The recent New York Times piece about the efforts of some organizations to "rebrand" Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to avoid ensnaring those programs in some recent state statutory training bans is a disappointing trend in the diversity-detractor drama. The article's focus is on efforts by higher education institutions to combat the Harvard Admissions backlash on diversity programming, a disappointing and regrettable outcome that has emboldened detractors to turn diversity into a self-loading weapon through claims of reverse discrimination or, more recently, by attempting to legislatively restrict diversity programs in higher education and other settings.

Rebranding diversity efforts to cover up their purpose is a fine bit of irony. If the DEI programming goal is to institutionalize fairness, unmask merit, and level society's playing fields, then hiding those efforts behind non-descriptive or ambiguous labels ("Division of Access and Opportunity") plays right into the hands of diversity detractors who insist DEI will result in talent diminishment, not talent enhancement. The goal of effective DEI programming is to recognize systemic barriers to success and to create real and workable solutions to overcome those barriers. The barriers and solutions are as multi-faceted as the humans who present these challenges: they depend on context (an educational institution or private workplace?), geography (is the location in an area reflective of traditional historical inequities?), scope (is it a one-time DEI training session or a long-term commitment to effectuate change?), and process (who owns it and why?).

Societal change, whether in the workplace or education, undoubtedly results in those left in and those left out. That paradigm creates a natural divisiveness as some people may try to maintain the comfort of the status quo, including by trying to legislate tolerance, which as many states are learning, may run headfirst into viable legal challenges.

With that said, there is little reason to give up or to try to shade progress by applying labels and names that create further quarrel. Words matter in a world of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The battle to level life's playing fields is real and important. Those seeking to rebrand should consider calling their efforts what they are. A rebranding exercise might be a diversion and "The Office of the Level Playing Field" might be a whimsical description, but let's face it, leveling the playing field is diversity's true purpose.

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