Moral Corruption at Community Colleges

In North Carolina and elsewhere, DEI orthodoxies have reached junior-college campuses.

Imagine you are an 18-year-old who struggled to finish high school. Shakespeare, calculus, European history—none of these played to your strengths. But you found your niche in art class, performing community service, or working with your hands.

A four-year university is out of reach, yet, with a few more classes at a community college, you could make the jump to a university or be better prepared to enter the workforce.

You arrive at junior college, ready to sign up for classes, and what’s on the list? “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 101.”

At Wake Tech in Raleigh, N.C., the school’s “DEI Council” is creating a course entitled “DEI 100: Introduction Course.” The council is working with all of the school’s departments to create DEI goals. They are recruiting DEI speakers to come to campus. The council is revising DEI training for college staff. The office has awarded grants to college faculty, including $5,000 to a professor for a project entitled “Creating an Engaging, Equity-Minded, Fluid and Inclusive Syllabus.” Another $5,000 was awarded to grantees who will host a “Diversity Matters: Informational Interviewing Night.”

DEI programs, such as diversity training initiatives, interfere with attempts to pursue truth.None of these activities will help a student be prepared to tackle chemistry or learn the skills necessary to become an electrician. Indeed, DEI programs, such as diversity training initiatives, interfere with attempts to guide students to pursue truth. For example, DEI officers sometimes lead bias-response teams on campus that investigate students after individuals make anonymous reports. Such programs chill speech and will make students less likely to speak up inside or outside of class. They also have been found to be ineffective at changing individual behavior or making individuals more tolerant of group differences. They can even make participants resentful of differences.

There is no evidence that DEI programs improve student learning or help community-college students to earn a degree.

Community colleges are supposed to offer a range of academic opportunities for high-school students, high-school graduates, adults seeking job skills, and more. Most still do: Community colleges (also called junior colleges) allow students who struggled in high school or who cannot afford to attend a four-year institution to continue their education and enhance their career prospects.

Woke radicals, however, are also propagating the same racially focused, ideologically driven DEI offices and training on community-college campuses that have distracted four-year institutions from educating students. While these schools should be focused on improving their academic offerings and completion rates, radical racial and “gender” activists have captured whole departments and administrative offices at community colleges across the country.

Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), I found that 81 percent of the largest community colleges in medium or large cities or suburban areas have DEI staff or list at least one DEI program on the college’s website. My report identified degree-granting public or private community colleges that enroll at least 1,000 students, a dataset that contains 328 schools, approximately 22 percent of all community colleges in the United States.

Of the 266 schools that had any DEI programs or materials, 168 of them (63 percent) specifically listed DEI staff on their websites, had assembled a task force, or had assigned dedicated individuals to carry out the school’s DEI measures.

DEI offices are trying to add their ideas to every department on campus.Even if a student does not want to enroll in DEI 100, DEI offices are trying to add the ideas of racial preferences, “decolonization,” and other radical concepts to every department on campus.

Several North Carolina schools were included in the dataset. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College has a DEI statement, for example, along with a committee composed of faculty and staff. The DEI office hosted a conference last year discussing “implicit bias”—another staple concept of DEI programs that, like bias-response teams, has been found by free-speech advocates to do more to censor than to promote speech—and “gender” identity. Guilford Technical Community College has a DEI program, as well.

Blue Ridge Community College sent two of its employees to an “Equity Coach Training Academy.” After the training, the Blue Ridge employees decided they should “[delay] any high-stakes assignments—such as tests—until after the fourth week of classes,” actually lowering teachers’ expectations for students. In a nod to the “critical” or “Marxist” roots of DEI, the trainers also emphasized “power” and said that college staff should “[determine] what systems are in power” and “who they are disenfranchising.” Academic instruction now must compete with lessons on identity politics.

For many years, junior colleges have reported “dismal” completion rates: Approximately half of students who enroll do not complete a degree, and just 43 percent of students finish a degree at a community college within six years of enrolling. These schools should not dedicate resources to the imposing of race and gender orthodoxies.

State legislators should defund DEI offices and call on school leaders to report any racist incidents on campus, investigating the events and referring them to the appropriate authorities as necessary. Racism has no place in America today, even when it takes the form of accusations that people are inherently biased or “privileged” due to their skin color.

Furthermore, lawmakers should prohibit public two-year institutions from requiring job applicants for positions on campus to sign loyalty oaths in favor of DEI. No one should have to write a statement in favor of DEI as a condition of applying for a job. Nor should employees receive performance reviews according to whether they accept or promote DEI principles as a part of their job.

Community-college students represent a nontrivial segment of current and future generations of co-workers, neighbors, and public officials. They should learn to succeed, not be fed radical and divisive ideas about racial power struggles that only serve to breed resentment and despair among the country’s students.

Jonathan Butcher is the Will Skillman Senior Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation. His report “Moral Corruption at Community Colleges: DEI Harms Students Everywhere” is available here.