Oregon State University is jumping on the “social justice” bandwagon with a requirement that new students take online “social justice training” beginning in the fall of this year.
The training, to be developed by a 12-person Student Social Justice Education Development Team, will consist of five online modules “…on issues of inclusion, equity and social justices.”
Similar to diversity programs initiated at schools across the country in response to campus unrest, OSU’s program will address topics such as:
- The importance of diversity and inclusivity at OSU
- The need to understand that systemic and local inequities exist and that everybody plays a role in creating an OSU community that resists and corrects injustice
- How to identify bias incidents and how to interrupt bias in students’ daily lives.
Students are being encouraged to send their feedback to Dr. Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sounds very with the times, very sensitive and progressive, right?
The problem is all this feel-good diversity/inclusivity training stuff doesn’t work, and may even be counterproductive.
That’s the conclusion reached by social psychologists Dr. Jonathan Haidt at NYU, who studies the psychology of morality, and Lee Jussim at Rutgers University, who studies the causes and consequences of prejudice and stereotypes.
“…the existing research literature suggests that such reforms will fail to achieve their stated aims of reducing discrimination and inequality,” Haidt and Jussim wrote recently. “In fact, we think that they are likely to damage race relations and to make campus life more uncomfortable for everyone, particularly black students. “
What is much more effective is providing an environment in which people of different races “…share some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team.” This was documented in a study by Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues. A reduction in the “us vs. them” psychology can occur quickly when team-members have a common objective that fosters cooperation. This is well documented in the military, where the focus is on teamwork.
“When groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to dissolve enmity and create a mind-set of “one for all, all for one,” the professors wrote.
A review of more than 500 studies on interracial contact by Thomas F. Pettigrew and Linda R. Tropp found that mixing people of different races and ethnicities so they get to know one another reduces prejudice more than enforced diversity training.
On the other side, allowing or facilitating the grouping of college students by race undermines the promotion of inclusivity. The creation of “ethnic enclaves” such as race-based residence halls or student centers, in response to campus racial unrest, is an example.
A study led by Dr. James Sidanius, now at Harvard, that tracked incoming UCLA students over their four years at the school looked at how joining an organization based on ethnic identity changed students’ attitudes. For black, Asian and Latino students, “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity,” the study concluded.
“…if the goal of expanding such programs is to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus, the best current research suggests that the effort will backfire,” the study said.
The fact is the effectiveness of much-vaunted programs such as OSU’s have never been rigorously evaluated and the studies that have been done aren’t positive, according to Haidt and Jussim. If anything, research suggests the programs “often induce ironic negative effects (such as reactance or backlash) by implying that participants are at fault for current diversity challenges.”
Before OSU digs an even deeper hole in this effort to spur social justice, it would be wise to step back and evaluate whether it is headed in exactly the wrong direction.