Arts & Letters Daily links to a piece by linguist John McWhorter about calls for racial sensitivity training on campuses. He says in passing that these are familiar to anyone who was around a university from the 1980s on.
I started college in 1984 (at the university where McWhorter now teaches), and I did not encounter that. There was no attention, that I could tell, paid to race or any kind of diversity whatsoever. The big political issue on campus that fall, to judge from the posters that invited first-year students (we were still called freshman—the college had gone co-ed only the year before) to attend the orientation meetings of groups we might want to join, was whether men should participate in feminist groups and white people should attend meetings for black people’s issues: the answer was that they should not. Protests a year or two later asked for a Black Studies department, but the first I heard of diversity training was a few years after graduation, when I worked for a largish manufacturer of computers and computer equipment. The class was combined with training on what constituted sexual harassment, but the rumor was that it had been mandated by a court settlement in a discrimination suit. The course was taught by consultants, and the methods they used did seem vaguely recognizable from what I'd found on campus a few years before.
But I have no personal experience of what McWhorter is talking about, so his article is helpful in understanding what's going on.
Something that's interesting, though, is that other academics—complaining about the way programs are imposed on universities, rather than specifically about their content—have characterized them as “corporate.” Their idea of what happened seems to be that corporate managers, doing their management thing in their corporate way, came up with these training programs first; and that as part of the corporatization of universities, where administrators more and more have outside managerial backgrounds and hire more and more additional administrators, presumably so they can run schools “more like businesses,” those administrators impose diversity programs, unasked for, on college teachers and students. This is, as I've said, exactly the opposite of how I've experienced this history. And to me, it at least seems logical that the diversity-consultant enterprise would naturally come out of an academic setting. You have the faith in a classroom knowledge of social science and of classroom education to inform people about social expectations. You have the practice of getting everyone together, like at freshman orientation, to tell them what the rules are and how they're expected to behave. And you have the idea that experts (in this case diversity consultants) can be trained in an academic setting and then go out and use their knowledge to help organize society in an informed way. This is no different from what any number of academic disciplines do, from psychology to English literature, cultural studies, and political science (these last three training various sort of journalists and critics). I don't know what a good history of the development of these programs would show, but it's interesting that the two main players in this process feel so certain that the practice originates with the other one.