Posted on April 20, 2023

How Walmart Pushed Arkansas Public Schools to Go Woke

Aaron Sibarium, Washington Free Beacon, April 17, 2023

In January 2020, Walmart approached public school administrators in Bentonville, Arkansas, about hosting diversity training sessions for the district.

“We want people to feel welcomed, comfortable, and safe living here” in Northwest Arkansas, Candice Jones, Walmart’s head of diversity, emailed district leaders, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. To that end, the company was offering to arrange teacher training sessions with a North Carolina-based consultancy known as the Racial Equity Institute, a group “devoted to creating racially equitable organizations and systems.”


By August, teachers were learning that “perfectionism” is “white supremacy” and that “all our systems, institutions, and outcomes emanate from the racial hierarchy on which the United States was built.”

Bentonville—the site of Walmart’s corporate headquarters—wasn’t alone.

In nearby Fayetteville, the district’s public schools embarked on a five-year “equity plan” funded and designed by Walmart-funded groups, including a DEI “research institute” at the University of Arkansas. School leaders attended trainings on the “six tenets of critical race theory,” learned that “systemic inequality = trauma,” were drilled on the harmful effects of “microaggressions,” and sat through PowerPoints on “intersectionality.”

The district also implemented a “restorative justice” program—designed to combat the allegedly “disproportionate” discipline of black students—that discouraged teachers from breaking up fights and instructed them to sit on the floor with students to “dispel any sense of hierarchy.”

This report is based on thousands of pages of documents obtained through public records requests submitted by families in Bentonville and Fayetteville. It reveals how the world’s largest retailer is transforming schools in its hometown through grants, nonprofits, and corporate outreach, laundering its ideology as a kind of noblesse oblige.

The transformation highlights the tension between democracy and DEI, which—as one Walmart and Walton-funded diversity program, “TRUE,” put it in a presentation to Fayetteville Public Schools—”sometimes must be imposed from the top down.”

These initiatives might seem out of place in Northwest Arkansas, which voted overwhelmingly for former president Donald Trump. But Walmart, long a bogeyman for liberals concerned about the power of big business, has become just as progressive as the rest of corporate America, earning a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2022.


Theatersarts centershealth and housing nonprofitsbusiness associations, and the Benton County government are just some of the organizations that have conducted diversity training on the Waltons’ dime. {snip}

Now, as the Waltons target classrooms in their hometown, longtime Arkansans are sounding the alarm, warning that revolution has come for a state Trump won by 28 points in 2020.


This transformation has taken place largely out of public view, aided and abetted not just by Walmart and the Waltons’ largesse but by the school districts’ lack of transparency. Fayetteville, for example, repeatedly assured parents that critical race theory was not being taught in schools even as it refused to comply with public records requests for DEI-related documents.


Long the dominant philanthropic force in Northwest Arkansas, the Walton empire is a case study in how cultural and corporate power interact. Local groups curry favor with the Waltons, said Jay Greene, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who used to teach at the University of Arkansas, because they rely on the family for grants. School districts “tend to be very aware of the Waltons’ priorities,” Greene said, “and are inclined to implement them even if not directly required to do so.”

That meant Walmart was pushing on an open door when it offered to connect Bentonville school administrators with the Racial Equity Institute, the same consulting group that conducts the company’s own diversity training sessions. The district’s superintendent, Debbie Jones, and its director of secondary education, Jennifer Morrow, accepted the offer in July 2020, according to emails reviewed by the Free Beacon, scheduling a mandatory training for all teachers that August.

It is not clear whether Walmart paid for that training or merely facilitated it. What is clear is that Walmart approved its contents. One workbook from the training was emblazoned with Walmart’s logo and included a “welcome message” from the company’s diversity office, which billed the workshop as a “powerful and thought-provoking” program “facilitated by experts from the Racial Equity Institute.”

The session was a grab bag of DEI shibboleths. It listed “perfectionism,” “a sense of urgency,” and “worship of the written word” as examples of “white supremacy culture”; described “assimilation” and “tolerance” as markers of “internalized racial inferiority”; and defended racial preferences by saying that white people had “400 years of affirmative action.” Participants were asked to reflect on each teaching using the Walmart-approved workbook, which included diagrams on the distinction between “equality” and “equity.”


Walmart’s influence was even stronger in Fayetteville, where the district outsourced much of its DEI work to a byzantine network of Walmart and Walton family-backed groups. In 2019, the Fayetteville Public School district was chosen to participate in a $2.5 million DEI training initiative, TRUE Northwest Arkansas, funded by the Walmart Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The program has since expanded to include hundreds of groups in the region.

TRUE connected district leaders with Converge, a “social-justice consulting firm,” for one-on-one coaching, according to a May 2019 email. The company—which specializes in “intersectional equity analysis”—also conducted an “organizational assessment” of the district, the results of which were presented at the Walton Arts Center that July.

There has been “backlash against diversity, equity, and inclusion among staff and patrons,” one slide from the presentation read. “DEI can and sometimes must be imposed from the top down.”


Fayetteville also partnered with the University of Arkansas’s IDEALS Institute—another DEI program funded by Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation—to create a “Five-Year Equity Competency Plan,” which began in 2019. Years two and three of the plan were funded by a $200,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, which paid for training sessions on “microaggressions,” “DEI leadership,” and “culturally relevant pedagogy,” according to copies of the grant application and equity plan.

Some of those trainings explicitly referenced critical race theory. In October 2019, the district brought in Sheldon Lanier, a public school administrator from Durham, North Carolina, to train district leaders on the “six tenets of critical race theory,” including “intersectionality,” “whiteness as property,” and the “permanence of racism,” according to a summary of the training. He returned in March 2021 for another training—this time on “culturally responsive instruction”—that called for the “implementation of CRT strategies” in the classroom.


The $200,000 grant wouldn’t just fund diversity training, district leaders told Walmart in its grant application: some of the money would also go toward curbing “disproportionate discipline.” In 2019, the Arkansas Department of Education had ordered Fayetteville to review its disciplinary policies on the grounds that black and disabled students were suspended at higher rates than others in the district, according to presentations and meeting minutes reviewed by the Free Beacon. Support from Walmart would help eliminate those disparities, the grant application said.