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Study claims ‘racism’ drives opposition to DEI statements

But psychology professor questions findings

Racism is what drives opposition to mandatory “diversity, equity, and inclusion” statements for job applicants, a recent paper says.

However, a psychology professor questioned the research in comments to The College Fix.

The paper, written by University of Nebraska, Omaha and Rice University scholars concluded “racism may underlie seemingly race-neutral backlash to DEI statements.”

The professors looked at “symbolic racism,” defined as skepticism of widespread racial discrimination and prejudice.

“Symbolic racism assesses beliefs that racism is no longer a problem and, thus, Black people are responsible for continuing racial inequality and are unfairly requesting special treatment,” the paper states.

The paper then proposes that conservatism is associated with this view. “Symbolic racism was strongly associated with conservatism across studies,” the authors wrote.

The authors found conservatives did not object to statements that asked about “traditional American values.”

Professor Abigail Folberg told The Fix she would respond to the questions nearly a month ago, after Rice Professor Michelle Hebl (pictured, left) deferred to her for responses. Neither ultimately provided responses to questions about implementing their research and how it applied to other DEI initiatives in general, despite multiple follow-up attempts. Folberg (pictured, right) is the listed contact on the academic paper.

Folberg is a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She researches “how prejudice and discrimination affect underrepresented employees’ work lives and wellbeing, how organizations and individuals can more effectively confront bias, and the consequences of individuals’ willingness to tolerate bias,” according to her faculty bio.

MORE: Professors say opposing DEI is driven by racism

She also “collaborates with the Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Commitment to Opportunity, Diversity, and Equity (CODE) initiative.”

Stetson University psychologist Christopher Ferguson is skeptical of the paper’s findings.

He told The Fix via email the paper’s “basic conclusion is entirely unwarranted.”

“All they are basically showing is that people with conservative views on race are more likely to take conservative views on DEI statements,” he said.

Their measure is “not racism at all the way normal human beings understand it,” he said. “They don’t use items such as ‘black people are inferior to white people’ or ‘I don’t believe in interracial marriage’…things we would regard as explicitly racist.”

“Instead they appear to use items they call ‘symbolic racism’,” he said. These items “simply reflect progressive political views on race, such as disagreement with affirmative action or the belief that racism is no longer a serious problem in the US.”

He said “[t]hose are reasonable topics of debate,” but “calling disagreement with these progressive political views ‘racism’ is both polemical and scientifically invalid.”

“[I]t’s hard to imagine that the authors don’t know the subterfuge they are engaged in here…using the word ‘racism’ in the title, which most readers will assume is the type of racism as normal people understand it,” he said.

“But the dubious way they actually measure it is hidden in the methods section, which few people actually read,” he said.

“Overall, I’d say this is an example of pretty politicized science that tells us very little.”

MORE: Breast cancer surgeons must submit DEI statements for UC Davis job

IMAGES: University of Nebraska, Omaha; Rice University

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Maria Thomas is a student at Indiana University pursuing a degree in marketing with minors in both law & public policy and nonprofit management & leadership. On campus, she is president of the Thomistic Institute and vice president of Students for Life. She also contributes to The Collegiate Commons.