Many argue this is how we arrived at a national consensus, and federal legislation, recognizing same-sex marriage, for instance

Many argue this is how we arrived at a national consensus, and federal legislation, recognizing same-sex marriage, for instance

While for the most part this backlash has been directed against diversity, equity, and inclusion, it may also have a chilling effect on accessibility, both generally and perhaps specifically.

Generally, because accessibility for people with disabilities is often bundled into diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, so laws that target DEI age on accessibility

We may see specific challenges as well. One early signal: Last month a forty-year-old baseball fan sued the Washington Nationals for offering discounted tickets to millennials, arguing it constituted age-based discrimination. (The team suspended the discount while the case goes forward.) While the Nats‘ incentive was aimed at cultivating younger audiences, senior discounts for a wide variety of services (including museum admissions) can offer economic accessibility to elders on fixed incomes. What other groups could this impact? What about free admission for infants or toddlers to make family visits more affordable? Or Boliviano mulheres sexy free admission for SNAP recipients under the Institute for Museum & Library Services‘ Museums for All program?

Given the stories related above, the DEI backlash might seem like a broad-based, grassroots reaction. In fact, however, research suggests that a very small set of voices are using extreme views to exaggerate and amplify divisions. Most of the current high-profile legal challenges have been brought on by a small number of well-funded groups, but they help create the perception that we, as a society, are radically divided on these issues. This perception ple of what Harvard neuroscientist Todd Rose calls a “collective illusion.” When people really get to know each other, they find they agree on far more than they expected.

The nonpartisan think tank Populace is making a data-based case that our efforts would be better spent on illuminating and exploring these points of overlap, rather than digging in, hardening our armor, and doing battle over our differences

The current DEI backlash depends on the belief that, given equal opportunity, people succeed or fail on their own merits. This worldview does not acknowledge that differences in outcome can be the result of past inequities, or of biases baked into our systems that have not and perhaps cannot be addressed by the law. Understanding those historic and systemic sources of inequity, combined with a shared sense of fairness, might increase support for reparative practice, in order to truly level the playing field. Unfortunately, educational institutions, from kindergarten through higher ed, and libraries, are under attack for teaching or providing the content that could create that understanding. That makes it more important than ever that museums keep teaching history and fostering understanding of our complex world.

And the broad, nonpartisan trust that the public affords museums gives our sector the potential to have this influence-if we can avoid losing that trust. Higher education has been tagged and marginalized as liberally biased. It will take thoughtful strategizing to ensure that museums, individually and collectively, don’t find themselves in the same situation.

What does that mean, operationally? What actions can a museum take, at the board and staff level, to ensure they retain their ability to build bridges, and not provide easy targets for extremists looking to score points? Here are a few suggestions I’ve collected in conversations with directors and staff grappling with difficult situations:

  1. Consider your language. Society is engaged in a high-speed Red Queen’s race, in which terms are turned into shibboleths or dog whistles tagging content as unacceptable. DEI itself is a prime example. Museums are finding that social-emotional learning, climate change, and even civics and civil society are being characterized as partisan. (Also on the horizon, the 250 th anniversary of our country-is it a “celebration,” or a “commemoration”?) Susie Wilkening, of Wilkening Consulting, calls this “definition creep,” and points out we can either keep finding new ways to say what we mean, or stand up for our terms as non-partisan tools. (Either tactic, she concedes, is exhausting.)
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