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Unveiling the Fallout: Examining the Supreme Court’s Decision to Overturn Affirmative Action

By Affirmative Action, Diversity, Education

Jim Morris Consulting’s  Reaction to the Supreme Court’s

Overturning of Affirmative Action

 

(Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Jim Morris Consulting stands in emphatic opposition to the historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse Affirmative Action as per their ruling on June 29, 2023. This decades-long precedent allowed colleges and universities — public and private — to consider race as one factor in deciding which of the qualified applicants are to be admitted in order to create more diverse student bodies.

We urge everyone to research and understand the spate of recent decisions made by the Court that call into serious question its legitimacy as the U.S.’ third branch of government whose role is to decide on the constitutionality of federal laws when real disputes arise.

By overturning Affirmative Action and ruling in favor of policies that make discrimination of LGBTQ+ Americans legal, this court is now ruling on cases that are hypothetical vs. “controversial” and should have never been accepted by the Court had it followed its Constitutional mandate.  This is not a political issue, it’s a procedural one that threatens to further divide us. Let’s complain intelligently to expose the court’s disintegration as a legitimate judicial body and note its emergence as a partisan, financially corrupt policymaker influenced by special interests and unwilling to hold its members or itself to account for corrupt behavior.

The Affirmative Action ruling suggested so-called “race-conscious” admission programs at colleges and universities across the country disadvantage white and Asian students. Claiming “a benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter.” We believe this logic, cloaked in the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, fails to take into account the legacy of discrimination that has afflicted people of color and indigenous people in North America since before the very founding of the Nation. 

Our history shows that the U.S. has never been a “color blind” society. This decision sends a message that all students are equally disadvantaged through consideration of race in college admissions and fails to take into account the intergenerational impact of inequality that is the daily burden of marginalized racial groups in our society.   

Equally disturbing is Chief Justice Roberts suggestion that racial minorities are not entitled to admissions concessions based on their race, but they may include in their college applications stories of how their disadvantage has negatively affected their academic standing: “…Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise.”  

This approach replicates a long-standing and inequitable pattern that puts the onus of responsibility on students from underrepresented groups to advocate for equity.  As a counterpoint, when or where have students of the majority group ever had to advocate for their rights or entitlement to receive the advantage of their whiteness?  One of the precepts of our work with students and clients on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is to expose them to the myriad disproportionate ways members of underrepresented groups have to justify, explain and defend their existence, much less access to equal protection. This opinion is regressive to that dynamic and solidifies the status quo in ways that further disadvantage racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. 

Within these racial groups, gaps of almost incalculable size exist in the United States with respect to health, access to education, and access to credit and capital. To date and in spite of its shortcomings Affirmative Action has been the only approach that has concretely shifted access to education for black and brown students.

 

Justice Sotomayor has in the past publicly praised the impact Affirmative Action has had on her education and career. In her dissent, she wrote “entrenched racial inequality remains a reality today. Ignoring race will not equalize a society that is racially unequal.”   

 

We are a society composed of individuals and groups. As such, we must learn to acknowledge both individual achievement and the systemic barriers born from racial bias and discrimination that continue to plague groups of people who continue to be unfairly and equitably treated under the law, now and in the past. 

 

We remain committed  to helping leaders work through these complex social paradoxes to arrive at equitable practices, solutions and policies that work for everyone, not just the few. We still believe it is possible to realize the aspiration of E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one.

Settling for Hope Over Committment

By CRT, DE&I, Diversity, Education, Leadership, Workplace Culture

Is DEI Training Doing More Harm than Good?

 

This op-ed piece by Jesse Singal in The New York Times appeared today and before I had even read it, we had received five different emails, texts, or prompts, asking us what we thought about it. 

The piece posits that there is little evidence to show that diversity training – which reached its zenith in 2020 and 2021 in terms of dollars spent and employee requests for training – has any positive long-term effects. The piece also posits that some diversity initiatives worsen what Mr. Singal calls the “DEI climates“ of the organizations that sponsor them. 

Mr. Singal’s treatment of the topic and the citations he used are decidedly one-sided. In today’s “one and done” information environment it’s concerning that some may take his opinion as fact instead of as one perspective. Suffice it to say, organizations like Catalyst, COQUAL, and others conducted studies illustrating how DEI training has substantively contributed to positive gains for individuals and their organizations. 

