What Does Diversity and Inclusion Mean?

We need an emic approach to creating more inclusive departments.

First published February 7 2019 in Anthropology News.

In December 2018, I called the founder of a diversity management organization to ask about a meeting where he pitched a university diversity research center to a white male faculty member. While the meeting generally went well, he said that “there was a black woman there, [and] she wasn’t buying any of it.” When I asked why, he said, “She just didn’t want to make any money. She kept pushing social justice, social justice, social justice.” He told her, that would not work. We’d had numerous conversations in his organization about how the best approach to implementing diversity took on a “business case,” or an economic rationale for doing diversity. He and other diversity professionals believe that tying diversity to profit ensures that programs are not cut from the budget and that this strategy incentivizes employees and executives to do year-to-year diversity work. Recognized as part and parcel of the neoliberalization of the academy, faculty members—especially left-leaning ones—resist these diversity logics. In the spirit of creating alternatives to capitalism that also recognize the importance of advocating for institutionally marginalized students, I suggest that we ask: What does diversity and inclusion mean to our departments and to our schools?What does diversity and inclusion mean to our departments and to our schools?

The truth is that academia is transitioning to a neoliberal model, and this transition has for people of color been a mixed-blessing, as it has also facilitated the incorporation of marginalized communities’ needs into everyday bureaucratic operations. Many departments now employ traditional corporate practices, such as diversity marketing, formal mentorship and “sponsorship” programs, and the auditing of department cultures. For some departments, inclusion has meant creating department programming, including potlucks and holiday parties. Recognizing the (corporate empirically tested) value these practices have for decreasing turn-over and increasing work engagement, I wrote an opinion article for faculty and graduate student leaders, titled “Diversity Audit (A Short How To Guide),” where I tailored a few diversity management practices to an academic setting. Here, however, I want to focus on a critical issue that, when overlooked, enables us to slip into the business and neoliberal logics of diversity. This means asking ourselves, why are we working toward diversity? What does diversity mean to our department? Then, coming to an agreement and a plan.

“What does inclusion and exclusion mean to you?” Inclusion workshop, 2014.Luzilda Carrillo Arciniega

Rather than impose—or assume—definitions of diversity, which can lead to ineffective diversity programs, I suggest that we take the time to unpack and agree upon what diversity means to the community we claim to serve. For example, how does the anthropology department at your university define diversity? Who are the diversity subjects that “need attention”? This would mean investigating how students and faculty see themselves and how they make sense of their social positioning within the department and university, in addition to developing well-formulated questions about community needs, taking measure of institutional resources, and developing strategic long-term plans. Diversity’s success, for instance, could be measured in terms of higher graduation rates, mental-health wellness, tenure rate, and research productivity.

This needs-attention model draws on corporate culture audits, as well as on applied anthropological research methodologies. However, we should also step back and reflect on the basic value of conducting anthropology. Whereas corporate auditors often take an etic approach to diversity management in academia by pushing the business strategy, anthropologists can take an emic approach to diversity by taking the time to understand their communities to create ground-up strategies for institutional change. In her how-to-do-applied-anthropology textbook, for instance, Sam Ladner provides an example of two Starbucks locations, located across from one another at an intersection; one was financially successful and the other less-so, but with a steady stream of loyal customers. After an audit, headquarters closed the less financially successful store. The community was hurt and aggrieved, Ladner said. An important hub for various community groups suddenly vanished, directing a blow to solidarity and a sense of belonging. The lesson for us here is not to fear audits, but to use them to advance important social values. In other words, rather than exclusively organize defensively against neoliberalist agendas, we can act affirmatively toward the community that we want to see enacted.

As useful as the business/social justice binary is, before assuming that our actions fall in line with the latter we need to define it empirically. In doing so, we cannot forget the contributions that women of color have done to extend our understanding of institutional inequalities and historical oppression. Beyond anthropologists, this includes the notable works of Kimberle CrenshawChandra MohantyIda B. WellsGloria AnzaldúaAngela Davis, and more recently, Linda Tuhiwai SmithMichelle AlexanderSylvia Winters, and Lisa Lowe—just to name a very few (please add more in the comments). To move beyond critique, I ask us to heed the advice that Robin D.G. Kelley gave at the San José American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting. Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Martin Luther King Jr., Kelley said that we cannot wait to create social change; we need to bend the moral arc towards justice. This needs to be a community—rather than pseudo-corporate— effort, driven by the hope that we will see its rewards in the future.Diversity and inclusion is a neoliberal artifact, but this does not mean that it cannot be a tool for revolutionary change.

Diversity and inclusion is a neoliberal artifact, but this does not mean that it cannot be a tool for revolutionary change. Through an emic approach to the organizations where they work, anthropologists can and should take advantage of institutional openings that enable them to shape organizational practice and culture. Some questions to begin an inquiry could include, What is keeping and pushing out students and faculty from your department? How does this intersect with race, gender, class, and ability? How can diversity and inclusion help us create radical change? I do not believe that revolution is intrinsically anti-institutional; rather, if revolution is to be sustainable, we need practice. Thus, I ask anthropologists, especially those of us who know a lot about critique, but little of alternatives, to heed this advice and to put anthropological methods to good. Do contact me, if you would like to discuss and strategize.

Starbucks, Racism, and the Anthropological Imagination

First published Oct 11 2018 in Anthropology News.

After a series of discrimination allegations, Starbucks announced in April that it would close to eight thousand stores on May 29 to conduct racial bias training. Many applauded the multinational corporation for taking a stance against racism, while others scoffed. Anthropologists have long kept a pulse on how corporations pollute environments, depress wages, control workers, create war, and, as a mentor recently reminded me, how they “just kill people.” Corporations were at the forefront of theoretical musings on evil infrastructure in Cultural Anthropology’s 2017 Theorizing the Contemporary series. So, what sense can we make of a historical moment such as this, wherein one of the largest multinational corporations hired leading experts on American racism purportedly to transform their business culture?

Overwhelmingly, social scientists agree that corporate diversity trainings are not an effective way to rectify systemic inequity. Critics have argued that these practices do not address systemic racism, historical struggle, and oppression; rather, they enable corporations to conduct business as usual, while helping them appearing to be doing social good (Mohanty 2003Ahmed 2017).

VasenkaPhotography/ Flickr (CC by 2.0)

But, what if we reframe the conversation, not as one that asks how these processes fail to bring us social justice, but instead as one that asks how and why corporations have become so important to American publics? Such a change in anthropological imagination might reveal to what extent American race relations are becoming embedded in everyday business.

There are many reasons why Starbucks would choose to close their doors for racial bias training, paying wages andlosing revenue from unrealized sales. Certainly, this move can inoculate the company against discrimination lawsuits, as these often require proof of intent. Although compliance may be the simplest answer, through my fieldwork on diversity management I learned that consultants reject working under such logics. For consultants, compliance frameworks are limited, as they neglect the potential of diversity to generate profit. Consultants argue that managing diversity by addressing inclusion in the workplace helps improve brand image, promote employee engagement, and drive creativity and innovation.

At the same time, diversity professionals, including consultants and human resource professionals, are not empty vessels of capitalist expertise. They are advocates of historically marginalized individuals in largely white spaces, and hence they are advocates for changing organizational culture so that it also addresses institutional racism. As seen with Starbucks, by framing antiracism within managerial practice, racism becomes a product of “unconscious biases” and evolutionary adaptations that make humans fearful of differences. These are also business problems, because they create disruptions in work.

I am not writing this piece to uncritically applaud Starbucks for the work they are doing. Rather, I want to recognize these changes and ask that we reflect on what they mean for how we think about corporations, race, and capitalism today.

Before Trump was elected as President, we had taken for granted that we lived in a colorblind era, wherein systemic racism was reproduced despite and through disavowals of racists (Bonilla-Silva 2008). The Starbucks announcement points to how all this is changing: well intentioned white-collar professionals are turning to experts to help them understand “bias” where there may be no intention to discriminate, and what is more, these corporations are taking explicit positions against racism and creating organizational techniques to purportedly address these historical harms.

Starbucks is following diversity “best practices,” the organizational techniques that leading management experts approve as worthy of being instituted. The CEO of the company, Kevin Johnson, a white man, apologized publicly for the discrimination experienced by black customers (possibly against legal advice), announced his commitment to inclusion, and reinforced this message by making a public gesture: closing thousands of stores on the same day. Starbucks also hired prominent experts in racial discrimination who recognize that such a racial bias training needs to have measurable outcomes and accountability systems in place.

Anthropologists of capitalism, in particular, should take heed of the fact that corporations like Starbucks have the power to shape capitalist discourse. Starbucks’ representatives, for instance, said they will publish the trainings that they will develop for public use. Their goal is to influence the creation of new teaching tools, metrics, and workplace policies to address racial discrimination in business. Insofar as corporations have the resources and social capital to set standards for how to do business, we should listen when they claim to be creating new moral grounds for capitalism. Perhaps this allure to how business can be used to do good partially explains why diversity, while a business construct, has also become part of everyday operations in higher-education institutions and nonprofit organizations.

