Thursday, June 1, 2017

Student Protesters and the Folly of Diversity Training

At Evergreen State College in Washington last week there was a weird incident in which a bunch of radical students took over the president's office and he ended up thanking them for it:
Let me reiterate my gratitude for the passion and courage you have shown me and others.
But, well, whatever. Maybe he is an old radical and having his office taken over by protesters was the most exciting thing ever to happen to him in his current job. Who am I to judge?

What I want to write about is one of the demands made by the students:
We demand mandatory sensitivity and cultural competency training for faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees.
Meanwhile, at the University of Wisconsin:, radical students were really angry that the local chapter of Young Americans for Freedom invited Ben Shapiro to speak on campus:
We, the undersigned are asking that UW-Madison administration take a hard look at the charter of Young Americans for Freedom … and ideally put the involved students through intensive diversity training and have the charter revoked so Y.A.F. is no longer a campus organization that can create a hostile environment on campus.
Demands for diversity training have figured in many of the student manifestos of the past few years. This makes me slightly crazy, because one thing we know about race and gender relations is that diversity training does not work. Here's a summary of the biggest ever study:
A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.

It gets worse. The researchers — Frank Dobbin of Harvard, Alexandra Kalev of Berkeley, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota — concluded that “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity.”
Read enough about this and you'll find lots of claims about what sort of training is good or bad, but they all disagree with each other and none of them have real data to back up claims of improvement. Diversity training has become big business, so of course it has generated a lot of pseudo-facts and methodological fads. Don't believe them. Nobody has been changed by these courses in any fundamental way, and quite a few have been intensely pissed off by the experience.

So far as I can tell, diversity training has no positive effect, and according to some studies it has a negative effect. It is at best a pointless and at worst a terrible thing for the protesters to demand.

So why do protesters keep demanding it?

They are making an error that I have written about before: they believe that if people only knew what they knew, those people would think what they think. They believe that if you only understood what they have experienced, you would agree with their politics.

They believe that if they could only sit the racists and the sexists and the haters down and shout the truth at them for long enough, they would change their minds.

This belief is part of our culture; everybody says, "Just hear me out." "You're not listening." But no; people really can listen to your side of the story and learn all the facts that you present and still disagree with you.

What's more, we live in a democracy, so creating change ultimately comes down to changing the mind of the median voter. And one thing we know about voters is that hectoring criticism is a very bad way to change their minds. Radical protesters who go around insulting people, shouting down speakers, and so on are not helping their own cause. They are making things worse with every word, and they really ought to stop.

1 comment:

David said...

It strikes me that these efforts have less to do with a philosophical fallacy about how people change their minds, and more to do with the psychology of conflict and power. Forcing one's opponents to undergo diversity training is a gesture of dominance.

One could say that the leftists and YAF deserve each other, since YAF essentially exists to provoke the campus left.

One could also say that the left in these cases is following a familiar trajectory of ever-more-extreme difference-quashing, purity-seeking, symbol-mongering, and overreach. I'm reminded of Robespierre's Festival of the Supreme Being. He lasted about six weeks after that.

The left at Evergreen has already gone far, far down this road, as shown by an editorial in today's NYT.