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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Catering to DEIA

(In the foreground is one student who brought a fruit pizza to our social work class. In the background, to the right, is yours truly)

Catering to DEIA

In 2013, during the Social Work Practice and Field Instruction II portion of my graduate school studies for obtaining a Master of Science in Social Work degree, the class instructor focused on ethics—moral principles which govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.

Using a demonstrative exercise, students were divided into small groups and assigned the task of bringing food to class on designated days so that we may better understand the process of DIVERSITY—the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds or identities.

In regards to consumption, “catering” relates to providing food and drink, typically at social events and in a professional capacity. For instance, restaurant X may cater at a large party.

For matters unrelated to cuisine, “catering” refers to supplying what is required or desired. As an example, brand X has a reputation of catering to consumers of a specific religious faith.

Where the ethics assignment was concerned, students fulfilled both of these definitional standards when catering for the class while also catering to each individual student’s nutritional specifications.

Still, there was another essential element present within the exercise, as it related to EQUITY—the quality of being fair and impartial, often based on historical inequalities among groups, and when used with a focus on social context. Noteworthy, equity and equality do not mean the same thing.

To differentiate these two terms, perhaps the most straightforward way I can currently think of is to suggest that in a social context equality relates to allowing or providing for opportunity. This can include matters related to ability and resources.

On the other hand, equity in a similar framework references adjustment for the sake of specific outcomes. Though I’ve heard some people claim that equity relates to “equality of outcome,” this is not how I learned of the concept when in grad school.

For example, group X may historically perform better on standardized exams than group Y. An equitable solution to this matter could be increasing the minimum acceptance score for group X while lowering the minimum passing score for group Y.

Regarding the ethics exercise, students were challenged to consider what equitable standards may apply when catering food on a designated day. Suppose there were 18 students in my cohort.

Imagine that two students were vegan, three students reported gluten allergies, one student was said to have a nut allergy, two students swore off sugars, and the rest of the students expressed no dietary restrictions. Just over half of the class could eat whatever was served.

However, the one student who was allergic to nuts was considered to be the most marginalized—on the periphery of the norm—something that is usual, typical, or standard. Under no circumstances could any dish contain nuts, because anaphylaxis could seriously harm this student.

Still, other students who also maintained dietary restrictions were said to warrant special consideration, because they, too, deviated from the norm. In a social context, students were taught that the desires and needs of the majority were outweighed by the wants and requirements of the minority.

In the interest of equity, a list was passed around the room and those individuals with dietary restrictions were asked to select what food they wished to have. For instance, one student with a gluten allergy could write a request for gluten-free muffins.

However, if those muffins contained animal products of any kind, this would exclude the two vegan students. No person could be left out of the exercise, as doing so would represent oppression—the state of being subject to unjust treatment, particularly through denial of access or resources.

Rather than practicing exclusion, the class was challenged to value INCLUSIVITY—the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Preconditions of the eight students with special dietary needs outweighed the options of everyone else.

Moreover, among those eight people, each nutritional qualifier had to be met. Because ethics are based on moral principles, grad students were subject to should, must, and ought-type demands (i.e., have to…, better do…, etc.).

To be fully inclusive, divided groups agreed to pay more money for an assortment of food options which best met the needs of the eight students—with careful focus on the one student who had a nut allergy. After all, none of us wanted to be responsible for killing a classmate.

Additionally, some people approach veganism as though it’s a religious faith, so offending a vegan student could also result in consequences. Ultimately, we couldn’t merely offer a couple dozen donuts to the class and pretend as though our obligations were fulfilled.

As such, we were taught a lesson in ACCESSIBILITY—the practice of affording opportunity for people to acquire information, attend activities, enter environments, and engage similar interactions and services as other people, and to be applied to as many people as possible.

I never saw much difference between inclusivity and accessibility. Still, when diversity, equity, and inclusivity were introduced in common parlance, people began arranging the acronym to suggest that these concepts represented “DIE,” or the death of Enlightenment principles.

Consequently, diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility (and derivatives thereunto) are commonly represented by the “DEIA” acronym. Expanding upon DEIA, one source states:

Given the definitional standard of the above-indicated chart, diversity relates to representation, equity relates to fairness, inclusion addresses belonging, and access is self-referential, as it concerns access. Morally, one may subjectively consider DEIA of this sort to be a “good” practice.

Where the ethics assignment was concerned, I along with many other students reflected our honest assessment of appealing to the minimum common denominator—it was annoying. Even the fruit pizza pictured in the initial photo of this post contained sucrose, fructose, and glucose.

Though these sugars are found in ripe bananas, for the students who swore off sugars, even fresh fruit presented as a hurdle to the class catering process. Ultimately, we were taught to lower interests of the group rather than valuing individuality.

I imagine reader X may say, “Everyone must be included, so it’s a good thing you had DEIA education.” However, suppose reader Y states, “Rather than lowering standards of the majority, perhaps the minority could either not take part or bring their own snacks.”

Which of these imaginary readers is right and which is wrong? Which maintains a good value and which the bad? Life isn’t as simple as a this-or-that binary.

I suspect those who share values with reader X may conclude that reader Y is wrong and maintains bad values. Still, those sharing the attitude of reader Y may object and consider this individual to be correct and with good moral standing.

Rather than opining as to whom I think is right, wrong, good, or bad, I think it’s worth highlighting the moralizing mechanism present in the practice of ethics. In simplest terms, a group of people come together and agree about what is and isn’t an acceptable practice, standard, behavior, etc.

These arbitrary standards are sometimes so ambiguous that a person will not know that an ethical standard exists until it has been violated. Moreover, ever-malleable ethical practices can be considered good one day and bad the next.

Therefore, people who remain subject to the constantly changing menu of ethical practice are required to remain diligent concerning foreseeable and unforeseeable changes at the same time. It can be a baffling affair when catering to the requirements of others while nutritional choices may shift in an instant.

Add to this confusion the enforcement of DEIA principles with which an individual may disagree—though a group within a position of power and privilege deems worthy of consideration—and catering becomes even more incomprehensible.


One reason why I value Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is because it operates on Epictetusnotion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Briefly, I’ll address how this principle could be applied in regards to the student with a nut allergy—the most severe hazard in my social work class.

From a pragmatic standpoint, if student X eats a dish containing nuts, the student may go into anaphylactic shock and die. That is a proper action-consequence chain—because nuts are ingested and the body responds accordingly.

As such, it makes sense for student X to eat certain foods. That is a person X-specific issue. It isn’t the group’s responsibility to control what does or doesn’t enter person X’s mouth.

However, using a DEIA standard, person X is automatically absolved of personal responsibility and accountability, as it then becomes the group’s duty (should, must, ought, etc.) to accommodate the individual. After all, it’s considered the “right” and “good” thing to do.

Sure, person X could simply say, “You know what, everyone, because I’m the one with a vital dietary requirement, I’ll bring my own snack and y’all can just bring whatever.” Though, this is presumed to make person X “feel” bad.

I use “feel” in the colloquial sense, acknowledging that in this context it relates to an undesirable emotion. Let’s look at this experience using the REBT ABC Model.

Person X brings an individual snack rather than sharing food others are eating (Action). Since eating nut-based foods causes an allergic reaction, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that having to bring one’s own food also causes sorrow, anger, or disgust (Consequence)?

I argue that this Action-Consequence (A-C) connection, though seemingly practical, is incorrect. Remember Epictetus’ axiom, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Therefore, a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection may better explain person X’s reaction. Here’s how it unfolds:

Action – Person X brings an individual snack rather than sharing food others are eating.

Belief – Person X believes, “This shouldn’t happen, because it’s so unfair that I’m not included. I can’t stand having to always be the odd person out! Others must include me so that I don’t feel bad.”

Consequence – As a result of person X’s unhelpful belief, the student experiences sorrow regarding a health condition, anger at other students for a lack of diversity, and disgust at life concerning inequality.

I suppose this is where reader X may declare, “See!? Everyone must be included, so it’s a good thing you had DEIA education. Now, use the lessons you were taught, Deric, and stop making person X’s life miserable!”

Here, reader X has used the A-C connection to reinforce DEIA practice. Here’s how this sort of self-disturbance unfolds:

Action – Reader X discovers that a not all psychotherapists support DEIA initiatives.

Belief – Reader X believes, “Everyone must be included, so psychotherapists should use their DEIA education.”

Consequence – Because of reader X’s unproductive belief, the reader because angry.

Although I understand how it is people use should, must, and ought narratives—and even how these moral imperatives may be perceived as good, righteous, or admirable—I disagree with use of a B-C connection to justify one’s self-inflected consequences.

Furthermore, I question whether or not it’s helpful, healthy, or productive to should all over others for the sake of a person who could instead change personal behavior rather than demanding that others must change their behavior for the sake of appeasement.

As such, DEIA in this regard is less of a suggestion and more of a requirement. Refer to the chart shared earlier in this entry. It states, “Now that we’ve defined each [DEIA] term, here are a few tactics to consider.”

While I understand that “tactics” can refer to actions or strategies carefully planned to achieve a specific end, I conceptualize it to mean the art of deploying moralizing forces in order to prevail when in contact with a perceived enemy or opponent.

In the military, “tactics” were used to win battles through force. In this way, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider DEIA as a compulsory practice which is administered through coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of unpleasant and destructive means.

DEIA disseminated by mandatory human resources personnel, in institutions of higher education, within branches of government, as a component of criminal justice administration, through the rhetoric of mainstream and social media sources, and elsewhere is currently in practice.

Rather than group X, reader X, student X, or person X’s of the world taking personal ownership for their own wants and needs, society as a whole shares the strain of catering to these individuals. I imagine some people consider this as it should be.

How about you, dear reader, what do you think? You may be willing to spend a bit more on snacks so that you can appease others in a classroom while fulfilling catering duties.

Are you also willing to bear the cost of sacrificing—or at minimal compromising—your personal values for the sake of others when it relates to matters far more important than whether or not a fruit pizza is presented in a classroom? For how low are you willing to lower your standards?

While I’ve taken caution not to assert absolute imperatives herein, I think these issues are worth questioning in a rational manner rather than appealing to emotion. We don’t all share the same moral standards and catering to DEIA may not be a beneficial “tactic” for the healthy functioning of our society.

Then again, what do I know? I’m the student who wanted to serve Spam to my social work classmates so that I could offend everyone equally.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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