What to do when a course teaching diversity does not change students’ attitudes? Just keep requiring more classes? Yep.
A professor at East Carolina University recently discovered that the diversity course she teaches isn’t actually “effective” in changing students’ racial or gender biases.
Dr. Michele Stacey, who teaches criminal justice at ECU, assessed the efficacy of the school’s diversity course by surveying 288 criminal justice students’ attitudes towards women and minorities both before and after taking the course, publishing her findings in the latest issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.
Race, Gender, and Special Populations in the Criminal Justice System is a three-credit course that is required for the ECU major and minor in criminal justice. Aimed at educating students about the challenges of minorities in the criminal justice system, the course covers a variety of topics, including Native Americans and African Americans.
But while the course is also offered in the spirit of helping to reduce student’s bias towards these groups, Stacey discovered something interesting.
After assessing the bias of students before and after the course—using prompts such as “a woman should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers” and “if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites”—Stacey found that the course hadn’t altered students’ attitudes towards race or gender.
Executives favor a classic command-and-control approach to diversity because it boils expected behaviors down to dos and don’ts that are easy to understand and defend. Yet this approach also flies in the face of nearly everything we know about how to motivate people to make changes. Decades of social science research point to a simple truth: You won’t get managers on board by blaming and shaming them with rules and reeducation. Let’s look at how the most common top-down efforts typically go wrong.
Do people who undergo training usually shed their biases? Researchers have been examining that question since before World War II, in nearly a thousand studies. It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash. Nonetheless, nearly half of midsize companies use it, as do nearly all the Fortune 500.