Alexander Riley writes for the Martin Center about the origins of diversity training.

Diversity training is now in force at many institutions of higher education.

In the typical scenario, students, staff, and faculty submit themselves to the mercies of hectoring lectures and demeaning demonstrations that purport to reveal white privilege and the oppressive conditions faced by “underrepresented populations” in their institutions. …

… As this revolutionary wave sweeps across American higher education, those interested in understanding it should reflect on the history of diversity training.

It was born the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died. On April 5, 1968, Jane Elliott, an Iowa third-grade teacher, conducted an experiment intended to inform her students what it was like to be non-white in America. Elliott staged a world in which her radical view of race relations in the country was produced within her class of white students. Brown-eyed students were collared, ostracized, insulted, and bullied by their teacher and the blue-eyed students. Then the process was reversed, and blue-eyed students became the targets.

Elliot’s intention was to parallel the operation of racial inequality in American society and thereby counteract and eliminate the prejudice undergirding it.

But research on the efficacy of Elliott’s method at reducing the propensity of children to play the deeply ingrained game of in-group/out-group has shown no conclusive results.

Some studies show incremental reduction of attitudes of preference for racial in-group and distance from some out-groups, while others find very little or no change from baseline attitudes, and still others indicate that diversity re-education may simply encourage whites to emphasize their own hardships to avoid classification in the dominant group.

Elliott quickly adapted her experiment for adults, and the level of psychic bullying was significantly amplified with the older subjects. Any of the several films of these experiments (The Eye of the Storm; A Class Divided; How Racist Are You?) can instructively be consulted for evidence of the sharp cruelty at the origin of the diversity training ritual.