Through a recent executive order, the Trump administration is moving to aggressively censor the content taught in diversity trainings by agencies and federal contractors. The order, and a follow-up memo from the Office of Management and Budget, seek to end trainings that include “divisive concepts” like the idea that the country is “fundamentally racist” or that it is inappropriate to attempt to view others without respect to race.
While the administration’s actions in some respects takes aim at concepts or approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training that are legitimately contentious, the approach is so broad and censorious—and the consequences for missteps so draconian, per the OMB memo—that at least one agency staffer instructed subordinates to suspend all trainings and remove all references to racism from the agency website, a response later acknowledged as in error.
At the National Park Service, the agency has responded to the orders by suspending programs related to race, but also trainings such as, “Responding to Visitors Who Are Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, Blind or With Low Vision,” “Equal Opportunity for Supervisors and Managers,” “Interrupting Inappropriate and Offensive Language and Behavior,” and “Tribal Consultation and the NPS,” according to reporting from the Washington Post.
Further, the administration’s actions seem intended to undercut the voices of protestors—and others—around the country speaking out in support of racial justice.
The executive order comes on the heels of national protests against systemic racism in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans. This overdue reckoning has led to a greater national awareness of the role all of us—individuals, nonprofits, companies, government agencies, and more—play in combating discrimination and ensuring this country and its public lands are safe, welcoming, and inclusive for Indigenous, Black, and brown individuals. These executive orders fly in the face of larger national efforts to combat systemic racism in the wake of highly-publicized murders of Black Americans.
To make the outdoors, and the country, safe for everyone means facing up to America’s history of racism, sexism, and discrimination and using this awareness to build better policies. The history of America’s public lands and waters is inextricably linked to our history of slavery and racial discrimination, from the displacement of Indigenous communities to the history of racial segregation, not only in National Parks, but most public spaces. In recent years, the Forest Service has grappled with issues of sexual harassment, misconduct, and racial discrimination within its staff and policies. Without addressing these issues head on, it will not be possible to build more equitable spaces, both in the agencies and on the public lands and waters they manage.
It is unacceptable to censor diversity and inclusivity trainings at a time when land management agencies and all decision makers should be striving to improve justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on public resources, including public lands and waters. The administration has a responsibility to ensure that public lands and waters are welcoming to all people, and part of that work is creating a welcoming and safe environment for a diverse staff for our land management agencies.
Earlier in September, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the need for the Interior Department to diversify its workforce. E&E reported that Dorceta Taylor, a professor at the Yale School of the Environment, testified that “Discrimination, racism and cultural exclusion has been a part of the fabric of the Department of Interior for more than a century and a half” (source).
There is certainly room for improvement in how the government carries out diversity or inclusivity trainings, this executive order is not a good faith attempt to improve inclusivity or equity in the agencies.
This content was originally published here.