“Diversity” is a term that is used vastly throughout the higher education community! Below is a compilation of quotes submitted by higher education professionals in the field! We asked them to tell us about what the term “diversity” means; and, is it the word we should be using to guide our practice? Take a look at the responses below!


What does diversity mean to you?

“To me, diversity is the realization for those with privileged identities to realize that people are oppressed in identities that they have that are highly regarded as privileged. It is a term put in place by those who are privileged and a means of creating barriers to actually exploring their privilege. It does little to nothing for those who are of oppressed identities in a variety of ways. For example, diversity is a way for white people to realize that they are white by people of color having to provide explanations on power structures that have for a very long time allowed white people to be of what is socialized as privileged.”

-Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

“Description of who’s in the room/at the table”

-Bee

Bee

“Diversity is difference; It extends far beyond race and gender.”

-Leslie N

Leslie N.

“difference – I grew up professionally in the “celebrate diversity” era of the 1990s.  At the time, the focus was on increasing the numbers of racially diverse folks, and consuming “ethnic” foods and traditions.  These days, when people talk about “diversity,” what I hear is “let’s not take action on the inequities we reproduce.””

-Higher Education Professional

Higher Education Professional

“It’s not a term I use often anymore as I do find it to have lost most of its original meaning.  But an appreciation of difference across cultures and between individuals with an understanding of the sociological and psychological underpinnings for those differences.”

-Brian

Brian

“What does it mean to me, indeed? Primarily, diversity has taken on the dimensions of a buzzword to me–I know I need to say it, and it is a convenient umbrella term for a whole host of liberatory and not-so-liberatory practices in higher ed, but I feel like it is starting to become an empty word. It is being used as a placeholder, in a way, or a simulacra to point to a lot of things that people may mean. Like, it could mean access or climate or just having brown faces in the room or acknowledging difference. But it could also mean acknowledging the inherent humanity of everyone involved in the higher education enterprise and the inhumanity and injustices built into our higher education landscape and working towards a more just system. And we’re never clear on which way we’re using it–and, as I said, people know it’s important to mention, so they do, without fully engaging it.”

-Rachel

Rachel
“Individual difference (personality, learning styles, life experiences, political affiliation, etc) and social group differences (race, ethnicity, class, gender etc). “Diversity” has no actions behind it and does not involve the engagement with it.”
 -Dar Mayweather
Dar Mayweather

When one uses the term diversity what are they typically discussing or referring to in higher education?

“In higher ed, I think people use the term “diversity” to signify the inclusion of people and/or ideas from a variety of contexts and backgrounds.”

-Lan Yang

Lan Yang

“My experience is that people often use this as a catch all term to refer to a wide variety of issues related to the experiences and perspectives of people whose identities have been un(der) represented in universities.”

-Conor McLaughlin

Conor McLaughlin

“People of color and racial diversity, often presented in a White-Black binary.”

-Alex

Alex

“I think it depends on each individual. However, many people hear diversity and immediately think of training that may be required or tedious. I believe this view is shifting, but higher education doesn’t just consist of SA pros. There is a diverse mix of people and roles and we don’t all have open minds related to diversity and inclusion.”

-Nick

Nick

“students of color”

-Higher Education Professional

Higher Education Professional

“Typically, and unfortunately, folks use diversity as a catch all to mean inclusion, which is totally incorrect. Diversity is usually spoken about as an “end goal” rather than as part of a larger process to intentionally create a more welcoming environment for these diverse identities.”

-Lindsay

Lindsay

“Structural diversity – meaning the % of representation of an identity group or belief system; in higher education, this most often refers to race and typically uses specific racial categories (e.g. U.S. Census), which can limit how people may identify or who “counts” as people of color.”

-Sonja Ardoin

Sonja Ardoin

“In my interactions with people in higher education, when one talks about “diversity” in higher education, I often understand it in visible identities (often surrounded around race and gender). This becomes more typical depending on the context and the situations and how they relate to different aspects of higher education.”

-Karyn Dyer

Karyn Dyer

“I believe race is the focal point of diversity in higher education considering it is a deep issue. Therefore, when diversity is discussed in higher ed normally it is about  numbers of people of color and people of color holding certain leadership positions that white people have always been in.”

-Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

“Diversity often refers to racial/ethnic differences, specifically, or target/marginalized groups, generally. Those who hold dominant or privileged identities are not often included when discussing diversity, which further reinforces those identities as unseen, normal, and standard.”

