College Diversity Training Comes Too Late

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By WSN Editorial Board

This August, the University of Wisconsin made headlines with their request for $6 million in funding for new cultural competency training programs. The proposed programs would emphasize the importance of cultural awareness for students, staff and faculty members. This is not a novel idea. Diversity training has become a popular initiative at most colleges — including NYU — one whose success is often due to the personal interest many students have in their campus’s culture. Programs such as these often fill a gap in social conscientiousness most young adults grapple with — this gap, however, should not exist in the first place.

While diversity training is essential in college, it should be emphasized in early childhood education as well. In many homogenous communities, teachers do not explicitly talk about diversity and microaggressions, and classes barely touch on major events pertaining to race, sexuality or gender. As a result, these students enter a diverse college environment and lack the tools they need to be respectful and conscious of those who do not share their experiences.

By the time students get to college, it is often too late to change ingrained behaviors. It is simply not possible to combat over 18 years of homogeneity and inadvertent stereotyping in a single freshman orientation session. Students with backgrounds lacking in cultural fluency only fuel tension among different groups — tension which then spills onto college campuses and beyond. Some K-12 schools in New York are starting to confront biased behaviors before they become irreversible habits, with the hope that graduates carry their values into the global workplace and promote a more welcoming community. Instituting this kind of education nationwide would be in everyone’s best interest.

The problem today is that our society has created a generation of students who are hyper-aware of their fluctuating identities in a group, but are equipped with few tools that can help them navigate murky social waters they may encounter in new settings. When lessons pertaining to diversity are taught at the university level, educators have to unravel nearly two decades of unintentional slights and prejudices. Instead of fruitlessly pushing against the natural adaptation of cultural norms, we should embrace them and find ways to turn these abstract concepts of racial, sexual and gender conflict into workable solutions. Students armed with this knowledge in the future may indeed offer more viable paths to solutions for on-campus issues like rape culture and cultural appropriation. Our strength as a nation lies in our diverse makeup, and schools would do well to give their students a firm background and understanding of our differences so that they may then begin to foster a sense of cohesion based on similarities.

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