Trump Disavows College Diversity Course Requirement

Trump Disavows College Diversity Course Requirement
portrait of Staff Writers
by Staff Writers
Published on November 9, 2020

The push to include diversity training in U.S. colleges' core curricula isn't new. Over the past several years, colleges and universities have unveiled courses designed to educate students on theories of race relations and the experiences of minorities in the U.S.

Already, many college students must take a course in diversity in order to graduate. But schools often accept a wide variety of classes — some only distantly related to diversity issues, such as archaeology or a foreign language — toward meeting the requirement.

Many college students must take a course in diversity in order to graduate.

In the wake of multiple high-profile Black deaths at the hands of police, colleges moved swiftly to institute general education classes focusing on critical race theory. Now, diversity courses and their corporate equivalent — mandatory diversity and inclusion training — have become the target of a new executive order from the Trump administration.

Issued at the end of September, the order threatens to pull federal funding from any government contractor or agency, including public colleges, that requires training in "divisive concepts," such as systemic racism and white privilege.

While The New York Times notes that President Donald Trump's executive orders "often lead nowhere," a handful of universities have paused planned roll-outs of new diversity curricula at the behest of their attorneys.

Diversity Courses Gain Traction Following Student Demands

In the last decade, colleges have made piecemeal progress toward expanding diversity curricula. Many reforms — whether to include diversity and inclusion in a larger array of classes or to expand the diversity requirement — began with public outcry over high-profile deaths.

At several schools, student petitions demanded diversity and representation in the core curriculum. Both the push to recraft curricula and the critical race theories that diversity courses expound have long been central issues for Black and brown academics.

Main Objectives of a Diversity Curriculum

Recognize the intersectionality of identity in terms of the historical, cultural, political, and lived experiences of marginalized groups. Gain awareness of the causes and impact of power, privilege, and oppression at the local, national, and global levels. Understand the hierarchies and bias inherent in social categorization by race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality, ability/disability, etc. Engage with the hardships, challenges, and perspectives of minority populations. Develop tools to overcome conflict and promote equality.

Diversity courses aim to prepare students for citizenship in a multicultural society. Political, ideological, and economic contexts are always present. Successful communication depends on speaking and acting with sensitivity and awareness.

According to diversity thought leaders, it's not always a matter of explicitly addressing diversity and inclusion in the course material, but of ensuring that courses engage all students. Colleges as a whole have a difficult time retaining students and faculty of color, with some blaming the lack of inclusivity and representation in coursework.

The Impact of Trump's Executive Order on Diversity Courses

Higher education has met President Trump's order against diversity training with confusion. The document does not address colleges and universities directly, but public schools do fall within the category of federal employees, agencies, contractors, and grant recipients.

Few colleges have publicly responded to Trump’s executive order.

While the punishment for not following the order is dire — losing federal funding, a substantial share of public college and university budgets — few colleges have publicly responded. So far, at least three colleges plan to temporarily halt diversity requirements.

Some states have already moved to challenge the new requirement. A number of free-speech groups say the order amounts to censorship. While the order doesn't ban colleges from offering courses in diversity and inclusion, it disbars them from making such courses mandatory for students.

Meanwhile, in a microcosm of the national event, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently vetoed a bill that would have made ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement.

Feature Image: skynesher / E+ / Getty Images

More colleges now require students to take an ethnic studies course, but barriers like COVID-19 may decrease the number of students of color at these schools. The Biden administration's proposed 2022 budget includes big plans to boost STEM departments at colleges that primarily serve students of color. President Biden unveils a $175 billion plan to reopen schools, prepares to forgive student loan debt, and rescinds a Trump-era policy on diversity training.