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E-Pluribus | April 25, 2023
Three cheers (minus two) for wokeness; a Presbyterian college struggles to balance student free expression with its guiding beliefs; and putting DEI to the (A/B) test.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Robert Tracinski: One Cheer for Wokeness
Last week, our round-up included a single cheer for the direction of campus free speech. Now Robert Tracinski at Discourse Magazine finds he has one cheer to spare for . . . wokeness? Tracinski finds some redemption in the self-reflection that can be inspired by considering the wrongs of the past.
I think we can adopt two rules of thumb: 1.) If your definition of “woke” happens to overlap in a perfect circle Venn diagram with everything you dislike, you’re doing it wrong; and 2.) If your definition of “woke” is totally innocuous and uncontroversial and basically puppies and rainbows and being nice to people, you’re also doing it wrong.
Part of the problem is that “woke” began as a slang term, which by its nature has no formal definition, and only later became associated with a specific ideology. So that leaves it open to wide and vague interpretations by both defenders and critics—and for anti-wokeness to be abused as a political talking point.
It is that abuse, particularly the use of “woke” as a pejorative term to dismiss any criticism of the status quo, that compels me to say a word in defense of wokeness.
[ . . . ]
This is why I offer one cheer for wokeness. We always need someone to criticize the way things are and keep us awakened to our past failures and misdeeds.
But I’m only going to offer one cheer. I’m taking away one of the other cheers because self-criticism can take on an unhealthy form. It can become a relentless, out-of-control faculty of self-criticism, which some call an earthy version of an Itty-Bitty Committee. I like one psychiatrist’s description of how self-criticism gets out of hand: “Self-criticism is a tendency to set unrealistically high self-standards and to adopt a punitive, derogatory stance toward the self once these are not met, as invariably they are not because of their ever-raising nature.”
[ . . . ]
When being a critic of “systemic” injustice becomes a career, a lifestyle and a path to a sense of virtue, then you had better start chasing after new injustices—and find them, no matter what.
Read the whole thing.
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Sabrina Conza: Whitworth Cancels Pride Club’s Queer Church Event A Week after Rejecting TPUSA Event
A private, religious college is not held to the Constitutional guarantees of free speech the way a public institution is, but many such colleges aspire to emulate the same open-minded atmosphere for their students. Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington is learning the perils of trying to walk that fine line as Sabrina Conza of the Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression writes.
Although Whitworth is a private, religious institution not otherwise required to respect students’ expressive rights, the Spokane university affirms “freedom of expression for its students, staff and faculty” in line with the “Constitutional understandings of free expression.” It additionally commits that “students are free to express their views . . . on any matter of interest to the student body.” Given those commitments, both TPUSA and Pride Club must be able to express themselves freely without administrative interference.
According to Pride Club, the administration canceled Queer Church — advertised as a “celebration of LGBTQIA2S+ resilliency and love” featuring “food trucks, gender affirming resources, an open mic, and a drag workshop” — because “it doesn't align with the ethos of the university.” If this event was canceled based on the event’s content, it’s a clear violation of the university’s commitment to free expression.
When institutions guarantee students expressive rights, they cannot cancel events based on value judgments of the event’s content. Instead, they can express disapproval of or disagreement with the content of the event while allowing students to express themselves.
Read it all here.
Edward Chang, Erika Kirgios, James Elfer, Katryn Wright, and Guusje Lindemann: Why You Should Start A/B Testing Your DEI Initiatives
The folks at Harvard Business Review are calling for businesses to consider testing their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and this line in the article sounds just a little passive-aggressive: “We understand A/B testing will feel unfamiliar to many DEI teams[.]” It’s almost as though HBR expects DEI administrators to respond, “What!? Test for results?? Who, us!?” But indeed, the authors believe the whole DEI system could use some confirmation that these initiatives are bearing fruit.
Copious academic research has been conducted on DEI initiatives, but much of this work has been conducted in labs and online, not in real workplaces measuring impact on meaningful behaviors. This makes it hard to be certain how these initiatives might play out in actual companies. After all, lab and online participants face different incentives, contexts, and considerations than employees in the real world, all of which could influence how a proposed DEI initiative plays out in practice.
Before rolling out a potentially costly initiative, it’s worth verifying that it works in organizational settings. Here, fortunately, A/B testing can help.
Consider diversity training. In spite of meta-analyses of the academic literature suggesting that it can be effective at improving attitudes, the few A/B tests of diversity training conducted in real workplaces have shown that it has mixed results when it comes to changing behavior.
Could we rely on intuition or experience instead? Unfortunately, no. In general, people are bad at making predictions; we struggle to guess which messages will motivate people to go to the gym or whether we’ll learn from conversations with strangers. This applies in the DEI realm as well: One recent study showed that fewer than 1% of people were able to identify which interventions would reduce discrimination.
[ . . . ]
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What does success look like? We find that organizations are often not specific enough about what they are trying to achieve. “Reduce gender and racial bias in our promotions process” is a better goal than “Create an inclusive culture.” Specific goals help ensure your initiatives are fit-for-purpose.
Figure out how to measure success.
Consider what success looks like, and work out a way to measure whether you’re achieving it. When doing so, it’s a good idea to take stock of all parts of the process, not just the final outcome, so you can identify sticking points to target with future initiatives and understand why a current initiative is or isn’t working.
Read it all.
Via the University of California Center for Free Speech & Civic Engagement, Brown University President Christina Paxson in the New York Times on what she sees as the greater threat to campus speech. Not surprisingly, Christopher Rufo has other ideas.
And finally, kids are never too young to learn about classical liberalism: