DRAFT Navigating Obstacles to Progress in DEIJB

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Navigating Obstacles to Progress

Speaking up to Resistance to Work Related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion


In 2021, Lehigh's Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion was published as part of the journey of becoming a more anti-racist institution. More faculty will be involved in discussions and actions about implementing and living up to the strategic vision of the plan. The toolkit here, is to support those who encounter biases against diversity work itself so that more than the original choir or squeaky wheels recognize and can speak up to move the institution towards its DI&E goals. 


This toolkit illustrates some of the common ways that discussion around anti-racist, equitable change might be slowed or halted, whether intentionally or not. These statements can have the effect of “cooling the room,” particularly when allowed to be the last word. With this toolkit, we encourage allies and advocates to listen for these phrases from others—as well as from themselves—and find a way to reintroduce positive energy forward. 


The current draft is focused on providing these resources to faculty, and specifically in spaces where they recognize their privilege. This scope may be expanded in the future.

Each section below provides examples of what you might hear, how an advocate can help, and some examples of what can be said to speak up in the moment.

  • Not acknowledging implicit bias/privilege

  • Resistance to further change

  • Putting the burden on others

  • Biased assumption of impact

  • Trying to escape responsibility

  • Politicizing diversity, equity and inclusion 

Why do we need this toolkit?
  • Have you been in a situation where the purpose of the meeting or project was to develop strategies to contribute to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive teaching and research environment?  Have you heard statements that seem to derail the progress or misplace blame, demand extra data, or otherwise undercut the group's capacity to take needed steps to make such change? 

  • Lehigh University released a new anti-racist D&I plan. In conversations about integrating the plan, there could potentially be comments that redirect or push back against this positive energy.

  • Encourage allies and advocates to combat such comments that ‘cool the room’ and slow the energy towards equity - refocus instead of derail

  • Speaking up can interrupt opponents of progress from having the last word, which can imply a false authority

  • Visibly ally with women and BIPOC colleagues - improve the environment by sharing this burden 

  • The list is not comprehensive but illustrates the types of comments made to shut down progress

More Insight into forming toolkit
  • We acknowledge the existence of unconscious bias, privilege, white supremacy, and systemic inequality (through various forms such as sexism, racism, ableism, classism, etc.) within American society and within institutions of higher education, including Lehigh University.
  • We acknowledge that to become more equitable, those with privilege must want to facilitate change, and the burden of transforming the system should not be placed on those whom the system disadvantages. We also acknowledge that privilege is highly variable from person to person and situation to situation as a result of institutional hierarchy and intersectionality. 
  • We acknowledge that part of this process involves allies and advocates creating a supportive, healthy environment around any implementation for positive change, which means speaking up, promoting, and redirecting energy forward when others attempt to consciously or unconsciously derail, stall, or reverse progress.
  • We acknowledge that efforts to address this inequality are likely imperfect. We strive to make progress while being receptive to feedback for how the process can be improved. We acknowledge that we may make mistakes, and if we do, that we must acknowledge our errors and hold ourselves accountable in order to continue growth and equitable progres
  • We recognize and bring to this toolkit Lehigh Univeristy's Principles of our Equitable Community and the Guidelines for Cross-Cultural Dialogue
Target Audience
  • Allies and advocates already seeking and acting for reform

  • This is not a toolkit attempting to “change minds”, instead, equipping those willing to carry on the mission and increase the capacity of more allies/advocates 

  • Specifically created for faculty in spaces where they recognize their privilege

Further background on origin and references:

By request of some (women) faculty who've felt stresses and pressures from the repeated demands of defending building diversity, inclusion & equity plans or silenced by their efforts to advocate for change, the following project began. We asked the Men Faculty Advocates group to help. This is a project about how to speak up to the biases against diversity work, itself so that more than the original choir or squeaky wheels recognize and can speak up to move the institution towards it’s DI&E goals. 

We weren't aware of anything like this existing yet for faculty on campus (though if we're wrong, we'd love to see it and move it into the hands of folks who need it). Contact Marci Levine if you'd like to contribute to this tool's development or utilization.

The Men Faculty Advocates group, in support of ADVANCE and the greater anti-racist work on campus, is gathering and researching content for a tool that addresses common myths and other statements about diversity and diversity work, partially modeled after tools such as:


ISSUE: Not acknowledging implicit bias or privilege

What you might hear:
  • “I only hire/award/cite based on merit; I do not need to consider gender or race.” 
  • “Well, I don’t see race.” 
  • “Education is the great equalizer.”
  • "I want equal rights for all groups, not special groups."
  • “I’m not sexist / racist, so I don’t need to do anything.”
  • “There is no evidence of racism in STEM / in our department / at our university.”
  • “I don’t agree with sexist / racist statements, but people should be allowed to express their opinions.”
  • “What evidence is there that implicit bias/privilege is a problem in our department / at Lehigh?”
  • “We have to focus on hiring the best.”
How an advocate can help

Any speaker making these statements is consciously or unconsciously resistant to acknowledging the impact of systemic disadvantage based on identity. Whether their statement is from ignorance or obstinance, they will not likely be convinced quickly—even with evidence—and time spent in the moment attempting to convince them may only serve their goal of derailing the meeting. Emphasize your belief in the impact of bias and privilege, and demonstrate enthusiasm for continuing or adapting equitable practices. It may also help to express a willingness to continue that particular conversation later with the speaker as a way to remove it from the present space, particularly if you feel the statement comes from an unaware blind spot rather than intentional blinders.

Example responses:
  • "This is an important issue to me, and I know bias and privilege are real. I'm excited to take steps to improve the environment for everybody."
  • “We all have been raised in spaces with biases and we probably have created processes and policies that have bias. I am interested in learning about those biases so that I don't unintentionally discriminate.”
  • “The fact that ______-ism exists is not up for debate.”
  • “Just look at us.  We don’t represent the population or the students we hope to attract.”
  • “We are here based on the premise that we can do better.  We all agree on that, don’t we?”
  • “If you want the ‘best’—as subjective as that is—then we must consider a diverse pool, otherwise we may only be looking at ‘privileged’, not ‘best.’”

ISSUE: Resistance to further change

What you might hear
  • “Lehigh has bent over backwards to accommodate women in the workplace.”
  • “We need to make a D&I plan.” “Why, we have three Black faculty.”
  • "Feminism has made women equal, and now there is no need for feminists or the current women's movement." 
  • “The most important thing we need to do when we hire at Lehigh is make sure it’s a ‘good fit.’”
  • “That doesn’t fit with tradition.”
  • “Well, it used to be…”
  • “She doesn’t look like a team player.”
How an advocate can help

If the speaker acknowledges steps have been taken in the past, they implicitly affirm steps needed to be taken. It’s possible the disconnect here is over the degree of impact rather than its existence. It may help to redirect energy by agreeing that (first) steps have been taken, recognizing the improvement, but then emphasizing that significant work yet remains.

Example Responses
  • “Hiring is great. But we need to retain the people we hire by creating an inclusive environment and sense of belonging for everyone.”
  • “We have done better, but growth doesn’t stop there. I’m eager to continue improving and make this a better place for everyone.”
  • “Equality and equity are different things. Only focusing on equality means being blind towards systemic biases that privilege certain identities over others. We must strive for equity.”
  • “We have made efforts to increase diversity, yes. But diversity is like inviting everyone to a party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. Belonging is feeling comfortable dancing like nobody's watching. We want everyone to feel like they belong."
  • “Tradition never adapts to new challenges, and this needs to be a dynamic institution as new challenges arise.” 
  • I'm glad there's been some positive steps in the past, but it's still a long road towards equity.”
  • “When you say ‘good fit,’ what do you mean?”
  • “When we look for a ‘good fit’, are we looking for someone who will make us feel comfortable, or someone who will fit our needs moving forward?  And these needs transcend any one category, don’t they? What are we asking people to ‘fit’ into?”