-@nicholasrfranco

@nicholasfranco

“I touched on this above, but I think “diversity” covers a whole host of things. I think it is often used to talk about race–when an administrator, for example, mentions an increase in diversity, they often mean an increase in numbers of students of color. I also think diversity is typically a numbers game–getting diverse individuals in the door but not necessarily thinking about what happens to them when they get to campus. But I also think that many people don’t mean to use it as an elision or empty reference–I think they use it to convey a real concern for and interest in fostering social justice and inclusion in their institutions.”

-Rachel

Rachel
“Racial, sex, or gender diversity. Mainly focusing on quotas”
 -Dar Mayweather
Dar Mayweather

Then, we asked the participants, “Are there terms that can better serve our field other than the term “diversity”?”  Participants chose the following: yes (73.3%), no (0%), and maybe (26.7%). There was an overall sense that the usage of the word “diversity” has outlived its usefulness –“it has become diluted to the point of meaninglessness”; although, there were some that argued that the term “diversity is adequate some times.” The following questions and answers help elaborate on these points.

 

If you believe diversity IS an adequate term to utilize in our field, why?

The acknowledgment that differences exist is important. In higher education when we use the work we are mostly aiming for the engagement with diversity, which is not diversity.

-Dar Mayweather

Dar Mayweather

I do feel it’s an adequate term to use in the field when appropriate. That said, I don’t feel it’s adequate because of how much we use it, and in how many inappropriate situations we use it. It’s lost some of it’s meaning and effectiveness because of that.

-Lindsay

Lindsay
“I think in and of itself it is adequate, but it has become diluted to the point of meaninglessness. Diversity is passive, and I think we’ve past the point of being able to focus on passive measures.”
 -Brian
Brian
“It’s all encompassing of difference. Sadly, it’s not taught that way. There’s a stigma around the “d word” that needs to be changed.”
 -Leslie N
Leslie N
“I believe it should be adequate, but there are many people with closed minds who don’t like the word and immediately shut themselves off to it.”
 -Nick
Nick
“I believe diversity is adequate some times. Many institutions still have largely homogenous faculty, staff, and student populations and in these cases diversity and diversifying is one dimension of the work ahead of them (it probably is some part of what all institutions need to do, in their own ways). I do not feel, however, that it totally describes all of the dimensions of the work still needed.”
 -Conor McLaughlin
Conor McLaughlin
“I think diversity means difference, and in a way, that continues to use privileged groups as a point of reference. While I think there may be another term better used, I wonder if there is some benefit of “diversity” in pointing out that underrepresented groups are still seen as being different. In other words, does using a word to connote that marginalized groups are not different (because our cultures should be valued the same) glaze over the truth that they are not seen as such? Similar to being color-blind?”
-Lan Yang
Lan Yang

If you believe diversity is NOT an adequate term to utilize in our field, why?

“[Are there terms that can better serve our field other than the term ‘diversity’?] I say maybe because it depends on what our field actually wants.  I think folks and institutions are in different places with wanting the mere presence of difference, to having minoritized folks educate majoritized folks about their lives, to meaningful inclusion where genuine relationships are cultivated, to changing system and structure to ensure equitable access AND outcome in retention, persistence, and graduation.”

-Alex

Higher Education Professional

“I believe diversity is adequate some times. Many institutions still have largely homogenous faculty, staff, and student populations and in these cases diversity and diversifying is one dimension of the work ahead of them (it probably is some part of what all institutions need to do, in their own ways). I do not feel, however, that it totally describes all of the dimensions of the work still needed. Diversity can be very helpful to describe SOME parts of the work ahead of all members of university communities, but it is not the only dimension of the work, and so using it as an umbrella term is where my issue with it arises.”

-Conor McLaughlin

Conor

“It’s lost some of it’s meaning and effectiveness because of that.”

-Lindsay

Lindsay

“It can lead to very surface level conversations and decision and is focused more on numbers and facades, in my opinion, rather than on actual inclusion, equity, and social justice for all participants in (and outside of) higher education.”

-Sonja Ardoin

Sonja

“I think “diversity” has been watered down, if that makes sense. The term has lost all intention to make meaning. A quote by Angela Davis reads “I have a hard time accepting diversity as a synonym for justice. Diversity is a corporate strategy.” In higher education, it seems like “diversity” is something to brag about on the surface but not take too much energy, time, and money to invest further in maintaining and celebrating.”

