Thursday, November 12, 2015

Be Careful What You Ask For: Tales of Unfortunate Training

The students around the US have been demanding diversity and other training for faculty, administration and staff.  This makes sense, but I have a few cautionary tales about such stuff.

My first tale is of a diversity training exercise at Texas Tech a couple of years into my time there in the mid-1990s.  It, alas, did not go well.  The first speakers of the day built much enthusiasm for the rest of the effort by telling us that we had to do it as big brother was making us and that the aim was to avoid lawsuits.  Not that diversity should be celebrated, but that we just had to keep our noses clean essentially.

So, that was the start.  It got worse.  One of the trainers was trying to explain the distinction between disparate impact--that a policy or law could treat groups differently even if there was no intent.  The person mentioned height requirements in fire departments.  So far, so good as this is a classic example that would select out women.  Nope, they didn't go there.  Instead, the person mentioned "Orientals" at a time where that was clearly not an appropriate term, and then joked about how the short Orientals must be able to fight fires in Japan somehow.  Ug cubed.

In sum, awful.  The trainers were far less tolerant and far more likely to cause a lawsuit than most of those being trained.

My second tale is of the sexual harassment training my department received over the years in the late 90s.  Every year, the person would come to the department to discuss stuff, and each year some of my colleagues (always the senior faculty) would do their best to trivialize the training and attack the trainer's expertise.  The political theorist (who was an awful person on so many levels) would ask whether his Nietzche book with a bare-breasted woman on the cover would be considered sexual harassment.  The constitutional law prof would attack the trainer's knowledge of the law.  This happened at least twice, because I eventually swore that I would stand up the next time and ask my colleagues that if they could agree not to prey upon our graduate students, then maybe we can not do these training exercises.  Um, yeah.  But we never had another training of this kind, so I never had the chance to cash in on that vow.

Of course, I don't mean to trivialize the demands of the various students at the various colleges and universities.  I just want to caution folks that training does not cure stupid, and it does not cure those with malice in their hearts.  And folks with not bad intentions may end up doing stuff that is problematic with or without training.

I am still trying to figure out the events and reactions at all of these colleges and universities.  All I know is that South Park was right:

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