ISSUE: Putting the burden on others

What you might hear
  • “Don’t politicize STEM! Stick to the science, not social issues.”
  • “There just aren’t as many women or BIPOC who want to work in STEM.“
  • “There are no qualified women or non-binary candidates available.”
  • “Opportunity hires are sketchy, they don’t pass the smell-test for legitimate hiring of talent.”
  • “The letters of recommendation were not strong enough.”
  • “Her advisor did not write a really strong letter.”
  • “She won't have credibility with upper level students/senior leaders she'll interact with.”
How an advocate can help

Whether the speaker’s comments come from unconscious or willful ignorance, these types of statements ascribe the problem to the marginalized identity or to the person asking for things to change. If knowledgeable enough to feel comfortable doing so, you can address both the sociopolitical history of the discipline / of higher ed itself, but be careful not to let this redirect the discussion on the speaker’s terms. More importantly, shift the conversation back to the common purpose of working to level the playing field and create broader participation. In some cases, if the speaker is trying to put the onus elsewhere, it can be helpful to openly take responsibility as a member of the committee / department / university.

Example responses
  • “Why do you think there aren’t many women or BIPOC applying? That sounds like it’s our responsibility to show people they are welcomed and valued.”
  • “It is certainly true that statistically there are fewer women or BIPOC in our field, meaning that the lack of diversity stems from earlier choices. But we can still work towards reaching out to that minority and creating the conditions that would make them happy to work here.”
  • “Everything has a political element in the sense that it's connected to the world around us. If you're talking about politics in the form of executive, judicial, and legislative branches, we may want to think about government funding for research on some topics and projects but not for others in our fields. In this way, we might see STEM is already political.”
  • “If we're dedicated to the continual improvement of the institution for our students, faculty, and staff, we should do the work to find the candidates that will help us create that environment, even if it's harder.”  
  • "For me, coming to work every day is part of my identity. I want to be sure I'm creating an environment where every colleague and student finds all parts of themselves valued. Even if we try to separate our work lives from our personal lives, we ultimately bring our full selves to work, all of our experiences, and I want others to feel like they can do so comfortably without fear."
  • “The difficulty is worth overcoming if we want to build the best possible environment and faculty for our students who we all care so much about.”
  • “That sounds like a problem with our environment, not that person. So in that case, I agree that we need to be better.”
  • “We are having this discussion today because many of us believe we can do even better when it comes to identifying and recruiting underrepresented rock stars in our field.  Who wouldn’t want that?”
  • “It has been shown that reference letter writers often suffer from bias themselves, as an example by using other adjectives for women, or not pushing them as much as they push equivalent male candidates. Be careful when you evaluate recommendation letters.”

ISSUE: Biased assumption of impact

What you might hear
  • “This is going to erode excellence or prestige.”
  • “Improving racial equity and inclusivity does not benefit STEM as a whole.”
  • “This is reverse-racism.”
  • “BIPOC candidates do not want to be hired based on their race/ethnicity, they want to be hired based on merit so employing opportunity hire mechanisms and similar programs is a dis-service.” 
  • “Campuses are so focused on diversifying their faculties that white males have no chance."
  • “This is taking away my academic freedom.”
  • "Recruiting women and minority faculty diminishes opportunities for white male faculty."
How an advocate can help

Statements such as these likely come from someone whose misunderstanding of privilege and equitable change has led to them feeling disadvantaged. We all feel hardship, but privilege means we don’t face certain hardships as a result of our gender, the color of our skin, etc. This misunderstanding may mean the speaker feels personally attacked. This means a higher likelihood that confrontational statements could continue after you chime in, in which case you may need to request that this part of the discussion be held at another time or place so that energy can be refocused on the intended topic of equitable change.

