Why DEI Education Is Crucial In Today's World

  • May 25, 2023

Florida’s public colleges and universities are now legally banned from spending money on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) along with any political or social activism. Furthermore, they are no longer allowed to teach identity politics in any fashion. According to Politico, DeSantis also plans to eliminate subjects like critical race theory from Florida schools.

It’s a little funny to me that this law was signed a mere 4 months after NPR ran an article featuring an interview with a 19-year-old Florida voter who stated that she was specifically motivated to vote because she disagreed with DeSantis’s conservative social policies.

It seems to me that attacks on DEI like this come from a place of panic and are designed to stifle the voices, and minds, of Gen Z and Gen Alpha— with Gen Z having record voter turnout, it stands to reason that Gen Alpha will follow suit. One of the major principles of manipulation is limiting exposure to outside influences. By banning DEI and identity politics from colleges, DeSantis is able to better control the kinds of political views that young voters are exposed to. By keeping people in a conservative bubble, where they don’t have any culturally diverse experiences, people are less likely to have views that differ from those controlling that bubble.

I asked Dannie Lynn Fountain, the author of Ending Checkbox Diversity, how she felt about the ban, and she had this to say:

Ending Checkbox Diversity Book Cover (1)

 

"Identity is inherently political. Even if we reduce identity to the gender binary, for the sake of many of DeSantis's arguments, even the identity of being a woman is political— (White) women only secured the right to vote in the US in 1920. Women could only unilaterally have their own bank account without a husband's signature or other documentation in 1974 with the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. To teach about these topics, and many others, requires statements or conversations on identity politics."

 

The thing is—these laws won't stop coming anytime soon. With Texas poised to follow Florida’s lead, it’s likely that there will more laws that hinder any efforts to dismantle the existing system and replace it with one that values diversity and inclusion.

Racial Justice At Work Book Cover (2)

 

“In trying to ban efforts to address racism, we hurt everyone, not just Black people,” says Mary-Frances Winters, lead author of Racial Justice at Work: Practical Solutions for Systemic Change and founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., a global culture change consulting firm. “Banning diversity efforts means that we will no longer pay attention to gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, education, socioeconomic background, size, appearance, or other visible and invisible dimensions that can impact an individual's quality of life.”

 

The DEI Journey

We have to take an active approach to educating ourselves and our children about diversity and inclusion. This world we live in isn’t going to offer up resources and education about identity and compassion. And while that’s not “okay” it isn’t the end.

The DEI journey, especially at the start, is highly personal and elicits introspection. And while I can only speak from my own experience as a white person, I often find myself interrogating thoughts and feelings that come up during DEI reading. I feel guilty about the mistakes I have made and I feel angry at my family who taught me bias when I was growing up. I also feel overwhelmed sometimes by the amount I didn’t and don’t know. 

But like Alex Kapitan of Radical Copyeditor says, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” There is so much information to be learned about diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI education is a journey. And you have to be compassionate with yourself while you embark on the journey. You don’t read one book and all of a sudden all your unconscious bias is gone. You don’t attend a workshop and suddenly you’re able to unravel all systemic racism you encounter. 

Our society is built on inequity. It’s a system that thrives on dividing and brewing hate. And because of the way our world is wired, we have to choose to center DEI. We have to be deliberate. It’s not going to just happen. You have to wake up every day and choose diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Getting Started With DEI

First of all, I’d like to thank you for making DEI a conscious decision. I’d also like to say that I’m not a DEI professional by any means. While Berrett-Koehler might be one of the leading publishers of DEI books, that doesn’t make me an authority. That being said, here are my suggestions on how to get started on your own DEI journey. 

Check-in with yourself

I think the first step is to check in with yourself. Why are you doing this? Is it for the right reasons? No one likes performative DEI. So make sure that you’re ready to do the work. 

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What are my expectations in doing this work?
  • Am I just doing this for praise or to make myself feel better?
  • Am I ready to be confronted with hard truths about my own complicity in systemic harm?
  • Can I treat myself with compassion when I realize my own mistakes?

Read, read some more, and keep reading

Reading is the best path to self-education of any kind. Pick up some books! 

  • DEI Deconstructed by Lily Zheng

    DEI Deconstructed, a comprehensive text on diversity, equity, and inclusion, provides a roadmap for effective DEI strategies. It analyzes how current methods leave marginalized communities feeling unsupported and offers evidence-based practices to bridge the gap between theory and practice. This guide empowers individuals to become effective DEI changemakers, regardless of background.

  • How to Be a Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador by Celeste R. Warren

    This book presents a three-part framework that anyone, regardless of their position, can use to create a diverse and welcoming workplace. By becoming aware of personal biases, taking an inventory of the environment, and developing a personal action plan, individuals can become Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors in their organization. The book offers specific advice for different roles and includes examples, exercises, and practical tools to make diversity a reality in the workplace.

  • Inclusive Conversations by Mary-Frances Winters

    Effective dialogue across diverse dimensions fosters belonging and inclusion, leading to greater productivity and innovation. Mary-Frances Winters' book offers dialogue strategies to address power sharing, dominant group discomfort, marginalized group exhaustion, and trust building. The guide facilitates discussions on polarizing topics, breaking down barriers to create a kinder and more compassionate world.

  • Equity by Minal Bopaiah

    Equity by Minal Bopaiah is a concise guidebook that shows leaders how to create more inclusive organizations using human-centered design and behavior change principles. The book emphasizes the importance of equity in leveraging differences for greater impact and provides real-world examples of how leaders can embed equity into core business functions. It is a humorous, heartwarming, and practical resource for those seeking to create lasting change.

These aren’t the only books about diversity and inclusion, this is just a good starting point. We have many books on DEI, even more coming out, and there are also fantastic books available from other publishing houses. Don’t limit yourself. 

Follow creators who are also doing the work

Log in to your favorite social media platform and find DEI practitioners who are doing the work. Follow them and sign up for their newsletters. 

One of the most important parts of learning and growing is exposing yourself to the points of view of diverse communities. You can’t expect to understand the experience of other identities. Follow Black, trans, queer, neurodivergent, disabled, and stigmatized creators who are making themselves vulnerable by sharing their experiences in order to create awareness.

Let yourself be made aware. Escape your bubble.

Make small, deliberate choices every day

We all encounter moments in our day, every day, where we can choose to represent diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

For example, I choose to display my pronouns wherever possible, although people aren’t likely to misgender me. Proactively offering pronouns normalizes gender identity and allows for a safe space for those who might be misgendered otherwise. 

I also choose to use they/them pronouns about 75% of the time when speaking about others. I feel like not only does this normalize they/them in my own speech, but it makes it more commonplace for those who might struggle with using they/them pronouns in regular speech.

It’s also important to advocate and ally with marginalized identities when they are not in the room. This means when you hear someone misgendered, you correct the speaker. If you hear something racist, you confront it. When you feel that cringe—listen to it. Lean into it. Act on it. That’s your conscience telling you that what you just heard is harmful.

Educating Yourself

These past few years have shown us new ways that politics can hold us hostage. Our access to books and resources in the places where we're supposed to be free to learn is being controlled or removed entirely. It's become our own responsibility to educate ourselves about things like diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and identity. I am so grateful to belong to a collective of people who are making sure that these important books keep getting published and that the words and experiences of those who seek real change are available for everyone who is willing to listen. 

Berrett-Koehler Publishers

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