Instead of taking issue with Mr. Singal’s assertions and claims about the effectiveness of DEI training now and then, or splitting hairs about what he means when he writes “positive long-term effects,” let’s talk about what we can learn from the piece in service of our work.

In general, I agree with one of Mr. Singal’s primary points –  if organizations want to generate ROI through a DEI&B strategy, training alone won’t work. Also, training that focuses on hearts and minds at the expense of behaviors and actions won’t change results quickly enough to make the grade in today’s impatient, profit-over-process, corporate environment. ©

Most DEI&B practitioners agree that organizations have to focus on changing processes and practices related to DEI&B in tandem with employee development and learning to achieve lasting results. But the reality is, it’s faster and strategically more practical to conduct an emotionally impactful – even transformative – learning event than it is to shift process and practice. 

The DEI managers I know report that it is easier to secure funding or support for training than for the complicated work of shifting culture. One is an event, the other is a process best measured over years or decades vs. months. Plus offering training might be rationalized as a reasonable alternative (or distraction) from the real issues. It is in scenarios like these where all too often, we diversity practitioners settle for hope instead of commitment.

But in the Spring of 2020 employees didn’t want to merely sit at their desks – alone and in their socially isolated homes – and work on changes in policies or practices. Amidst a backdrop of angst and images of worldwide civil rights protests, some wanted to talk about the years of suppressed daily lived experience of discrimination, hate, and bias at work they have been quietly living with. Hearing these stories, others wanted to better understand why they had missed seeing what their colleagues were going through. And, still others – craving the “good old days” – questioned the premise or need for the entire exercise. 

So what can we do to ensure diversity training makes a positive difference?

  1. First and foremost – and hopefully this is obvious – conduct training events in tandem with activities that implement well-thought-out changes in policy and practice. For example, pair up internal customer satisfaction initiatives with a learning experience on intercultural competency to increase listening and empathy with customers from other geographies or cultures.
  2. Hold managers accountable for applying the terms, concepts, and habits that foster inclusion. Include measuring how well they create and lead a diverse team, including their ability to attract and retain great people. 
  3. Resist the urge to prescribe processes and practices in a “top-down” way unless absolutely necessary.  Better to co-create activities and organizational practices that help everyone feel like they belong. One way to do that is to facilitate sessions where managers and specialists such as HR leads work to create the desired processes and practices, together. Research shows that managers and leaders do a better job of supporting or enforcing something they helped to create, so involve them in the creation phase. In general, train less – co-create more.
  4. To the degree that it is possible, eliminate compulsory DE&I training,  Getting people to see that which is right in front of them but might be invisible is hard enough, doing that with people who have a chip on their shoulders because they felt threatened into attending isn’t very inclusive. If you have no choice but to make DEI training compulsory make sure that whatever training you offer stays away from anything that takes a blaming or shaming tone.
  5. Ensure every training event is conducted with respect and openness. Beware of training that attempts to change people’s behaviors through guilt, embarrassment, or shame. Psychologists proved a long time ago that, over the long term,  these tactics do more harm than good.  
  6. Conversely, if someone is starting to feel or see something that has been invisible to them their entire lives, feelings of discomfort and “cognitive dissonance” may be normal. Acknowledge those feelings when they arise and offer reassurance. As someone once said, “the truth shall set you free, but first, it might make you miserable.”
  7. And, finally, if you are  of another marginalized group, be ready for dominant group members – white men and women in the US and men in general around the world – to feel a disproportionate amount of discomfort, angst, and disagreement in DEI&B learning. This isn’t intentional but it is also not unusual. Dominant group members routinely see and feel the impact of discrimination less often than their colleagues from underrepresented or marginalized colleagues. Give them time, and empathize with how hard it is to feel new emotions while they learn to empathize with what it has been like for you to carry a lifetime of harm and insult with you.

Framing issues in “more harm than good” binary terms makes for great headlines but is counter to progress. Embedding DEI in organizations is an imprecise process that ultimately and inexorably shifts organizational culture in virtuous and sometimes subtle ways. Let’s keep finding ways to make it better.

