an issue. Most people across the political spectrum embrace the idea that America, the most ethnically diverse society on the planet, should be open, welcoming and inclusive to citizens of all races, cultures, religions and backgrounds. Controversy erupts over the concept of “equity” and how it translates into real-world practice. Does it imply equal treatment (treating everyone the same) or equal results (giving preferential treatment to selected groups)?
Nowhere in Virginia is the goal of “equity” promulgated more assiduously than in Virginia’s colleges and universities. If we want to see what “DEI” and “equity” mean in practice, that’s where we should look. While interpretations of DEI vary from institution to institution, and even within institutions, DEI regimes are commonly associated with the following:
- Hiring DEI administrators to advance DEI goals in every nook and cranny of college/university life.
- Achieving racially proportional representation in student bodies and giving preferential admissions to members of “marginalized” groups in order to do so.
- Providing ideologically loaded DEI “training” to faculty and staff.
- Requiring student applicants, job applicants, and employees undergoing annual reviews to submit “DEI statements” describing their commitment to DEI goals.
- Mainstreaming leftist rhetoric including such terms such as “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” “anti-racism.”
- Creating cultures of intolerance that enforce ever-mutating speech codes under the guise of suppressing “hate speech.”
- Encouraging students to “just report it” to the administration when they encounter speech they find offensive.
- Purging statues, plaques and memorials of long-dead figures, regardless of their accomplishments and contributions to society, on the basis of their association with slaveholding, segregation or expression of racial views now deemed deplorable.
All this has been documented on the Jefferson Council blog at the University of Virginia. Other justifying the cleansing of statues and memorials, Youngkin’s critics mention none of it.
Williams quotes Faye Belgrave, associate dean for Equity and Community Partnerships in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU, as providing the college’s definition of equity:
“Equity is the process of ensuring that procedures and programs are impartial and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual. It ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities and recognizes we don’t all start from the same place because some groups have more advantages and others face more barriers. Equity corrects for this imbalance.”
That sounds benign enough… until you get to the phrases, “provide equal possible outcomes for every individual” and “equity corrects for this imbalance.” Ah, there’s the rub. How does equity correct “imbalances” in practice? Perhaps Williams could explore that topic in his next op-ed. He might use the bullet list above as a starting point.