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A message on diversity training

Members of our Stanford community,

Last Friday, a message was sent to Stanford managers regarding Executive Order 13950 on diversity training. The message included a “checklist” to evaluate diversity training programs for compliance with the executive order.

The checklist was posted without receiving the necessary review and approval, and it has now been removed. I want to apologize for the great deal of disruption and concern the circulation of this checklist has caused in the Stanford community. Marc and I are deeply unhappy that the document could have been produced and circulated without an understanding of how damaging it would be. We will be conducting a review to determine how it was, and to ensure this does not happen again. 

Like our peers across the higher education community, we were deeply concerned by the promulgation of Executive Order 13950, which threatens to have a chilling effect on the efforts of universities to build fully and truly inclusive workplaces through their training programs. The national higher education associations that represent us communicated this concern to the White House shortly after the order was issued. We, along with our peers, will continue to advocate against policies that could inhibit our efforts to advance diversity and inclusion. We are hopeful that the order itself will be rescinded by a new administration.

Because the order takes effect Nov. 21, there was an effort to help individuals who are involved in workplace training programs understand the order. There were at least two problems with what was produced, however.

First, the checklist left many with the erroneous impression that Stanford seeks to eliminate discussion of topics, such as systemic racism and implicit bias, that are widely understood to be based in historical fact and are evidenced in the work of scholars at Stanford and beyond. It is undisputed that our country’s history has been stained by racist systems, from slavery and Jim Crow onward. Implicit bias is a foundational concept in recent social science and a subject of path-breaking scholarship here at Stanford. It would be deeply misguided to seek to prohibit these concepts from being a part of our own training programs.

Second, the issuance of a checklist of this nature was inconsistent with our efforts at Stanford to honestly and directly confront the important issues of diversity, inclusion, equity and racial justice in our community. Over the last several months we have launched new initiatives to advance these critical objectives, including expanded training programs, an effort to recommend a new infrastructure for the study of race and the impacts of race on society, the Community Board on Public Safety, the Black Community Council, the faculty cluster hires initiative, the IDEAL Staff Advisory Committee, and others. 

From the many conversations Marc and I have had in recent months with community members of color at Stanford, we know that we have far to go in building trust, making meaningful progress on inclusion, and achieving the change that people want to see in the university. We have much more to learn, and much more action to take. So, it has been deeply painful to hear the hurt and despair of many of these same community members who saw this checklist and concluded that Stanford isn’t committed and doesn’t care, after all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to say unequivocally that our work in advancing diversity, inclusion, equity and racial justice must and absolutely will continue.

Stanford abides by its legal obligations and will continue to do so, in accordance with our values to the greatest extent possible. But the checklist conveyed the opposite of what we seek to convey to our community about the need to squarely confront racism and ensure a university culture in which everyone truly can thrive. Our efforts to develop and refine training programs that meet the needs of our community will continue. If you are involved with the development of these programs and have questions or need assistance regarding the executive order, please contact


Persis Drell