Culture

Clemson Diversity Training: Expecting People to Arrive on Time Is Culturally Insensitive

(Photo: Dmitriy Shironosov/Dreamstime)
In the United States, it’s just a fact that you’re supposed to arrive on time to your appointments.

According to materials from a diversity-training course at Clemson University, it’s culturally insensitive to expect people to show up on time because “time may be considered fluid” in some cultures.

Clemson’s “Diversity Benefits for Higher Education” initiative — which cost the school more than $25,000, according to Campus Reform — presents its participants with slides featuring hypothetical scenarios, and asks them to select the correct, culturally sensitive action from a list of options.

“Alejandro scheduled a 9:00 a.m. meeting with two groups of visiting professors and students from other countries,” one of the scenarios states. “When he arrived, he found that the first group had been waiting for fifteen minutes.”

“The second group arrived at 9:10 and wanted to socialize first,” it continues. “What should Alejandro do?”

The slide then lists three options:

1.  “Politely ask the second group to apologize.”

2.  “Explain, ‘In our country, 9:00 a.m. means 9:00 a.m.’”

3.  “As the meeting organizer, he should recognize cultural differences that may impact the meeting and adjust accordingly.”

The correct answer, according to the slide, is option three.

“Time may be considered precise or fluid depending on the culture,” the slide explains. “For Alejandro to bring three cultures together he must start from a place of respect, understanding that his cultural perspective regarding time is is neither more nor less valid than any other.”

Sorry, but — nope.

In the United States, it’s just a fact that you’re supposed to arrive to your appointments on time. If you’re late, then you’re supposed to apologize, or else people are going to think that you’re an inconsiderate jerk. Like it or not, that’s objectively true — and pretending that it isn’t true isn’t going to change that.

The truth is that picking the “sensitive” option in this hypothetical scenario really doesn’t do anyone any good at all — including the people who were late. Allowing the people in the second group to not only be late, but also to continue to chat and socialize among themselves when they had already kept the other people waiting might seem like a nice, forgiving thing to do, but it’s really only going to make their lives harder in the long run. Now, I’m not saying you should say something unnecessarily rude (like option two, for example) but allowing them to think there was nothing wrong with what they did will make them think that it’s okay to do it again in the future — and it really isn’t. If one of them goes on to, say, arrive ten minutes late for a job interview and decides to not even apologize, then that person probably isn’t going to get the job. There could be real, objective effects to continuing this kind of behavior that go far, far beyond feeling a little embarrassed for two seconds.

Professors are very busy people, and telling them that they don’t have the right to demand punctuality is absurd. It’s a sign of respect; it shows that you take the other person’s time seriously — and everyone has the right to demand that.

– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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