I am not writing this piece to uncritically applaud Starbucks for the work they are doing. Rather, I want to recognize these changes and ask that we reflect on what they mean for how we think about corporations, race, and capitalism today. In doing so, I suggest that we re-examine the complicated relationship between economics and morality, and create new analytics for understanding how we have never actually been post-racial. As Starbucks is showing, it is not only “social justice warriors” that are concerned with racial discrimination in America; it is also the concern of a large consumer public. Insofar as there is a market for antiracism practice, corporations will attempt to capitalize on it. As critics of corporations and capitalism, we know best that this is not entirely a positive development in history, and it is our duty to understand how and why this has come to be.

So, how do we begin to re-imagine the relationship between corporate capitalism and American race relations? I suggest that we begin by addressing our own anxiety over studying corporations and interrupt our assumptions of them as evil. The latter analytic does not facilitate the kind of nuanced analysis that can explain how, sometimes, capitalist humans are sincere actors trying to “do good” in a messy world. Yet, I also caution us to keep in mind that sincerity in moral and “antiracist” concern is not about authenticity, but performance, productivity, and meaning (Jackson 2001). These contradictions are observable if we pay attention to the intersections of concerns about profit and society. An analytic of negotiation, in contrast to one of the reproduction of evil, might help us better understand how capitalism continues to be generated, purportedly as an improvement.

The Spirit of Affirmative Action in Hollywood and Academia

First published March 21 2018 in Anthropology News.

The inclusion rider reveals the informal ways in which academic diversity can be improved.


Frances McDormand finished her acceptance speech for best actress with the phrase, “I have two words to tell you all tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” Within hours the mainstream media clarified the inclusion rider as a contractual clause that actors can use to require diversity standards for the film’s cast and crew. Wide adoption of the inclusion rider would effectively institutionalize the guiding principle that women and people of color have used for decades: pull each other up. In the aftermath of affirmative action, the A-list member can employ their status to pull others up to grow both diversity and business. This begs the question, What can the inclusion rider reveal about academia’s own limitations and possibilities for diversity?

Mark McNestry/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Many may wonder—certainly, I did—how inclusion riders differ from affirmative action policies; will inclusion riders be subject to the same challenges that dismantled most affirmative action policies and procedures? While there are some resonances between the two—both desire the achievement of racial integration—there is a core distinction in terms of how each justify diversity as socially beneficial. Historically, direct efforts to achieve integration involved the use of quotas to assess representation, but these are now illegal. Even “racially sensitive” policies face scrutiny, as in the 2013 Supreme Court case of Abigail Fisher that questioned whether race could even be considered in college admissions. Debates on affirmative action policies often center on the relationship between merit and representation. Affirmative action critics tend to argue that racial integration efforts unfairly discriminate against others and disadvantage the potential of a society to be great. However, diversity debates—of which inclusion riders are one example—bring to the forefront the relationship between representation and profit. In corporate America, who can argue against this?

What the inclusion rider does, however, is provide white allies with a role in promoting diversity, and they distribute responsibility for diversity across race and gender.

A clip of Kumail Nanjiani concluded the montage that played prior to McDormand’s inclusion rider acceptance speech. He said, “There’s so many movies from different points of view that are making a ton of money. Don’t do it because it’s better for society and representation, even though it is. Do it, because you’ll get rich.” The audience laughed. But he wasn’t being ironic. His statement reflects an inescapable truth that the diversity managers in my field research often turned to in order to convince white-men “to challenge a system that benefits them.” That Nanjiani said this at the end of the video montage was no accident; the producers of the montage wanted the audience to remember this message. Investors could either profit or miss out.

The inclusion rider clause relies on A-listers: major actors, film producers, directors, and other celebrities at the peak of the Hollywood industry. As A-listers with the capacity to draw big crowds and quality projects, these celebrities have the power to determine contractual obligations. Very few people outside of the A-list category would be able to assert these contractual ultimatums, as in highly competitive industries most employees are interchangeable. Thus, as work becomes more precarious, diversity’s institutionalization is driven more by authority and command than by the federal government. In diversity management, the strategy has been to focus on obtaining the “buy in” of corporate executives. In academia, the sage advice is that when beginning diversity work, one should have tenure, so that if there is push back, one’s job is protected. But, diversity is more than instituting fair and equitable policies. It is about ensuring that individuals have the opportunities to succeed institutionally, including technically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Despite its gradual and systemic dismantlement, the spirit of affirmative action continues to compel us to find innovative ways to solve these disparities.

This imperative relies on an informal practice that women and people of color have long done or at least have been expected to do, that is, lend a hand to others like them. The logic is that across race and gender we can recognize enough similarities in lived experience to render racial and gender discrimination intelligible, and generate empathy. This logic is not only theoretical. We see this when individuals claim that they are committed to equality, because they want to “pay it forward.” We also see this when students gravitate towards teachers who look like them. Insofar as discrimination is recognized as linked to visible bodies, individuals will continue to reproduce racial economies of solidarity. What the inclusion rider does, however, is provide white allies with a role in promoting diversity, and they distribute responsibility for diversity across race and gender.

In more practical terms, there are various ways in which academics enact inclusion riders. These include partner hires, diversity postdoctoral hires, transferring graduate student privileges across institutions—and, perhaps most glaringly, the hiring of subject-matter experts in race and gender studies. Diversity can enter through the backdoor, but overt intentional actions to increase diversity continue to be reproached. This is not surprising as American cultural reasoning often pits demographics against excellence. Diversity management scholars remind us that the assumption that hiring with diversity in mind is biased is premised on the faulty notion that hiring and promotion decisions are not already biased. In actuality, we often unconsciously favor people who look just like us, if not for the simple reason that this is comfortable. Thus, what we can do in a post-affirmative action era is recognize these informal practices and employ them strategically.

The inclusion rider, we should not forget, works within frameworks that are reasoned to generate profit. But, the inclusion rider also reminds us that we must be attentive to how whiteness is reproduced informally, such as through social networks, wherein mostly white men routinely and informally offer each other opportunities. It is in these kinds of processes that affirmative action aimed to intervene by standardizing job advertisements, employment contracts, and hiring and promotion policies. Despite its gradual and systemic dismantlement, the spirit of affirmative action continues to compel us to find innovative ways to solve these disparities. These economic and moral practices open new possibilities in the informal structures of our institutions, while revealing the limitations for upward mobility. Let’s look for openings in our current structures and continue the struggle for non-profit alternatives to equity.

Diversity Audited (A Short How-To Guide)

First published February 6 2018 in Anthropology News.

Since the 1980s, audits have almost become mundane. They have provided means by which employers can increase efficiency and productivity, as well by which the most disenfranchised can exercise agency. With regards to the latter, documents, numbers, and benchmarks make rights visible and achievable, even if these tools for measurement end up obscuring and simplifying complex issues. Despite limitations, I ask us to turn to diversity audits for inspiration to create better and more inclusive academic departments. Below I present five methods for organizational change: reviewing diversity demographics, creating resource awareness, identifying diversity targets, increasing retention, and creating accountability structures.

(1) Review your diversity demographics

Examine how your bureaucratic procedures reproduce systemic inequities. Ask yourself: are your top choices for graduate student admissions reflecting the diversity mission statement of the department and university? If you can: examine the diversity numbers in the last five to ten years. What were the demographics of those who applied, interviewed, and were accepted? Look for a trend that might be revealing of how the department prioritizes admissions and hiring and identify opportunities for these decisions to support the diversity mission statement. Bring these issues to faculty meetings and schedule a serious conversation about visions for the department and university, including how to address problems in diversity pipelines and create structural support to achieve equity.

 (2) Create awareness over resources

Most universities today have diversity and equity departments with affiliated offices and that have comprehensive websites on policies, resources, and processes for establishing equity. Yet, a person can spend hours researching before finding what they need—additional financial aid, a network of scholars, or the appropriate venue to file a complaint. If your department doesn’t already have an internal website to access bureaucratic forms, grant resources, examples of candidacy exams, dissertations, cover letters, etc. etc.— create one! Then add a page for diversity resources, including but not limited to intramural and extramural fellowships, leadership opportunities (e.g., mentorship programs, service councils and affinity groups), disabilities (including mental health!) services, and recurring professional development workshops. Ensure that undergraduates have something similar. Documentation is a useful way to provide students with institutional knowledge, but beware that this does not take replace actual mentoring or advising.

(3) Address retention issues

The following two ways to address retention both have to do with event planning, although that is not the only way: First, educate the department on resources already available. For example, this past fall the University of California, Irvine  Department of Anthropology invited Title IX officers to speak to faculty and graduate students (separately) to address the definition of harassment and discrimination, the complaint process, and the rights of complainants and respondents in an investigation. Many said they found them useful: some learned that racial micro-aggressions could be reported and others that the Title IX office could open their own investigations if they established a policy violation pattern. Second, create opportunities to develop student competencies. I am currently planning a two-hour panel with post-fieldwork graduate students to speak on their experiences in the field and with dissertation write up, including negotiating family, work, and life. Another panel idea is to invite senior graduate students and recent graduates to speak on their academic and non-academic job market experiences.

(4) Identify diversity target(s)

Despite diversity being a historical problem, there are always new problems that emerge with changing structural conditions. For instance, in the last five years I’ve known of two graduate students (at different institutions) who were dismissed from their departments for not meeting normative degree deadlines due to disruptions linked to mental health. One of them sued their institution, won, and is now a graduate student again. Unfortunately, it is often the case that lawsuits reveal problems with diversity that are otherwise neglected and/or willfully ignored. Diversity practitioners often anticipate problems by distributing anonymous surveys, asking an external facilitators to hold focus groups (again, anonymously), and last but not least, by examining complaint records. Given the current post-Harvey Weinstein moment, I have to ask, is there a serial harasser that everyone seems to know about, but that has not been addressed?

“Clinical Audit Cycle.” Craig.parylo at the English language Wikipedia/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)


(5) Create accountability structures

In 2016, I assisted a diversity consultant on a training designed to help a corporation begin to form a nationwide diversity and inclusion department. The training was for over 140 middle managers and was held in two locations, one on the East Coast and one in the West. Each one of them was to lead one regional branch. After being informed that all those attending would be volunteers, we created a survey to assess the competencies, interests, and demographics of those attending and (unsurprisingly) found that most of the participants were women or people of color! We confronted the organizers who immediately recognized the problem: diversity work cannot be sustainable without the distribution of responsibilities beyond those that feel a passion or commitment for it.

To these ends, I suggest creating an accountability structure, even if it is just a spreadsheet: Who will be examine the diversity numbers and report the findings to the faculty meeting? Who will create a resources website? Who will organize the Title IX meeting and ensure there is enough food and drinks for starving students? Without accountability structures and the fair distribution of responsibilities, the work of diversity is too often mapped onto racialized and gendered bodies and reproduced through affective labor.

I am sure few want to hear that yet-another committee needs to be formed to address administrative issues. Yet, I will challenge anyone who doubts that this is some of the most important work of the New Year. I will reiterate: it is not that this work has not being done; rather, the form it has generally taken is unsustainable, and it is often unfairly distributed. Especially, for those of us who are concerned with where the nation seems to be going, I hope that these suggestions can help create more inclusive anthropology departments. Take what you need with the critical awareness that creating change entails, and take advantage of the free resources available out there.

Further Reading:

Hetherington, K. Guerilla Auditors. Duke University Press, 2011.

Hull, M. Government of Paper. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Merry, S.E. “Measuring the World: Indicators, Human Rights, and Global Governance.” Current Anthropology 52, S3 (2011): S83-S95.

Riles, A., ed. Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge. University of Michigan, 2006.

Shore, C. and S. Wright. “Governing by Numbers: Audit Culture, Rankings and the New World Order.” Social Anthropology 23, no. 1: 23-28.

Strathern, M. 2000. Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy. Routledge.

Advocating Professionalism or Muting Mental Health Problems?

First published November 21 2017 in Anthropology News.

Academia’s Elephant in the Room

A study conducted by the University of California Berkeley in 2014 found that 47 percent of graduate students showed signs of depression. Around the same time, a study published in Academic Psychiatry found this to be the case for up to one-third of graduate students at Emory and that 7.3 percent of those surveyed had contemplated—and 2.3 percent actually had plans of—committing suicide. Both of these studies found that these students had perpetual anxiety, loneliness, and hopelessness. Although mental health challenges are commonly known, they continue to be stigmatized and dismissed as part of the disciplinary process of becoming an academic. Insofar mental health needs not medical, but social and structural interventions, academic departments need to adapt to their student needs, including creating professional competencies for scarce and highly competitive academic and non-academic job markets.

A large majority of students who enter a doctoral program have the potential to complete the degree, making institutional challenges the key reason why attrition rate is nationally over 50 percent. The Council of Graduate Schools has suggested six departmental areas that could be contributing to PhD program attrition, including mentorship, financial support, and the program’s environment. I highlight these three, in particular, as concerns that have also been emphasized by mental health studies, including those conducted by UC Berkeley and Emory. UC Berkeley’s study, for instance, cited “concern with finances, social support, advising and career prospects” as the most frequently identified topics that contribute to low life satisfaction and depression.

Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Too often faculty members see graduate school as a necessary challenge to prepare students for “more of the same” stress as an assistant professor seeking tenure. However, this perspective glosses over two important caveats: First, the academic job market is unfavorable to most; certainly, it is now common knowledge that institutions are producing PhDs at a much greater rate than there could ever be jobs to match. It is likely true that only a fraction of PhD graduates have ever obtained a tenure-track job, even among the most prestigious of universities, but multiple studies continue to show that this fraction has only gotten slimmer with time. Second, these institutions often do little to develop their students for a professional world both within and outside of the department.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Vilma Patel writes that graduate schools have a “culture problem” of anxiety and isolation, and that “psychiatrists…can’t do much about poor adviser relationships, social isolation, precarious finances—or career prospects.” In my columns, I have rarely provided personal examples to make a point, but here it seems apt. Since I began receiving financial aid in college, I have been responsible for a significant portion of my mother’s and sister’s financial responsibilities. I recall my former advisor’s look of concern when I confided in him that I had two panic attacks while preparing for my candidacy exams. He said in response, “You need to get that under control—it’s just going to get worse as an assistant professor.” I nodded, keeping to myself that I had been working an additional two jobs to make financial ends meet. It is no surprise to many who know me that I chose to study diversity management (in the United States) against all traditional anthropology advising, largely because of my socioeconomic need to maximize my training both within and outside of tenure-track faculty positions.

 We must dispel the myth that one can receive a job in industry without preparation, and more critically, without any professional experience.

Academic departments can certainly do much to address graduate student hopelessness, something that would have the double benefit of clarifying the boundary between the kind of mental health that necessitates a medical versus a structural and social intervention. To begin, we must dispel the myth that one can receive a job in industry without preparation, and more critically, without any professional experience. Often, academic culture discusses industry jobs as “back up plans” or “second choices.” These are not strategies for obtaining a professional job, as is echoed year after year at the EPIC Conferences, a convergence of ethnographers in industry. Rather, those who are competitive PhD professionals are familiar with the language of business, how to tailor their projects in pragmatic and resource-driven ways, and, not least importantly, how to work in teams. Insofar as academic departments continue to accept graduate students at similar or higher rates and not prepare them for non-academic tenure track jobs, they are complicit in perpetuating graduate student hopelessness and, yes, a culture of graduate student depression.

While some aspects of graduate school entail a process of maturing and learning how to become a colleague, actual professional development courses and trainings are missing from these expectations. During my time conducting fieldwork between 2014 and 2016, I studied dozens of events aimed at sharing institutional knowledge with (mostly) women and people of color. As one of the youngest in the audience, I learned how to speak to and demand things from people in authority, how to provide and receive mentorship, the differences between mentorship, sponsorship, and coaching, and how to strategize career advancement in institutions that have historically operated with only white men in mind. These challenges require certain finesse and delicate maneuvering that, to be frank, nobody has a natural aptitude for. Certainly, even those who prevail, often do at a great cost, including but not limited to severing relationships with potential colleagues and allies, and for women in particular, gaining the reputation of the department’s “witch.”

I confess that I sometimes find myself at fault, jumping to the conclusion that sounds like “suck it up” when I hear someone complain about unfair department practices or an absent advisor. Then, my more reasonable self recognizes that this position is harmful and that mental health at times is a disability that requires certain kinds of institutional interventions to ensure equitable access. In most other instances, we need to take more responsibility by addressing our own complicity in perpetuating toxic graduate school cultures. It is in these times that I turn to diversity management for guidance and inspiration, and I suggest we all should too.

Beyond the Criminal Discourse in Title IX Procedures

First published October 26 2017 in Anthropology News.

On September 22, 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rolled back the Title IX guidelines implemented under the Obama presidency. The shocking implications of this are too numerous for this short article, however, I want bring to the fore one key concern: changes to what constitutes as the standard of proof for a violation in sexual harassment policies. Whereas Obama-era guidelines lowered the standard of sexual harassment to include the creation of a hostile work environment, DeVos Devos raised them. Her changes arguably provide due process only for those accused of the most egregious crimes. However, both of these approaches employ punitive measures to address sexual harassment on campus, and they are both insufficient and harmful.

Title IX guidelines, first established in 1972, compel educational institutions to establish policies and structures that ensure that sexual discrimination does not violate equal opportunity to public education on the basis of sex. Title IX works by tying rights to money: In order to receive federal aid, institutions must appoint Title IX officers, make their policies of non-discrimination public, establish grievance procedures, and investigate complaints in a timely manner.

 In a mere two-pages DeVos, discarded the well-known 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (and its accompanying 53-page question/answer guide) that identified sexual harassment in schools as a civil rights issue.

Devos’ rollback came two weeks after she charged that the rights of those accused of sexual harassment or assault have been systemically abused under the Obama-era Title IX guidelines. “One [sexual] assault is one too many, one aggressive act of harassment is one too many,” she said, “One person denied due process is one too many.” Devos pointed to innocent students whose lives were ruined under Obama-era amendments that encouraged Title IX investigators to employ a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. This meant that Title IX investigators had to prove that “it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred” (Dear Colleague 2011, 11).

In a mere two-pages DeVos, discarded the well-known 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (and its accompanying 53-page question/answer guide) that identified sexual harassment in schools as a civil rights issue. In this short document, DeVos rescinded guidelines that discouraged cross-examination, forbade the use of law-enforcement authorities to resolve complaints, and that allowed for complainants to appeal “not-guilty findings.” In effect, it defined Title IX through the lens of criminal procedures.

We are on a misguided path when punitive measures are the primary means by which to establish equal opportunity.

While not based on criminality, Obama-era guidelines also maintained an emphasis on punitive measures for addressing sexual harassment. The first few pages of the 2011 Dear Colleague letter described a sobering climate, citing many statistics, including that 20 percent of women and 6 percent of men are victims of attempted or completed sexual assault in college. It also states that sexual harassment generally creates a hostile environment and that it can interfere with a students’ ability to participate in educational programs, constituting a violation of Title IX legislation. Title IX investigators were thus encouraged to employ the preponderance-of-evidence standard and a variety of methods to determine a 51 percent likelihood that a policy violation happened, including character references and analyses of narrative consistency.

Since then, Obama-era standards received widespread condemnation from civil liberties groups that advocate for a higher standard of proof. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, for example, argued that Obama’s policies both neglect freedom of speech rights and violate the due process of those accused of criminal activities. They argued that at its worst, these procedures easily enabled life-altering damages, including college expulsion and defamation. New Trump-era regulations state that educational programs can choose a standard of proof as long as they are consistent with all student disciplinary procedures, meaning that many universities are now facing difficult structure and life-changing decisions ahead.

Boris Thaser/Flickr CC BY 2.0

What is missing from this discourse is that most claims of sexual harassment are not criminal acts. This includes brushing up against someone’s body, touching another person inappropriately, stalking, and using a position of authority to pressure someone into having sex. Sexual harassment can also be mundane and severe enough to create a hostile environment, such as through language. In the last two years, I became aware of several Title IX complaints filed with my institution, and none of these rose to a standard of criminality in California. These were complaints against faculty for making sexist and homophobic commentary; against three different students for stalking a graduate student, a female faculty member, and a male faculty member (all distinct cases); and one more egregious case of a faculty member propositioning a graduate student for a sexual, extramarital affair.

Creating a framework in which criminality is the standard effectively reserves Title IX for only the most egregious cases of sexual violence. This goes against the spirit of Title IX. When she drafted the Title IX amendment to the Higher Education Act, Representative Patsy Mink sought to create equal opportunities for women in education by requiring federally funded education programs to allow women to participate equally. This meant post-secondary schools and departments across the nation that historically denied admission to women now had to admit them. Athletics programs had to allocate equal funding to male and female athletes. Financial aid could not exclude women as recipients of scholarship funds. Title IX was never exclusively about criminality. It is about equal opportunity.

We are on a misguided path when punitive measures are the primary means by which to establish equal opportunity. According to legal anthropologist, Annelise Riles (2004), the law is often employed for its instrumentality: as a means to an end that reproduces, in effect, more means and ends. With recent Title IX procedural changes, Trump and Obama guidelines have proven this to be the case, revealing that conflicting goals produce methods that are at odds with one another. I suggest that we question Title IX’s procedures, means, and ends by recasting the question of how to produce educational environments that allow for equal participation. We must do this in such a way that moves past a discourse of discipline and punishment, and towards the transformation of campus cultures that we so desperately need. With adequate training and tools restorative justice is certainly a good place to start. With sufficient student, faculty, and staff involvement, we can work towards addressing sexual harassment and assault before it starts.

The Disastrous End for DACA Students and Workers

First published September 25 2017 in Anthropology News.

Early morning on September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, issued to protect over 800,000 undocumented persons who arrived to the United States as minors from deportation and provide them with temporary work-permits. Sessions claimed that DACA had been “an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch,” and hence, needed to be repealed. Despite all efforts to portray DACA recipients as the perfect immigrant, Sessions still characterized them as having “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans, by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.” As early as March 5th, almost one-thousand people will be subject to deportation every day. Certainly, we are all hoping that Congress will find a permanent solution. Yet, given that DACA students and workers are not a legally protected class in the United States, it would be a serious mistake to not anticipate and plan for the worst possible outcome.

After deporting over 400,000 immigrants in 2012 and after a failure of Congress to act on immigration reform, Former President Obama signed DACA as an executive order. Since then over a million individuals underwent the rigorous qualification process, including undergoing extensive background and criminal checks, completing educational requirements or serving in the Coast Guard or Armed Forces, and registering with the government. Similar to the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) offered to immigrants from countries with extraordinarily unsafe conditions, DACA did not offer permanent residency and had to be renewed regularly. Every two-years, these early-career individuals paid $500 dollars to be able to keep their employment, educational aid, and their driver’s license.

Photo by Chris Wager Saldivar, 2017

The University of California’s efforts to support their undocumented students provide lessons to those in higher-education. For instance weeks after the Jeff Sessions announcement, the University of California announced a lawsuit against the federal government for unconstitutionally violating the rights of the University and its students. They are also experimenting with models for student and employment. For example, in the last few years, competition for the University of California Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship opened to DACA students, along with the possibility for receiving Visa sponsorship as an employee. Additionally, those who will be losing their teaching assistant positions now qualify for fellowships from private funds, and can gain work experience as guest lecturers and facilitators. As students who lack documentation and whose structural conditioning would constrain—if not make impossible—their ability to complete their degree, they have become one more class of the diversity population that must be protected from discrimination.

The options for those in the private sphere are more limited. Employment laws are straightforward and strict: Non-citizens and non-residents need a work-permit to be legally employed, and employers can legally ask to re-verify employment close to, by, or after this permit’s expiration date. It is rare that asking for re-verification would constitute employment discrimination, especially in jobs not protected by unions. Yet, sympathetic employers who do not verify work-permits could be audited and be fined. These federally mandated layoffs can cost over 6 billion dollars in employee turnover costs alone.

Yet, corporations have publicly vowed to advocate for their DACA employees. Apple, for instance, has over 250 workers who will be affected by the repeal if Congress does not propose a permanent solution to guarantee their residency. Microsoft CEO also stated, “A tax reform bill needs to be set aside until the DREAMers are taken care of,” and vowed to legally represent their DACA employees. Several-hundred business leaders, including CEOs, Presidents, Founders, and Corporate Executives, have signed on to a letter of support pledging to “Stand with Dreamers.” They claim that DACA recipients are a boost to the economy: They pay income taxes, participate in the economy as home and car owners, and have widespread employment in 72 percent of the top Fortune 500 companies.

DACA is not a legally protected class in the United States, although as undocumented students they resemble diversity categories in higher-education institutions. Many would agree that there is a historical need to provide protections and solutions to institutional discrimination, regardless of documentation status. There is legal precedence for this. For instance, in her influential work, Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) explains that undocumented victims “suffer in silence for fear that the security of their entire families will be jeopardized should they seek help or otherwise call attention to themselves.” These legal concerns have resulted in immigration procedural changes, including the domestic violence waiver. Outside of private employment, there is no need for DACA and other undocumented students to suffer in silence when there is much creativity to be employed in the student-working processes of higher education.

Photo by Chris Wager Saldivar, 2017

The situation that has followed over the repeal of DACA is serious and life changing. DACA offered a large number of persons the opportunity for social and economic mobility: Through DACA, the government promised protection in exchange for control that ripples beyond the individual. Over the next several months these students and workers, who have their names, addresses, and phone-numbers on government databases, will be living in fear and uncertainty over possible deportation. We must take seriously that Homeland Security urged DACA recipients to use their transition period to self-deport. Yet, rather than do as they say, we need to be prepared for the best and the worst. We need to act like allies through whatever form we see fit. We must also advocate for undocumented persons who do not fit the perfect immigrant narrative.

Unless Congress passes a permanent residency program, thousands will lose their employments and their legal authority to remain in this country. This situation will likely continue to inspire debates over immigration law, strategy, and process for years to come. We have also learned two important lessons: The first is that executive orders can always be revoked; and the second is that the narrative of the perfect immigrant, while capable of garnering widespread sympathy, is not foolproof and is incomplete. Both of these are equally depressing and hopeful, depending on which way you would like to look at the problem.