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Column: Why it's ignorant to detest OU's diversity training

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Diversity training

A small group meets during Camp Crimson July 24, 2015 during the transfer session to discuss diversity on campus. Mandatory diversity training is being implemented throughout the university to promote diversity and inclusion in the upcoming year. 

On Friday, a Facebook friend shared an article entitled "OU College Republicans student group expresses concerns about mandatory diversity training." The article quoted several members of OU Republicans who expressed clear distaste for OU’s mandatory diversity training. Before delving into my response, I want to state that I completely understand that OU’s particular diversity course and its implementation have problems. However, what I found troubling about the opinions expressed by these OU Republicans was the apparent lack of willingness to acknowledge the urgency and necessity of any diversity education at all.

I first want to make sure that everyone remembers with crystal clarity why we implemented mandatory diversity training to begin with. The SAE video that was exposed to our campus last year contained literal death threats against black people. That’s the bottom line. If you think I’m speaking in hyperbole, I need you to confront the ugly truth that the lyrics in the chant explicitly referenced lynching, an act of tremendous violence against black Americans and other people of color that unfortunately cannot be considered "historical," as it still occurs and is regularly referenced today.

These trainings, created in the maelstrom of emotions and consequences that followed the exposure of SAE’s threat-laced chant, are not perfect. But contrary to what these members of OU Republicans would have you believe, diversity education is necessary in today’s world and is especially necessary on a campus like ours.

First, I would like to know exactly which parts of the curriculum made students "uncomfortable." I have no doubt that diversity education can be difficult for students who enjoy racial, gender, sexual, class and religious privilege, but I would caution my colleagues from avoiding discomfort completely. As so many of the students quoted were quick to point out, where does discomfort belong if not at the university level? If we desire an environment that truly exposes students to the "truth" of the world, why should we allow exemptions from emotionally taxing discussions about the systemic privilege that most of us — myself included — enjoy?

Secondly, I was frustrated by a student’s criticism of inclusive language training. The student claims that in the real world we should just "apologize and move on." Ultimately, this argument misses the real goal of such training. The goal of inclusive language training is to draw our attention to biased, discriminatory or outmoded ways of thinking, along with the underlying prejudices that such language has reinforced. By understanding which words are hurtful to different groups of people, we can avoid using them at all and causing harm in the first place. When we train ourselves to speak mindfully, we take the blame off the person who we have hurt and assume responsibility (as compassionate, educated adults) for our actions.

Another student expressed that OU’s diversity training was too divisive, leading to further labeling based on identity rather than on common humanity. This line of thought stems from an incorrect conception of diversity — one that merely views people in accordance with a quota system, marking any two people with the same identity totally interchangeable. Thirty years ago, that might have been enough, but activists now realize that in order to unify and truly love one another, we must celebrate the things that make us different. Not a single one of us knows what it means to be completely human. The "human experience" cannot be condensed or or expressed in just one way; if it exists at all, it can only be fully seen when we all stand together, celebrating the differences and various identities that have shaped the way we, as gloriously diverse individuals, live in the world. The point isn’t to label us so that we can be kept apart; the point is to let us wear the labels we desire with pride, so that we never have to hide or obscure the things that make us, us.

Diversity — meaningful, inclusive, celebratory diversity — is not the same as this conveniently blameworthy, amorphously defined spectre of "political correctness," which terrifies the OU College Republicans. Continuing to ignore underrepresented groups perpetuates oppression, and if we criticize "political correctness" in order to avoid changing our worldview to accommodate others’ experiences of oppression, we continue being part of the problem.

OU is a public university. I don’t know why you chose to attend it, but our state and school have a responsibility to respect and protect every single member of our community. While this training may make you "uncomfortable," it does not give you the right to willfully ignore the harm that you may be causing to your fellow students. It is within your rights to discuss or criticize what you have been told in such trainings, but it is ignorant, condescending and hurtful to place your personal comfort over a frank exploration of others’ opinions and experiences.

If you are a member of this organization who disagrees with the article published on Friday, I challenge you to speak out. Show us you care about our community’s openness and diversity. While the students quoted in the article may feel some sense of bravery for criticizing inclusivity efforts, I propose we flip that assumption. Being able to admit that our preconceived notions, prejudices and seemingly inconsequential words are harming our friends and loved ones — and humbly working towards bettering ourselves — that's real courage.

Audra Brulc is an international studies junior, a consultant for The Oklahoma Group, a blog writer for Students for Social Justice and a student leader in the College of International Studies.

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