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Trump critical of Sandia Labs diversity trainings

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

President Donald Trump in an executive order last week expanded on previous directives aimed at curtailing “divisive” workplace diversity training at federal agencies, which is already having effects on one of the biggest employers in Albuquerque.

Sandia National Laboratories officials had already paused some inclusion and diversity workshops after a previous memo from the Trump administration on the topic that instructed executive branch agencies to stop teaching what it describes as “divisive anti-American propaganda.”

Trump said in the order that there will be no race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the federal workforce or the Uniformed Services and that federal grant funds can’t be used for those purposes. He said federal contractors will also not be able to teach their employees such viewpoints.

Local advocates who work in equity and inclusion offices, and are familiar with those types of courses said that the classes are beneficial and that the president’s order ignores research on the topic.

“It’s unfortunate that he is doing that,” said Diana Dorn-Jones, executive director of the United South Broadway Corp. “To stop this kind of training is really a detriment to the entire country. … Our federal government has to keep up with the changing demographics, and it just makes us a better country.”

On Sept. 22, Trump issued an executive order on “combating race and sex stereotyping.” He said the order aimed to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”

In the order, Trump cited four examples of problematic workplace diversity trainings: a Department of Treasury seminar; a Smithsonian Institution museum graphic; and training materials provided to employees at Argonne National Laboratories outside Chicago and Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque.

“Materials from Sandia National Laboratories … for non-minority males stated that an emphasis on ‘rationality over emotionality’ was a characteristic of ‘white male[s],’ and asked those present to acknowledge their privilege to each other,” Trump wrote.

The president continued: “All of this is contrary to the fundamental premises underpinning our Republic: that all individuals are created equal and should be allowed an equal opportunity under the law to pursue happiness and prosper based on individual merit.”

He said trainings like the ones at Sandia “have no place in programs and activities supported by federal taxpayer dollars.”

The United South Broadway Corp. has a project called the Anti-Racism Training Institute of the Southwest, which Dorn-Jones said has taught “undoing racism” courses for more than 20 years, including to local banks and public schools. Dorn-Jones said the group hosted a “community conversation” on Zoom with men and women at Kirtland Air Force Base earlier this summer when protests over racial injustice were being held in cities throughout the country.

Given the recent executive order, she said she’s not sure if or when they will be asked to host future sessions there.

“I do know that the military is very rigid and if a command comes down, that’s pretty much what you do,” Dorn-Jones said. “I would assume that command came down the pike and that’s probably what they’re going to be moving toward.”

Officials at Sandia Labs have declined repeated requests for comment on their diversity and inclusion efforts. Efforts to reach Kirtland Air Force Base public affairs were unsuccessful.

The University of New Mexico’s Division of Equity and Inclusion responded to Trump’s executive order with a statement saying the order ignores years of research by social and medical scientists, and scholars in humanities that provide evidence of racial inequalities.

“As Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, I am not aware of training by diversity offices, such as the Division of Equity and Inclusion at UNM, to promote ‘divisive anti-American propaganda,’ ” Dr. Assata Zerai at UNM said in an email.

Zerai said that the Division of Equity and Inclusion offers workshops to different units and programs, some of which receive federal grants. She said she is hopeful that clarifying the goals of the sessions, the school will be able to continue to offer those programs.

“UNM receives federal funding for research and professional development. We hope that UNM faculty, staff, students and instructors will remain free to engage in knowledge production that contributes to solving problems,” she said.

Other public entities, including the city of Albuquerque, have provided employees racial sensitivity trainings. Over 1,000 city employees have completed courses on such issues as implicit bias, cultural sensitivity, and LGBTQ and transgender issues in the past three years, said Michelle Melendez, director of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“Our goal is to help our city employees understand that it’s about fair inclusion of all people and it’s about closing the gaps so race doesn’t determine one’s outcome,” she said. “There’s nothing un-American about what we teach.”

James Peery, director of the labs, said in an email to the entire lab workforce earlier this month that the labs were pausing such trainings. He said the workshops were being halted temporarily to comply with a directive from the National Nuclear Security Administration Sandia Field Office, according to a copy of the email.

“This is a pause, not an end to our I&D training,” Peery said in the email, which was obtained by the Journal. “We continue to believe that inclusion and diversity are critical to providing exceptional service in the national interest.”

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