Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart announced today that he plans to end his seventeen year stretch as the host of The Daily Show at the end of the year. TDS holds a special place in my heart, and I am extremely disappointed to see him leave. My two best high school friends and I bonded through memorizing his witty quips and infrequent yet powerful monologues. He (along with Colbert) were influential in developing my sense of humor, and I wrote about the two for UWP (University Writing Program) 101:

"Tuesday through Friday, I’d get home from school and kick back on a couch to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Each day, Jon Stewart educated me about my world while providing hilarious accompanying commentary. From Indecision 2012 to Mess O’Potamia, from Barack Obama to Bassem Youssef, I watched every clip and every interview. I laughed at his flawless timing, his perfect delivery, his honest content. Sometimes he would launch into lengthy tirades. Other times, he would raise an eyebrow. Yet whatever he did was sufficient to carry his message. I came to idolize him as he demolished the foolish, the inept, and the corrupt, arguing in favor of rationality and consistency. His defense of civil liberties and his calls for holding banking institutions accountable and limiting Executive overreach resonated with me."

That said, I am also grateful to see Stewart leave. Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear revealed to me that Stewart was not an agent for change, but dependent on the system he mocked daily. As Steve Almond wrote in "The Joke's On You," referring to Stewart and Colbert, "Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congraulate viewers for the fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously." With his and Colbert's departures, I am hopeful for a braver generation of comedians.

The last thing I'll say on the subject of Stewart's departure is that it is a sobering reminder of our mortality. Whenever a famous retired comedian passes away, I always wonder who they were and what they were famous for. In twenty or thirty years from now, others will be in my place, wondering just who Jon Stewart was.

SLSP Diversity Training

On a separate topic, I had my second SLSP class today. I'll talk more about this class later, but I want to comment on the material we covered today - diversity. The instructor asked why some people are uncomfortable attending mandatory diversity training sessions, so I supplied my own reason. I agree wholeheartedly with the goal of having a diverse group and with the statement that we all bear biases that we should strive to minimize. But I feel there is a missing link between the goal (diversity) and implementation (mandatory diversity training). Professors Frank Dobbin, Alexandra Kalev and Erin Kelly looked at the efficacy of diversity trainings and published their findings in a article titled "Diversity Management in Corporate America." They used data dating back to 1971 collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on 829 private companies, all with over 100 employees, and found that "On average, programs designed to reduce bias among managers responsible for hiring and promotion have not worked. Neither diversity training to extinguish stereotypes, nor diversity performance evaluations to provide feedback and oversight to people making hiring and promotion decisions, have accomplished much. This is not surprising in the light of research showing that stereotypes are difficult to extinguish. There are two caveats about training. First, it does show small positive effects in the largest of workplaces, although diversity councils, diversity managers, and mentoring programs are significantly more effective. Second, optional (not mandatory) training programs and those that focus on cultural awareness (not the threat of the law) can have positive effects. In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity."

The study goes on to suggest a reason (that white, male managers feel targeted by the trainings), but I want to voice my own reason. In the diversity trainings that I've attended (PEACE, SafeZone, STEAD), the discussions focused on categorizable traits i.e. gender, race, sexual preference. I feel that this reinforces divisions between groups instead of removing them, by reducing the dimensionality of a person into a small number of quantifiable attributes. As I stated then, I stop seeing my co-instructor as a asexual, transgender, transfer-student computer scientist who chose to come to UC Davis and who wants to someday be a professor; instead, I viewed her only by her gender and orientation. The best conversations I have had on topics concerning diversity come not from categorizing people in meetings, but from building friendships through similarities. I have learned more from befriending two PEACE coordinators than I have from three mandatory training sessions, and I think organizations would do well to institutionalize practices more aligned with this philosophy.