Executive Order 13950 is a dangerous and Orwellian directive

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On Sept. 22, the White House issued an executive order banning federally-funded entities from using “blame-focused” diversity training. Ingenuously named the “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” Executive Order 13950 characterizes the concept of white privilege and systemic inequality as a “destructive” and “malign ideology.” This initiative is just the latest attempt of the current administration to push back against the anti-racist movement.  

However, the order is based on fallacious logic that willfully misinterprets the past and present of the United States. President Donald Trump’s lies have suppressed diversity and inclusion efforts in higher education throughout the United States, potentially subverting USC’s ability to work toward racial justice.

From the outset of the order, the president has relied on falsehoods to mischaracterize diversity training as hurtful toward white people. As its impetus, the order lists four different programs, the first of which was a seminar held by the Department of the Treasury. The president specifically claimed that it “promoted arguments that ‘virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.’”

Simple fact-checking proves this is not the case. Snopes, an online fact-checking platform, found that the quote originated not from the seminar but from a Ted Talk that the seminar suggested as a resource. More importantly, guest speaker Howard Ross clarified that the seminar’s overall message was “how can we work together?” and that Ross actually discouraged demonizing white people. Whatever the validity of an argument generalizing all white people, the reality is that President Trump used decisive lies to substantiate an official executive order.

Moreover, the order resorts to blanket statements to describe the complex range of research findings about diversity training. It claims that “research also suggests that blame-focused diversity training reinforces biases and decreases opportunities for minorities.” The president is clearly seeking to portray diversity training as counter-productive.

To be fair, some studies have found that mandatory training can spark backlash, reinforcing stereotypes against marginalized communities. A 2019 Wharton study found that voluntary training had no effect on white and male trainees. However, it led some people to recognize their own racial and gender biases. 

Diversity training isn’t perfect, but it is a decent first step. The solution to any problems inherent in diversity training is certainly not to ban it outright.

Ultimately, Executive Order 13950 stems from a wider culture war for control over the United States’ national narrative. Previously, the president held the White House Conference on American History to criticize critical race theory as “toxic propaganda” and threatened to cut funding from schools that used the 1619 Project, which retells U.S. history through the lens of Black Americans. The current administration is determined to force educational institutions to adopt its narrative that systemic racism no longer harms Americans today.

In reality, evidence for systemic racism’s continuation is impossible to ignore. For example, public policy has continuously prevented racially marginalized groups from accessing good homes, whether it be through denial of suburban homeownership or gentrification to spike housing prices. The result is a persistent racial wealth gap which traps Black, Latinx and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in a vicious cycle of economic turbulence, preventing them from accessing better opportunities. This is but one example in an ocean of interwoven and nuanced manifestations of systemic oppression, and any attempt to censor these truths from the public constitutes a type of warfare.

The national community of historians has even stepped forward to oppose the president’s denial of systemic racism. The American Historical Association issued a statement criticizing the president’s attempt “to purge history of its unsavory elements and full complexity,” calling it a “disservice to history.” It was joined by 46 other history organizations.

This unwarranted attack on diversity training has already rippled nationwide, stifling higher education’s ability to address issues of identity and justice. Fearing that the directive’s broad language applied to all employees, the University of Iowa suspended all training on race and sex stereotyping. John A. Logan College in Illinois canceled a Hispanic Heritage Month talk and a military academy canceled a screening of Malcolm X, a Black history movie.

The president’s lies prevent colleges and universities from telling the truth. They stifle academic freedom, cheating students of opportunities to expand their horizons and challenge their narrow preconceptions. Without the ability to declare systemic inequality a problem, higher education is incapable of holding productive problem-solving discussions.

USC’s anti-racist efforts are especially vulnerable to Executive Order 13950’s repressive prohibitions. The University has already fallen short on a practical level; after five months, school policy and curriculum have seen little concrete change. If anything, its efforts have been largely performative.

The executive order may deliver President Folt the perfect excuse to roll back the University’s inadequate reforms. This would undermine years of hard-fought advances in racial justice, allowing discrimination to go unchallenged and racial tensions to fester.

Ultimately, the executive order’s consequences stretch beyond the ivory tower or even the future of diversity training. They have serious implications on how Americans understand their past and the path towards a better future. If the White House truly wants to lead America toward a new era of greatness, it must acknowledge the reality of systemic racism.