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Sensitivity Training

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"I don't need sensitivity training... you strident, power-mad tart!"
Dick Solomon, 3rd Rock from the Sun

Usually, this program is enacted in big organizations, such as large companies or some government agencies.

A program that is intended to make the participants more aware of social issues in the work environment (such as sexism or bullying) and to teach how to act in a politically correct manner.


Often comes with ridiculously arbitrary rating systems where some behavior is called level 1 or 2 or color-coded green or yellow or red card.

The subjects never like these programs and are always bored while enduring them (even the people whose life would be made better by such programs sometimes prefer being bullied over the sensitivity training).

The sensitivity instructor tends to be a Misplaced Kindergarten Teacher who cheerfully throws out slogans like "labels disable". If male, the instructor will probably give off a bit of a Camp Gay vibe. If the "sensitivity" being worked on is about gender dynamics or sexual harassment, the instructor may be a Straw Feminist.

Often if someone is being nasty, he is asked to stop, "or do you want to go through sensitivity training again?"

Sometimes, sensitivity training is what employees must go through if they have nothing else to do, the group will then be very motivated if an order comes in.


In real life, these items are entirely the company covering their asses against potential lawsuits, though the fact seems to rarely pop up in fiction. When a sexual harassment or hostile work environment suit comes up (and if the organization is large and old enough, it's not a question of "if" but rather "when"), the firm that you hired to represent you will not be thrilled if they find that you haven't updated your sensitivity training material in thirteen years or done much with it outside of a few token sections in the employee handbook.

This is not necessarily a case of Political Correctness Gone Mad, and also not necessarily another kind of parody of PC-related issues. But even if played straight, it is still meant for semi-humorous effect, and the above mentioned characteristics are still present.


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  • In Dilbert, Dogbert is hired to do sensitivity training for the men in Dilbert's department.
    Dogbert: For this exercise, close your eyes and imagine what it's like to be a woman.
    Wally: People acknowledge my existence. They smile at me and open doors for no reason. I'm... I'm popular.
    Ted: I can't find my keys.
    Wally: I'm never going back. I can't. I won't.
    Ted: My blouse falls to the floor...
    Dogbert: (freaked out) Break! Break!
  • General Halftrack of Beetle Bailey had to go through this, though that was more a result of changing times and sexually harassing the secretary isn't really as funny these days. (But old guys hammering nails into boards to work out their pent-up sexual frustration is.)

  • In Havemercy, the Dragon Corps gets sensitivity training from Thom after they cause an incident with the Arlemagne diplomat's wife.
  • Hellion's Henchmen from Super Minion has a sensitivity training program. And, due to the career of everyone going through it, it includes useful information such as gang signs. Tofu is actually excited at the chance to go through it, since it helps him understand why things he says keep offending people.

  • G.I. Jane. Before the title character starts SEAL training, all of the instructors have to receive sensitivity training so they know not to sexually harass her.

