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Researcher exposes harms of DEI trainings after colleague’s suicide

‘Inclusion’ programs ‘increase prejudice, activate bigotry’: research

Spurred by the suicide of a colleague, a Wilfrid Laurier University professor is aiming to expose the harmful effects of diversity, equity, and inclusion training through his research.

David Haskell, associate professor of digital media and journalism, told The College Fix via a video interview he began noticing “effects that were not particularly positive” resulting from DEI programs at his Ontario university and in the Canadian public school system.

The issue became more personal when a colleague, Toronto school principal Richard Bilkszto, committed suicide in July 2023, he said. The two had worked together on projects to advance parental rights and push back “against critical race theory in education,” Haskell said.

Bilkszto’s mental health struggles later were linked in part to DEI workshops that his school required him to attend, according to Haskell’s research published Feb. 12 at the Aristotle Foundation. The foundation is a Canadian public policy group that advocates for free speech and open discourse.

During one training, Bilkszto, a white man, was upbraided merely because he had questioned race-based claims by his trainer, The Free Press reported.

“He’s a case study in what many already are experiencing in the report that I did for the Aristotle Foundation … I cite other cases where people have experienced similar harassment while in these workshops,” Haskell told The Fix.

Bilkszto’s death is a drastic example of how DEI trainings can cause feelings of demoralization and isolation, he said his research found.

Haskell’s research asserts diversity training programs teach “questionable claims,” particularly that the West is “systemically racist” and therefore must be reprogrammed. White people are taught to feel shame for their “white privilege” and to distance themselves from minority groups, according to his findings.

MORE: Scholars admit annual DEI trainings aren’t really effective

Despite concerns DEI divides rather than unites people, diversity trainers continue to promote the concepts in workshops to public and private employers, and often penalize participants who question them, Haskell told The Fix.

“If you challenge anything that these DEI trainers say, they come after you, and your employers don’t support you. They instead side with the DEI trainer, despite the fact that often they’re making claims that just aren’t justified empirically,” he said.

These DEI trainings defeat their very purpose by increasing “prejudice and activat[ing] bigotry among participants by bringing existing stereotypes to the top of their minds or by implanting new biases they had not previously held,” according to his research.

The Fix reached out to the DEI training companies Inclusivity Insight and Be More With Anu, as well as the National Diversity Council, for their responses to Haskell’s research. None replied to two emails sent within the past two weeks.

Haskell said if administrators in educational institutions were honest, they would “not be using DEI instruction, or anything associated with it, whether it’s Critical Race Theory, or what is sometimes called ‘anti-racist’ education.”

“All those ideas should be scrapped, because the evidence shows that, one, they don’t do anything positive and, two, they can do something negative, which is increase prejudice and also demoralize the majority population,” he told The Fix.

Haskell said politicians should enact policies that prohibit mandatory DEI training for employers that receive government funding.

Businesses also “would be wise to remove DEI,” he said. He said Tesla CEO Elon Musk took a “step in the right direction” when he removed DEI initiatives and language from his corporate filings.

Haskell said he has not experienced any pushback from the university for his research. But he said Wilfrid Laurier has a large DEI office so there likely is “some consternation.”

“The universities are actually paying for something that clearly causes division,” he told The Fix. “In addition, they’re paying for something that is not rooted in empirical evidence. The irony is that universities are supposed to be the bastions of knowledge transference. And instead, they’re engaging really heavily in this unempirical activity.”

MORE: DEI training asks scholars which ethnicities should live or die in hypothetical scenario

IMAGE: David Millard Haskell/X

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About the Author
Mary Noble -- Christendom College.