LEAD postpones microaggressions and bias workshop after Trump executive order

Dozier writes that the order will not be ‘disruptive’ to MIT’s ‘bias-related training’ programs

The MIT Social Justice Programming and Cross Cultural Engagement Intercultural Center (SPXCE) will reschedule a Learning Equity and Diversity (LEAD) workshop, titled “Microaggressions and Implicit Bias,” that had originally been slated for Oct. 15. The decision comes after President Donald Trump issued an executive order Sept. 22.

The order prohibits federal contractors and grant recipients from teaching members “divisive concepts” in the form of diversity trainings or instructional materials.

Institute Community and Equity Office (ICEO) Head John Dozier wrote in an email to The Tech that he expects the policy will not be “disruptive” to MIT’s “bias-related training” programs.

The order states that “many people” in prominent institutions propel a narrative in which certain individuals “are oppressors” based solely “on their race and sex.” The order writes that the aim of the policy was to prevent this type of “scapegoating” from being officially endorsed by federally-funded organizations.

The order provides examples for what it deems to be “malign ideology,” including an excerpt from a Department of the Treasury employee seminar. The seminar stated that “virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.”

The executive order also writes that according to research, “blame-focused diversity training reinforces biases and decreases opportunities for minorities.”

LEAD’s webpage states that the workshop, designed for staff members, would have included an “implicit bias test” for participants and techniques for “disrupting microaggressions.” The goal was to arm staff members with “theory” they could apply to “student interactions.”

Associate Dean for Intercultural Engagement La-Tarri Canty wrote in an email to The Tech that “an abundance of caution” preceded the decision to not hold the workshop on the original date. MIT will review the contents of the workshop so it can “be confident that the workshop meets the executive order’s requirements.” For now, the program is “still unpacking” the implications of the executive order.

Canty also wrote that SPXCE’s “programming focuses on learning and building” and does not “assert that anyone is an oppressor based on their race or sex.”

Dozier wrote that he believes that “using stereotypes to teach or discuss the danger in stereotyping is ineffective and even counterproductive.”

Dozier added that “offering historical and cultural context when discussing bias is not stereotyping” and that, from the perspective of the ICEO, consideration of such “cognitive bias research” is in fact necessary to addressing “the biases we all harbor regarding the people we live, learn and work with.”

In addition, Dozier wrote that for contractors of the federal government, the executive order takes effect “60 days after the date of its issue,” which would fall after Election Day. Dozier wrote that “the outcome of the general election will almost certainly affect the execution of this order,” making it difficult to decisively anticipate the impact of the order until the results of the election are known.