DEI and the 4 Questions Skeptics Ask

By Affirmative Action, DE&I, Diversity, Education, Racism
Students in the Affirmative Action Coalition march from Harvard through Cambridge, chant in support of diversity and affirmative action on college campuses. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Students in the Affirmative Action Coalition march from Harvard through Cambridge, chant in support of diversity and affirmative action on college campuses. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

 

Did you know that 25 years ago, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicted that the issue of racial discrimination would be something our society would not have to confront today? 

 

In 2003, Justice O’Connor summarized her opinions in a Court case on affirmative action at the time: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest [of increasing diversity in colleges and universities] approved today.” Can we agree that optimistic prediction has not come true? From attempts to intimidate and threaten Black and Brown voters in the recent U.S. election to confronting anti- Semitic sentiments and hate speech from public figures, we are still dealing with racism daily in U.S. society. 

The cases before the Court now were brought by the organization, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), who are seeking the elimination of all “race-conscious” admissions practices in universities and colleges. The Supreme Court has rejected the organization’s arguments twice already, and ruled that universities can consider race in admissions to promote diversity on campus and enrich students’ learning experience.

What’s going on? Why can’t we do as Justice O’Connor predicted and overcome and evolve past the stain of racism, racial bias, and discrimination?   

I don’t have an answer to that question, but here is an observation about the patterns of misunderstanding that seem stall true progress. 

In our work with clients around the world, some of my colleagues and I have noticed there are four questions that are repeatedly asked in arguments like this that take us down the problem- solving rabbit hole. 

It seems to me that these questions are motivated by a desire to intentionally stall progress. In other instances, the questions stem from a constructive intention, but the people asking these questions lack the ability to actually hear the words or see the lived experience of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors who have to deal with racial discrimination on a daily basis. 

The four questions are:

  1. The “What about…?” equivocation question: People ask this question based on the assumption that all forms of discrimination are solved with the same solution. Ask anyone who deals with the intersectional issues of, say, accessibility along with racism, and they’ll tell you the remedy for one is very different than the remedy for the other. The issue before the Supreme Court has to do with banning preference based on race. Though the cases being argued today are about diversity and recruitment/acceptance policies in universities, the point being argued has its origins in the 14th Amendment.  The language of the amendment was intended to address the racial backlash in the South following the end of the Civil War to provide formerly enslaved citizens with the same protections as all U.S. citizens, making their lynching, murder and assault unlawful (ACLU).
  2. The “Where’s the data” question: My colleagues who are men and women of color say this is the most frustrating question of all. For them, the “data” happens every day in the regular course of living their lives. It includes the ways they are looked at or treated in public spaces or asked to speak for their whole group, as in, “You’re Black; what do your people think about this?” They live and have to confront the data in ways that people like me have never experienced. Justice Sotomayor courageously offered up her own educational experience as data that affirmative action worked. Her grades, she said, would not have normally allowed her to get into Yale Law School, even though she excelled as a student once she was admitted. Her life story – like millions of other U.S. citizens – is the data.
  3. The definition question: It’s hard for me to believe that this question, when asked,  is genuine. It sounds like a passive-aggressive way to stall looking at root causes or finding solutions. For example, Justice Thomas, in the oral arguments, asked, “What is the definition of diversity?” and then answered his own question by saying it seems to mean “giving everything to everyone.” It would have been more direct to say, “I don’t subscribe to diversity as a valid concept for the Court to consider.”  Taking the bait and providing definitions of terms like “diversity” or “equity” or” inclusion” divert the conversation from actual problem-solving to an exercise in semantics. 
  4. The “When will we be done?” question: “When will we know anti-discrimination practices have gone far enough?” Does it strike you as odd that we are asking when we will be done working on eliminating discrimination when we have yet to be successful holding people accountable for doing it? It’s like saying “When are we going to stop funding cancer research?” knowing that there are still so many incurable or hard-to-treat forms of cancer. How about we solve more of the problem and THEN talk about when enough is enough?

A mentor once told me that, “Affirmative action is a clunky, inelegant, but necessary engineered solution to a human dynamic, and a problem that defies simple solutions. You can’t engineer mindsets.” They warned me, and that’s what was most disturbing when I listened to the Court proceedings. Some justices just sound like their minds are made up, and they are unable or unwilling to look past the literal interpretation of the 14th Amendment to consider the context of our society, then and now. 

