Weeks after White House officials called for a halt to training sessions for federal employees that deal with “white privilege” and “critical race theory,” some government staffers are starting to see the memo’s effects, MarketWatch has learned.
Last week, President Donald Trump told the Office of Management and Budget to crack down on federal agencies’ anti-racism training sessions, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
Employees in the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division were supposed to hear about “unconscious bias” at a program scheduled for this week — but that has now been postponed pending further guidance.
“It does not appear that the Division has much, if any, discretion related to postponing the training at this moment,” Matthew Hammond, assistant chief of the department’s division’s telecommunications and broadband section, wrote in an email obtained by MarketWatch. “We were excited about this training. We had received a lot of positive responses about the training, and we were looking forward to it.”
Hammond, a member of the division’s diversity committee, added: “I know many of you are as disappointed as we are, and many employees will be as well. Hopefully the guidance will be issued soon, and there will be a way forward.”
Hammond declined to comment on the postponement when reached by MarketWatch. He referred questions to the Justice Department’s press department, which did not respond to a request for comment.
George Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer spurred the scheduling of the training session, to be conducted via Zoom (ZM) according to a description of the event MarketWatch obtained. Floyd’s death sparked massive protests, and rioting in some locations, over unequal police treatment and racism in America. The now-fired Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, is facing murder charges, and three onlooking officers stand charged with aiding and abetting.
What apparently halted the training session, for now at least, was a Sept. 4 memo from Russell Vought, director of the department’s Office of Management and Budget. Vought’s memo directed agencies to identify all spending related to training on “critical race theory” and “white privilege.”
“These types of ‘trainings’ not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce,” Vought’s memo said.
Vought followed up Tuesday on Twitter (TWTR) to say that one training program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was being “cancelled immediately.”
The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment on the postponed Antitrust Division program or the canceled CDC program. The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The session on unconscious bias had been “strongly recommended for all Division employees, particularly for managers and those involved in hiring,” according to the program description received by MarketWatch. It doesn’t include the phrases “white privilege” or “ critical race theory.”
But is training on “unconscious bias” the sort of divisive program that Vought is trying to root out?
If a program is well-designed, there’s nothing divisive about it, said Susan Madsen, a professor of leadership at the Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business who has spent years studying unconscious bias and offering workplace training. “It’s all of us looking at ourselves and how we can be better human beings and how our brains work.”
A poorly designed program, however, could be ineffective or divisive, Madsen added. That’s one where people feel shamed or put in a combative spot. There’s “probably some terrible training” that’s out there, Madsen said. But there’s also “many people who know how to move people’s minds and people’s hearts.”
Unconscious-bias training is not just about race, she noted. It relates to snap judgments on matters including like gender, disability, body size, manner of dress, facial hair and more.
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In addition to Madsen’s teaching duties, she offers her own unconscious-bias training. She used to receive a couple of calls a month for her unadvertised services. Since Floyd’s death, she said, she’s getting three to five requests a week. Some of the calls are coming from government agencies in Utah, she noted.
When Madsen heard about Vought’s directive, “it just made me sad,” she said. “This is the time, more than any, that we need people to understand how the brain works and why we have biases.”
She added, “More and more people want to be better right now.”
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