Example responses
  • “Opportunity hire mechanisms do hire because of merit. The fact of giving a chance to BIPOC people during the selection process does not imply any decrease in our standards. How much does “merit”, and the quality of the potential contributions of a new hire, really vary inside our candidate pool?”
  • “There is no one universal way of defining 'excellence,' and for too long, universities have pretended there is. That pretending, many have suggested, actually serves inequity."
  • “Current systems may disempower and discourage folks with less privilege, and we'd lose out on their contributions.”
  • I'm not denying this person holds different identities from me or those of us in the room. Their work and other contributions, however, will move our department forward, and we should promote them.”
  • “I don't want to ascribe a narrative to someone else's life. What I see are strong qualifications, great promise of future success in our department, and identities that we sorely lack as a whole.”
  • “Getting new opinions and strategies from people with different viewpoints and perspectives will move us forward faster.”
  • “When we call it an opportunity hire, don’t we mean we’ll add a slot to an otherwise closed hiring system in our department. Why wouldn’t we want an additional outstanding colleague? This is a win/win!”
  • “The institution’s impact with regard to excellence or prestige is held back when our diversity is limited.”
  • “Our students will greatly benefit from a diverse faculty. Hiring more diverse faculty has been associated with the elevation of student learning by including a wider range of experiences and perspectives, better preparation of  students for the real world, and increased recruitment and retention of a diverse study body. It is so very important for them.”
  • A study examining the experiences of scholars who earned PhDs & won prestigious fellowships (Ford, Mellon, Spencer) found no evidence of discrimination against white men. Indeed, white men who had some expertise related to diversity had a significant advantage in the job market.”

ISSUE: Trying to escape responsibility

What you might hear
  • “I think concrete incentives for D&E&I work are needed—class release, etc.—in order for me to engage.”
  • “No one told me how to count it so we can’t do work on it.”
  • “Why do we need to create a D&E&I plan [individually or for the department]? There are staff and administrators that that is their job.”
  • “Well we’re not experts.”
  • “That’s not our job.”
  • “I don’t know how to do that.”
How an advocate can help

In these situations, the speaker is tacitly confirming that there is work to be done. In some cases, they may be facing their own fears of mistakes or ignorance. Point out that equitable progress is everybody’s job. You may acknowledge you might not know exactly how either, but working together, you can find a way forward. Affirm that mistakes may be made, but that they are a natural part of growth. Vocally accept the onus as an individual as well as for the group as a whole to emphasize proactive engagement.

Example responses
  • “We all share responsibility for the workplace. It’s everyone’s job.”
  • “I don’t know either, but I know we can figure it out.”
  • You're right. We weren't taught, and that's one reason we are in the situation we are currently facing.”
  • “Creating an inclusive Lehigh is a cooperative process. Yes, there are administrators that work on this, but it’s our job too.
  • “I know that [insert department/organization] has some information available on it. Let’s read up on that and better educate ourselves.”
  • “Yes, we’ll likely make a mistake at some point. But we’ll acknowledge it, fix the problem, and continue on. That’s the only way to learn and grow.”

ISSUE: Politicizing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Work

What you might hear
  • “The conversation on equity at Lehigh in recent years has been dominated by critical race theory and other forms of far-left identitarianism, to the disparagement and near exclusion of other perspectives in the community.”
  • “I stand for support of the principle of viewpoint diversity, as well as academic freedom, free speech, and the political neutrality of the university.”
  • “Higher education has been hijacked by leftist, ideological interests. We need to follow due process.”
  • “‘Diversity, equity, and inclusion’ is just code for pushing tuition-funded activism and all sorts of left-wing agendas.”
  • “What about diversity of thought?”
How an advocate can help

Statements such as these can be highly confrontational, and the speaker may intend on controlling the conversation. You should demonstrate clear support for the minoritized party and attempt to redirect the energy in the room back towards a positive environment. You may need someone in a position of authority—such as the chair—to affirm the need and intention to move forward with equitable changes.

Example responses
  • “What you said is not a neutral statement and in fact can be taken as offensive by many individuals with differing viewpoints.”
  • “I’m happy to talk with you later to share the understanding I have about why we need this, but the majority of us know it is important to move in this direction.”
  • “A discussion that seems academic to someone who is privileged can be incredibly offensive to someone who has been a victim of bias” 
  • “The conversation on equity is and has always been about creating the healthiest and most productive environment for every person in the institution.”
  • “Those opinions about motivation are not relevant to the discussion at the moment. We’ve committed to action and the need for it. I’m willing to have a separate conversation with you later, but right now I want to focus on the specific steps for equitable change.”