It is astonishing to hear some of the justices ask the same basic questions our clients who have never had the opportunity to delve deeply into diversity and inclusion ask. The difference is that the Justices are supposed to be among the most learned and informed among us. It was heartbreaking to listen to some of the Justices go down the rabbit hole of these four questions. Is that they don’t understand the real issue or do they not believe it’s really worth considering? 

Ways to Deal with the Four Questions:

Do your best not to take the bait. No answer you can provide and no dialogue about them will actually move the needle toward a more equitable society. Instead, start with listening to their story—all of it. 

Say something like, “What really bothers you about working towards a society with no racial discrimination? Or “What are you afraid of if the Court upholds affirmative action—as imperfect as it is—to help rebalance the scales of justice?” Asking a question like this creates connection with the person asking the question, rather than taking a stance of debate. It also gets more to the heart of the issue, which is their resistance – not the legitimacy of DE&I work or, in this case, affirmative action.

A decision to completely overturn the Grutter v. Bollinger case, which was basically a blueprint for race-conscious college admissions, could have devastating outcomes when it comes to college admissions. According to a brief filed by Harvard, more than 40 percent of universities in the U.S. consider race during the admissions process. Let’s hope the Supreme Court will not vote to end the use of racial classifications in college admissions. 

Whatever the outcome, we can assume the next few years are going to be trying when it comes to the Court and their current stance on Affirmative Action.  Here’s to working together to protect it.

Moral Outrage and the Algorithm – Two Small (But Mighty) Steps

By Education, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Uncategorized

In the first article of this blog series, I talked about how some families in my hometown of Bend, Oregon are “quiet quitting” public schools in favor of homeschooling. There are several reasons behind this. One is that some parents don’t want their children to have to learn about enslavement, social justice, civil rights, or the history of discrimination in the United Statesnot because they are making a conscious choice—but because they have read/heard quotes about Critical Race Theory and its supposed negative impacts on children.

The second article in this series turned out to be about a tragic event that also happened in Bend when a young man went into a Safeway store armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun and killed three people before taking his own life. The thing I focused on from the story was the now predictable profile of who the shooter was: a young, isolated, depressed, and angry white man. 

I’ve used up, if not exceeded, my time talking about the problems. Here are two things I’m going to do in terms of trying to make things better; join me if they make sense to you:

1. We have got to learn to deal more constructively with our moral outrage. And what exactly is moral outrage? It’s the strong emotions we feel when we experience or see an injustice that we then convert into a moral judgment in a nano-second. When we feel it, we often resort to shaming or attacking the wrongdoers.  

Though I can’t prove it, I think it’s highly likely that many quiet quitting school families are keeping their opinions to themselves, so they don’t have to suffer through the judgments and moral outrage of their neighbors. We don’t know the motivations of the Safeway shooter, but his social media posts and reports from people that knew him suggest he felt isolated and unable or unwilling to express his feelings out loud. 

In my own extended family, I notice how one group of relatives whom I know feel differently about a number of societal issues than I do rarely allow our conversations during visits to stray into current events, politics, or personal beliefs. They’ve also witnessed my hyper-verbosity and intensity when I unbridle my moral outrage. That preview alone would probably be enough to keep them from ever wanting to engage with me on topics which we disagree about. 

For me, the solution is to remember that relationships and connection with other people is one of my primary espoused values, and allowing my moral outrage to take control is counter to those values. Also, if I tell myself the truth, my moral outrage is harmful to other people; there is nothing constructive about shame or guilt. I can’t let myself go there, no matter what the injustice or wrong is.

2. Less is more: I need to pay attention to how and when I use social media. Of course, this is a huge topic, but in this context all I’m talking about is what I need to do to build better partnerships with people who see the world differently than me. The way I use social media—including how I express my own moral outrage on occasion—also does a lot more harm than good. The anonymity of digital communication can enable us to behave pretty badly towards one another if we’re not mindful of it. 

I’ve been reading The Chaos Machine – The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher. Fisher talks about the physiological response most of us have to social media posts that prompt different feelings, including moral outrage, and the data is not good. There is a lot of creepy stuff that social media companies do to keep us engaged—and it’s engagement that is the key to them making money on us—but we can’t blame them for creating the algorithms that hook us; it’s still our choice. 