    Live Action TV 
  • NCIS toys with the concept every so often, usually in the context of Team Gibbs managing to avoid attending because of a case.
    • The season four episode "Driven" shows them actually attending a sexual harassment awareness lecture, and more specifically why it's probably for the best that they usually miss them. Jokes about "Red Light" and "Yellow Light" behavior continue throughout the entire episode.
      (Palmer raises his hand and the teacher calls on him)
      Palmer: Uh, what if your job includes touching naked people and—
      Teacher: That's inappropriate at any time.
      Palmer: Even if they're dead?
      (cue shocked look from teacher)
      Palmer: See, I work in autopsy...
    • Later in the episode:
      Tony: I believe this is a classic yellow light situation! (snaps a picture)
  • NCIS's parent show JAG also toyed with this concept, particularly in the early seasons.
    • In "Heroes", Harm and Mac have the following exchange:
      Mac: If you have some evidence I should know about...
      Harm: You'll eventually get it, and then you can plea-bargain.
      Mac: In your dreams, commander.
      Harm: Oh, you don't wanna be in my dreams, major.
      Mac: Red light, commander.
      Harm: Red light? (Pause) There was nothing sexual in what I said. And if you think there was, then maybe I should be giving you the red light, major.
  • Season one of Angel had the LAPD doing this. However, it was a ploy by Wolfram & Hart to disrupt to LAPD so a crime boss would be released, the sensitivity teacher magically enchanting them to be ludicrously open and emotional to everything. One of them ended up releasing all the prisoners, then trying to hug them.
  • In an early episode of The Office, everyone had to go to sensitivity training because Michael made a series of racial jokes... Hilarity Ensues.
  • Married... with Children. Jefferson is forced to go to a men's sensitivity training session. When he returns:
    Al: Jefferson! Good, you're right on time. The Three Stooges marathon is about to start.
    Jefferson: (monotone) The Three Stooges are not funny. You know who I think is funny? That Elaine Boosler is funny.
    Al: Oh my God! Those women have brainwashed him. We'll have to deprogram him!
    (holds up two fingers) Quick, how many fingers am I holding up? (pokes Jefferson in the eyes)
    Jefferson: Whoa, thanks Al. They almost had me that time.
  • Murphy Brown.
    Kay: Oh, good morning, my little worker ants! That's just a figure of speech; I would NEVER compare you to insects. At least not after that sensitivity training seminar those maggots at the network forced me to attend!
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick once had to take sensitivity training. The real hilarity came when Dick left the training a changed man who hugged his students and gave them "happy faces" instead of grades.
  • After a Slap-Slap-Kiss goes wrong in Frasier, the station manager makes everyone attend a sexual harassment class. When the moderator starts handing out workbooks Bulldog reveals he already has one from the last time he was forced to take the class.
  • The memorable seminar on Rescue Me results in the team listing off every ethnic slur they can think of.
  • Needless to say, the bastions of the 1st Amendment, Penn & Teller, mocked and argued against the idea in their show Bullshit! Here is their (rather Penn's) summary of the show.
  • Because the staff of Sacred Heart hospital is crawling with politically incorrect meathead male doctors, and, well, Dr. Cox, there has been a couple Scrubs episodes involving sensitivity training.
    • Most notably, the time Carla was stuck trying to make some of the hospitals view worst male sex joke offenders see her point of view. And this was the rant that finally persuaded Dr. Kelso to make Dr. Cox teach a sensitivity training class.
    • In Med School, J.D. says that he'll always be with Lucy "here ... and here", and touches her head and her stomach. Because the last time he tried to indicate a female student's heart, he had to watch a four-hour video called Boundaries.
  • Not strictly Sensitivity Training or even compulsory, but the characters from The IT Crowd were persuaded to come to a stress-management seminar with the promise of free food. They managed to push the instructor into a violent rage and ended the day stressed beyond all reason.
  • An episode of Andy Richter Controls the Universe had the title character made to attend such a class. As it's starting, a man stands up in front of the room and starts stating offensive stereotypes, like, "Jews are greedy. Mexicans are lazy." etc., and Andy muses that the teacher's method of confronting the class bluntly with such views is effective...until the real teacher comes in, and it turns out the other guy is just another participant in the class, who apparently really needs it.
  • In the Corner Gas episode "Super Sensitive," Davis and Oscar laugh it up telling Dumb Blonde jokes, which offends Karen (who is blonde). She forces Davis to go to sensitivity training, which perhaps works on him a little too well. When he comes back, he's a walking example of Political Correctness Gone Mad. For example, when Karen orders black coffee, he corrects her by saying "African-American". Karen finds him even more insufferable this way, so she teams up with Oscar and they tell him blonde jokes until he goes back to normal. Then Karen tells a joke about a pygmy, a monk, and a cannibal. We don't get to hear it, but it's apparently bad enough that she gets sent to sensitivity training herself.
  • In Rizzoli & Isles, Jane Rizzoli discovers she is an "equal opportunity offender" because she offends everyone when she is finally forced to go to sensitivity training in the second season episode "Gone Daddy Gone." None of the cops take the sensitivity training seriously. Jane spends most of the episode trying to hide from the sensitivity training instructor; Vince Korsak wants her to go only because he stands to get something out of it if she does go and a cop who had previously gone to sensitivity training is overheard insulting a suspect.
  • The Criminal Minds episode "The Black Queen" gives us a Funny Moment in the form of a sexual harassment seminar based around Morgan and Garcia's sexy phone banter.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • From El Goonish Shive, Agent Wolf is threatened with sensitivity training because he keeps insisting that his boss's assistant Lavender is an alien. The fact that she has a tail and antennae has nothing to do with anything.
  • Something*Positive: Peejee was the only person in her department who passed the sexual harrassment seminar. Then she was sexually harassed by the instructor. Then the instructor was eaten by a Canadian Trap-door Alligator. Yeah, it's that kind of comic. There was an earlier arc at Davan's work where the seminar was called "Only Fat Ugly Lesbo-Whores Who Nobody Really Finds Attractive Sue for Gender Discrimination or Sexual Harassment". Davan made reference to previous lectures called "OSHA is Run by Rancid Pedophiles" and "The Asbestos Didn't Cause Birth Defects in your Baby: It Caused Birth Enhancements".
  • Mac Hall: Matt has problems with this.
  • In the "Canadian" chapter of Spinnerette, Cpt. Alberta had supposedly undergone such a training, as a condition to stay a member of the Canadian superhero team. It didn't quite work, and his subsequent removal from the team only made it worse.

