How Not to Be a Racist: The Student Demand for Sensitivity Training

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As campuses across the country are roiled in paroxysms of self-righteous indignation over race, some Black students, enraged and emboldened by the murder of George Floyd under the knee of an abusive white police officer, have formed coalitions and presented comprehensive—and breathtakingly audacious—lists of demands which they have nailed to the doors of their respective university administrations.

Apparently, the newest victims in the current culture of racial aggrievement on campus have been injured by white oppression and want everyone else to know and feel their pain, as well, since the lists of demands from these campus crybullies invariably include one well-intentioned, but intellectually pernicious, item: mandatory sensitivity training for all students, faculty and staff on the topics of diversity, oppression, racism and other maladies.

In early June, for example, Black student leaders at the University of Miami sent the administration a list of 11 recommendations, including their important goal of implementing a “mandatory university-wide diversity, social justice and cultural sensitivity training program.”

At the University of Pittsburgh, Black students apparently “are exhausted mentally, physically, as well as emotionally, [and] [each] day we find ourselves overcompensating to make up for the University’s failures at combating racism on campus, in the classroom and among students.” In order to change the racist character of the Pitt campus, the audacious students apparently desire to upend the entire academic structure of the institution and to “transform the mission of the focus of our academic curriculum to be inclusive and comprehensive regarding the plight and triumphs of Black people.”

The faculty letter of some 48 specific demands predictably includes the desire to “Implement administration- and faculty-wide training that is specifically anti-racist in emphasis, with the goal of making our campus truly safe, welcoming and nurturing for every person of color on campus,” a process that “necessarily moves participants through stages of vulnerability, productive discomfort and reflection.” Additionally, one of the mandatory aspects of these demands would outrageously “require anti-bias training for all faculty participating in faculty searches, coupled with a requirement that all departments applying for search authorization specify in their submission to the [dean of faculty] how they will identify and recruit scholars of color.”

Part of that vision is, predictably, “a mandatory introductory course to touch upon systemic racism, white privilege and prejudices that caters to each school under the University, including all undergraduate, graduate and professional schools.” To be taught by Black professors, these indoctrination sessions will target the “many first-year students [who] come into the University of Pittsburgh from non-diverse backgrounds.”

Interestingly, at Princeton University, it was some 350 virtue-signaling faculty members who sent an open letter to the university’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, urging the administration to address the systematic racism they perceived to exist, to “educate the Princeton University community about the legacy of slavery and white supremacy” and to “continue to actively confront Princeton’s ties to and culpability in slavery and white supremacy.”

So while these sanctimonious moral scolds may feel aggrieved and in need of campus-wide support systems to provide them “safe spaces” in which they can escape racism and oppression, the idea that universities should be compelled to set up mandatory training and teaching about racism, oppression, inclusion, social justice, cultural diversity and the myriad of other related biases that animate the worldviews of these new victims is as wrongheaded as it is impractical.

First of all, the idea that Black students, and only Black students, should demand and reap the sole benefits of mandatory sensitivity courses that all students and faculty must attend—presumably to make them less racist and more tolerant—is flawed. It is flawed, first, because it is not the role of universities to tell students what to think, but to teach them how to think. And it is also misguided because it assumes that only Black students are so aggrieved that special campus-wide instructional remedies should be devised to soothe their sensibilities. With an alarming spike in the number and prevalence of anti-Semitic incidents as a result of campus anti-Israel activism, for example, one could make an equally compelling argument that mandatory sensitivity training to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism might also be justified—perhaps even more so.

And how, exactly, would such racial sensitivity training sessions be conducted? Would students be graded in such mandatory courses? Could anyone question what was taught, have an alternate view of the existence or extent of racism, oppression, other biases as outlined in the courses or present different views than the ones established by the like-minded individuals who conceive of, develop and fervently believe in the content and truthfulness of this one-sided instruction?

Finally, when this mandatory training is instituted, students and faculty with differing views of the content of that instruction will, by necessity, be proscribed from expressing those views, will not be able to engage in alternative discussions and will thereby be silenced due to fear of being labeled racists—precisely the conditions that are antithetical to academia’s fundamental precepts of free speech and robust debate.

Unfortunately, many on the Left believe their progressive views are virtuous and moral, and that those of conservatives are regressive, cruel and unjust. The moral rectitude of these academics is not only ill-conceived, but is also startling and offensive. “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive,” observed literary critic C.S. Lewis, who bemoaned that the “omnipotent moral busybodies … who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

How Not to Be a Racist: The Student Demand for Sensitivity Training

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AUTHOR

Richard L. Cravatts

Richard Cravatts has taught advertising, integrated marketing communications, consumer behavior, opinion writing, magazine publishing, editing, public relations, technical writing, account planning, entrepreneurial marketing, and e-commerce strategy at Simmons College, Boston University, Babson College, Tufts University, UMass/ Boston, Suffolk University, Wentworth Institute, Emerson College, Northeastern University, and Emmanuel College.

For over 26 years Cravatts was publisher of the Boston Classical Network, a firm which created playbills to enhance the marketing of the region's major performing arts organizations, including the American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, Celebrity Series of Boston, Handel & Haydn Society, and Boston Lyric Opera. He was the founding editor of Metrowest Magazine and Wellesley Weston Magazine, and associate publisher and editor in chief of Orlando's Best and the Greater Boston Restaurant & Wine Review. He was also the art director and travel editor of Palm Beach Illustrated, as well as the Boston dining correspondent for East/West Network, Inc., publishers of in-flight magazines for the nation's leading airlines.

From 1976-78, Dr. Cravatts was the first director of publications at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University at a time when the School was undergoing dramatic growth and in the midst of a significant capital campaign, and was the founding editor of the School's magazine and portfolio of marketing publications; he also later served in a similar capacity as the first director of public relations at Harvard's School of Public Health.

Dr. Cravatts has published over 350 articles, op-ed pieces, columns, and chapters in books on campus anti-Semitism, campus free speech, terrorism, Constitutional law, Middle East politics, real estate, and social policy, and is the author of the book, Genocidal Liberalism: The University's War Against Israel & Jews. He is also a frequent guest on radio programs and lectures nationally on the topic of higher education and the Middle East.

In addition to being an SPME board member and chair of its Greater Boston chapter, Cravatts is a board member of both The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism and the Investigative Taskforce on Campus Anti-Semitism, and an Academic Advisory Board member of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.


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