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What’s in a Name: Resisting the Temptation to Rename DEI in the Face of Strategic Defamation 

Efforts to discredit DEI have led some to wonder if it might be strategically expedient to change the way they refer to DEI theory/research/work/practice/pedagogy by, for example, adding a "B" for belonging (DEIB), adding a "J" for justice (JEDI), calling it EDI instead of DEI or some other way to name the rose that will not be declared malodorous by those who seek to discredit it.  


The tactic of defaming or discrediting movements, concepts, or ideas is not new; it is often used as a means to undermine initiatives that challenge the status quo or threaten entrenched interests. In the case of DEI, the backlash and efforts to discredit the framework stem from a resistance to the change it represents or a misunderstanding of its objectives.


While renaming DEI might seem appealing as a strategic way to mollify those who deride it and maintain engagement of those who might be turned off by discord fomented by critics, there's a risk that opponents will see through the renaming as merely cosmetic and continue their opposition, especially since they are not really focused on whether or not “DEI” is the right term, and instead are seeking ways to undermine whatever it is they perceive DEI to be about. Others might simply be confused by a proliferation of names and find it hard to see the substance for the forest of forms. Moreover, focusing too much on the label rather than the substance and impact of the work could detract from the real goals of the initiative. 


It's also quite likely that any rebranding will come under the same sort of fire, thus possibly leading to a never-settled way to describe the substance of the work. Since the substance of DEI work is in fact diversity, equity, and inclusion (with belonging and justice clearly contained within inclusion and equity), I encourage folks to resist the defamation provocation and remain clear and committed to calling what they are doing what it actually is, DEI, and avoid the redefinition trap by letting DEI’s worth take the foreground.


At this point, “DEI” has become a globally recognized term, and ultimately, the success of DEI will depend on its demonstrable effectiveness in creating more inclusive, equitable, and diverse environments. Transparency about the goals, processes, and outcomes of DEI efforts is likely to be more effective in the long run than a simple rebranding. Research that is being done on DEI focuses on diversity, equity (which includes justice), and inclusion (which includes belonging). It is essential for advocates and practitioners of DEI to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of DEI. Doing so will require a stable and consistent set of ways to describe it. Communicating the positive impact of DEI both anecdotally and through robust data will be the most powerful way to counteract defaming tactics and maintain momentum toward creating a more just and inclusive society.


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