    Web Original 
  • In Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl J has to go to a mandatory "support group" for people with anger management issues after she snaps over a stapler. The people in there also get angry over stupid things, though are more blatantly crazy than her. One person gets angry when people don't let the microwave time out, and another gets angry when people send e-mails in Comic Sans. J ends up going on dates with the leader of the group. In another episode Amir, J's racist coworker, comes back from being Put on a Bus and says that he was in Racial Sensitivity Training.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park: Sexual Harassment Panda...
  • Peter Griffin had to undergo sensitivity training due to his sexist remarks; of course, this being Family Guy, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In one episode, the Flynn-Fletchers were sailing and Baljeet and Buford were watching over Perry the Platypus for them, which kept him from responding to Major Monogram's call. Monogram commented he couldn't send another animal agent because all of them were doing sensitivity training.
    • In another episode, Major Monogram was doing sensitivity training and his response to Carl saying animal agents were exempt from it suggested what Monogram needed the training for.

    Real Life 
  • According to Bill Maher, before a group of firefighters was allowed to help hurricane survivors, they were required to attend an 8-hour sexual harassment sensitivity training course. Many would query whether sexual harassment sensitivity training is related to hurricanes and see this as a classic example of Political Correctness Gone Mad. However, traumatized disaster survivors are extremely vulnerable and easily taken advantage of, and aid workers are often in a position of such authority that even the best-meaning agencies have some individuals who will do rather horrible things. Pleasant nightmares.
  • In one of the real-life stories accompanying The Trenches, a game developer dismissed a bug report and insulted the testing department, calling them "glorified monkeys banging on controllers", which the testers basically turned into an in-office meme. Once the bosses caught wind of it, and confirmed that the testers indeed knew what they were talking about, they made all full-time employees go through a two-hour meeting on basic courtesy.
  • In the United States Military, SHARP training is emphasized heavily and is often mocked by the servicemembers. There are several reasons for this, including the generally boring and often offensive nature of the programs (more than a few SHARP sessions have stopped just short of saying, "All men are rapists, but some just don't know it yet"), double standards (it's okay if we do it, but it's racist/sexist/otherwise bad if you do it), lack of applicability ("How does this help us kill people and break shit?" Is a frequent complaint), and the fact that the officers administering the SHARP program are frequently caught committing some kind of sexual misconduct.
  • Drew Carey spoke in his book about how following a slew of sexual harrassment lawsuits at Warner Bros. in 1996, management made it so everybody who worked on the Warner Brothers lot had to be at, and sign attendance for, one sexual harassment awareness seminar. He thought it was a shame when a great company had to go to such "extreme measure" because of the complaints of a few people. The few people being "militant feminists" and "everyone else in this society that needs to play political victim and go to court instead of just dealing with it themselves". A celebrity like him could no longer look a second too long at someone's tits or let the women who worked on his show give him a hug without him freezing up in fear of litigation. This had turned his workplace and "every workplace in America into Salem, Massachusetts".
    • While he was at it, he didn't want naval aviators to attend sensitivity training either. And that was in response to the Tailhook scandal. Carey thought "one uptight biddy" (likely Sheila Widnall, who was made the first female Secretary of the Air Force in the wake of the Tailhook scandal) should not be able to come in and stop such festivities. He also believed that while "grabbing some tits" was wrong, it was nothing to lose a career over, and a wimp who couldn't handle having her tits grabbed without calling "a press conference and a lawyer", should be flying kites not jet fighters.
  • Truth in Television: Any Human Resources department worth its salt will have an anti-harassment policy on the books, and provide periodic training to make sure employees know how to follow what's in it. How effective this is may vary, but at the bare minimum it helps to cover their asses in the event of legal trouble.


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