Diversified education is becoming a solution for many businesses. In the European Union, small and medium-sized enterprises are encouraged to develop their capacity to include people from different countries in the union and cultures. The Australian Government is using diversity education to end the history of discrimination against Aboriginal and Islanders. Asia considers it useful for increasing productivity in multinational companies and for solving the historical problems of achieving harmony between Muslims and Hindus. South Africa has introduced diversity education to accommodate the end of the apartheid system. The United States has offered a variety of education for decades, although the rationale for its use has changed over time.
This article is limited to describing the history of diversity education in the United States. The history of diversity learning in other countries and continents will be told in future issues.
Diversity Teaching and Education in the United States
Many organizations, communities, military sectors, and institutions of higher education have been conducting some form of diversity education since the 1960s in the United States. In the late 1980s and throughout the 90s, businesses used diversity training to defend and settle civil rights lawsuits. Many organizations now assume that diversity education can increase productivity and innovation in an increasingly diverse work environment. Assumptions about the value of diverse learning as a result of its changing functions and uses have evolved over decades.
Diversity education largely began as a reaction to the civil rights movement and violent demonstrations by activists determined to send a clear message to European Americans that blacks would no longer remain voiceless about being treated as citizens. Social change to achieve a more stable society was the cause of education, which was primarily focused on learning to increase sensitivity and awareness of racial differences.
Encounter groups have become a popular teaching method for bringing white and black Americans together for honest and emotional discussions about race relations. The military used encounter groups in perhaps the largest experiment in diversity education ever conducted (Day, 1983). Many facilitators considered the "meeting" among representatives of a racial group participating in a diversity training to be successful when at least one white American admitted that he or she was racist and spoke tearfully about racial discrimination and white supremacy.
It was felt that the use of a pair of black and white facilitators was necessary to introduce the participants to the perspective of two race relations and to model interracial cooperation. The facilitators were generally male, and the white facilitator was most valued if he could openly show emotion about his own path to discovering deep-seated racism.
The facilitators saw their work as a way to achieve equality in a world that historically oppressed those with lesser social, political, and economic power. Standing up to white Americans who justified or denied their racism was commonplace in this approach to diversity education. The goal was to sensitize white Americans to the consequences of racial inequality.
White Americans tended to respond to confrontation during sensitivity training in three important ways. One group of whites has become more perceptive about barriers in race relations as a result of being put in a hot spot during clashes. The other group became more resistant to racial harmony as they fought against being called racists by the facilitators. The third group were those whom the military called "fanatics." These people began to speak out against any form of racial injustice after the training.
G. R. Day's (1985) study of the diversity of training in the armed forces shows that the Department of Defense Institute of Race Relations reduced training hours and reduced the use of "hot seat" methods in response to the negative evaluations of many participants who completed training. Diversity education in corporations has also begun to change as the federal government cut affirmative action laws.
While gender diversity education began to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s, diversity education in the United States expanded in the 1990s to focus on barriers to inclusion of other identity groups. Differences in abilities, ethnic, religious, homosexual, lesbian and other worldviews began to appear in education and training.
Some diversity pioneers argue that a broader view of diversity has "softened" the focus on race to the point where it is no longer considered seriously in training. Their assumption is that focusing on prejudice against other groups does not activate the internal response needed by individuals, organizations, and society.