Diversity training for instructors is beneficial
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 22:09
Over a week ago, a graduate student studying history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jason Morgan, made a big stink regarding the nature of the diversity training he was required to complete as a teaching assistant in the department. Calling it “suffocating political indoctrination,” Morgan has demanded that the training, or rather “intellectual tyranny,” be made optional for all TAs at the university immediately in an e-mail he sent to his advising professor that was also sent to various news outlets. His most specific complaints were regarding the alleged charge by the diversity program that he was a racist and the training covering “trans students,” which he described as completely unnecessary to his work in teaching Japanese history. As exciting as Morgan’s disregard for his students is, his letter was insulting.
With all of this outrage over the diversity training program, I did my best to investigate the university’s diversity program. I looked online to see what handouts the Office for Equity and Diversity described for their Graduate Assistants’ Equity Workshop. Their website happily detailed their program with handouts. To begin, the e-mail Morgan wrote appears to make it seem as if race was the only matter discussed, which is silly because the website further describes topics such as relationships between faculty and students, religious accommodations, sexual assault and sexual harassment among others. Secondly, I did not see listed the “Detour-Spotting: For White Anti-Racists” article which is the only handout Morgan mentioned.
However, I took the time to read this article; I must say, and it must be the liberal in me, but I really valued some of the commentary in this article. Perhaps the term “re-education” is a bit too strong for Morgan, who so gleefully discusses the destruction of the Taira Clan during the Genpei War. One would have assumed that as a student of history, Morgan might have perceived that a country, in which race has been such a societal factor for centuries, might still have some difficulties in removing the institutional racism inherent in the system. That is what is meant by “white privilege,” my friend; that as a white person in society I have not dealt with the oppression faced by ethnic groups. I do not know Morgan’s race, but I can speak personally to my own “white privilege” and assure him it does exist. Perhaps he should re-read that article so he can see it not as an insult, but as a guide for how to better conduct himself as human beings with empathy toward the experiences of those with different ethnic backgrounds.
While I can accept Morgan’s disagreements with the handling of the race aspect program to a certain extent, it is very disturbing to have him degrade the experiences of transgendered and transsexual so that his inclusion in the workshop would be to “play along with fantasies or accommodate public cross-dressing.” A statement like that is exactly why education on this topic is so important. In his email, he quotes his handouts saying he will learn about “how to let students ‘choose their own pronouns’...[and] ‘important trans struggles, as well as those of the intersexed and other gender-variant communities,’ ...and a very helpful glossary of related terms and acronyms.” Following this, he inserted that he is “not making any of this up,” but whereas Mr. Morgan sees this syllabus as a joke, I see it as a God-send. I heartily congratulate the University of Wisconsin for such an encompassing and proactive program.
While described unsurprisingly by “The American Conservative” as an “American hero,” I assert he is really anything but. The aforementioned newspaper described him as theatening because he is “an independent thinker who will not keep his mouth shut,” but I don’t mind that. I welcome a healthy discussion on what diversity workshops should offer. What is appalling is the mind set that we don’t need them. This email and all that it derides are exactly why this is so important. While I’ll allow that perhaps Morgan has no interest for improvement in this area, the mandation of this training is because he is to be a teaching assistant. In such a position, dealing with students as their instructor, he will be actively dealing with students from diverse ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. To strip away the importance of that doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a coward unwilling to address these important social issues in favor of hiding away in a Japanese history textbook.