Since reading the book and noticing my own unconscious response to different stimuli on social media, I now catch myself before writing and sending snarky responses to complete strangers. I also notice that most of the snarkiness comes from other white men, and Fisher’s research also confirms this.

I’m noticing social media is an accelerant for creating and maintaining polar differences between us. It’s hard for me to even find or get access to groups whose members see the world in a different way than I do. The algorithms I experience on Facebook and Google are almost impossible for me to break out of. It’s not hard to see why those politicians who take pleasure in fomenting the polarization are also heavy social media users.

The world’s got big problems, and these are but two small (but mighty) behavior changes. Still, imagine what would happen if all of us actually committed to making them.

Note: Along with these ideas, there are some additional tools and tips that you can try. These are described in my new book, Gaslights and Dog Whistles: Standing Up for Facts Over Fiction in a Fearful and Divided World 

 

Here’s Why Some Families Are “Quiet Quitting” Public School

By CRT, Education

This story is part 1 of a 3 part series.

In my hometown of Bend, Oregon, the Bend-La Pine school district is experiencing an unusual decline in its student census this year compared to last year. So far, over 1000 fewer students are registered. Deschutes County is experiencing demographic growth that should, if anything, show a trend in the opposite direction. In fact, the demographics for the four-county area called the “High Desert Education Service District” show a 500% increase in homeschooling since 2019. 

Something’s up…

Obviously, a lot of the change has to do with the coronavirus, but according to Paul Andrews, superintendent of the four High Desert school districts, of which

 Deschutes County is one, there is another factor at play: “School curriculums related to the role of race and racism in the U.S. haven’t changed in the last year, but what has is the attitude of some parents towards it.”  

What I am hearing from my neighbors and friends who teach or work in public school administration here is that a lot of families are pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them because of fear and discontent about teaching critical race theory. 

I’m curious what these families think critical race theory is and what they’ve been told about it. What is it they are so concerned about that they would prefer to homeschool their kids rather than use the educational services their tax dollars already pay for?

My next reaction is to over-simplify a solution, thinking all we need to do is get more and better information on what critical race theory is into their hands so they can see it’s nothing more than an exploration of how systems sustain themselves, which makes systemic issues like racism or sexism very hard to undo at a societal level.

But there is a deeper issue at play here: many of these families feel marginalized and unheard about their concerns when it comes to topics about race, immigration, history, education, the pay gap, and class. Add to their anxiety the stories they are hearing about how “liberals” are trying to replace them with less expensive immigrant workers and that our schools’ history curricula are designed to assault their children’s self-esteem and confidence.

In Bend and nationally, this group has learned to identify people like me from a mile away. They know to avoid talking about what concerns them for fear of being judged as “Trumpers,” or ignorant, or racist, or anti-vaxxers, or worse.

I’m not reading new stories about incensed, outraged, and upset parents who are pulling their kids out of school because they feel marginalized. Many of them are just quietly taking action. Why should they hazard the kind of eye-rolling judgments people like me have been making about them for so long?

If we liberal or progressive people really want to create a world that works for everyone, we better start by practicing the tenants of diversity on ourselves. We’re not morally superior because we believe in equity or civil rights, or justice or democracy, and acting more right than others just drives them away. We reek of judgment when we objectify and make fun of them. The way we look down our noses at them sends a message about who we think is better, even if our words don’t say so. And this same group of people—the ones who are afraid of their kids learning CRTwill also tell us they believe in a similar set of pro-U.S. ideals. 

Yes, some folks choose to believe that news is more entertainment than fact, and they don’t appear to be open to feeling or seeing how stunningly disproportionate discrimination and bias is on men and women of color, or on white women, or on LGBTQ+ folks. However, they aren’t going to find their empathy or look at the data as long as they feel our supremacy over them. 

Through their votes and decisions, this group is tacitly showing us that they are willing to forgo democracy if it gives them a better chance to catch a small piece of the American dream. It’s our move, and we are failing at it. 

Let’s get to work on learning to create positive partnerships with our embattled, disenfranchised white neighbors. We don’t have to agree with them or pretend to adopt some of their points of view to get invited to dinner;  we just have to be curious and nonjudgemental enough to listen to their storiesall of themabout what they are afraid of and who they think is to blame for it.  

There are a lot of things to do after we learn to create positive partnerships, but let’s start there.