-Karyn Dyer

Karyn Dyer

“Simply put, diversity upholds systems of oppression and privilege by it being so that the privilege get to maintain their privilege. [And,] inclusion is just as bad as diversity for many of the same reasons. We’re including you in what we already have and it is not yours and ours to share and we’re letting you have it is a message that the word ‘inclusion’ sends.”

-Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

“Diversity has become a sort of heavy, unlikeable term, I think in part because it is used to really mean racial/ethnic differences and also because it is seen as a chore or nuisance and not as a benefit to an organization, group, or team.”

-@nicholasrfranco

@nicholasfranco

“I think as it relates to our field, diversity just means making sure that our student bodies are diverse. It doesn’t mean making sure that they are inclusive.”

-Bee

Bee

“I think in and of itself it is adequate, but it has become diluted to the point of meaninglessness.  Diversity is passive, and I think we’ve past the point of being able to focus on passive measures.”

Brian

Brian

What terms should be used instead of diversity?

“[Are there terms that can better serve our field other than the term ‘diversity’?] I say maybe because it depends on what our field actually wants.  I think folks and institutions are in different places with wanting the mere presence of difference, to having minoritized folks educate majoritized folks about their lives, to meaningful inclusion where genuine relationships are cultivated, to changing system and structure to ensure equitable access AND outcome in retention, persistence, and graduation.”

-Alex

Alex

“I’m not sure about exact terms, but I do think that more clarity in what we mean when we talk about diversity is important. I also think that terms that are not value-neutral are really important to use. Shaun Harper wrote an article that explores the ways this field often talks about race without racism and the ways that elides racist institutional norms. I think “diversity” does a little bit of the same thing and needs to be replaced (or supplemented) with a term or terms that is not value-neutral and that acknowledges that difference is not always treated justly or equitably.”

-Rachel

Rachel

“Inclusivity”

-Bee

Bee

“Inclusion; Equity; Social Justice”

-Sonja Ardoin

Sonja

“Representation of identities, multiple identities, racial representation (when people are actually referring to coded conversations on race and ethnicity), gender representation (when people are actually referring to coded conversations on gender identity and expression), “different walks of life.” More over, name the social identities that we are referring to: religious/spiritual identity, ability, age, socio-economic status, generational status, sexual identity, citizenship status, etc.”

-Karyn Dyer

Karyn Dyer

“Pluralism. To me, it implies efforts toward progression to somehow make society more interpreted by a variety of people rather than just one race, sex, class, sexual orientation, religious ideology, ability, etc. as historically held.”

-Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

“cultural difference(s), cultural intersections, intersectionality (though this term doesn’t always work in place of diversity)”

-@nicholasrfranco

@nicholasfranco

“First- I don’t think that other words need to be used instead of diversity. There is an incredible need for the definition and education of the word to change. If a word has to be used instead of diversity, it should be difference.”

-Leslie N

Leslie N

“I think diversity means difference, and in a way, that continues to use privileged groups as a point of reference. While I think there may be another term better used, I wonder if there is some benefit of “diversity” in pointing out that underrepresented groups are still seen as being different. In other words, does using a word to connote that marginalized groups are not different (because our cultures should be valued the same) glaze over the truth that they are not seen as such? Similar to being color-blind?”

-Lan Yang

Lan Yang

“Multiculturalism, inclusion, social justice, (not instead of but in collaboration with and explanation of diversity)”

-Dar Mayweather

Dar Mayweather

We would like to thank every one who participated in this project! This is not a new discussion but it is one that we wanted to highlight in hopes that you carry it over to your campuses. Please feel free to share this post with colleagues in an effort to start the conversation.

We believe that the term diversity in many ways is used to place a bandaid or blindfold over the inequities that we know to be present on college campuses. It is a term that fits neatly on a checklist; and, therefore we can easily assign a few tasks that we can then check off with the perception that we did ‘good’. It is our belief that the term has allowed for universities to conceal its lack of efforts while also projecting its commitment to ‘diversity’, simultaneously, without being challenged. So, where do we go from here? Comment below with your thoughts about our next steps…

[It is important to note that ‘diversity’ is not the only word that was called into question during this project. Joshua Davis made this point, “Inclusion is just as bad as diversity for many of the same reasons. We’re including you in what we already have and it is not yours and ours to share and we’re letting you have it is a message that the word ‘inclusion’ sends.” Words are powerful. They can create both harm and beauty.]

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