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On Achieving Diversity

Thomas Whitley

I have begun reading The Chronicle of Higher Education on a fairly regular basis (mainly because I started following them on twitter, by far my main "hub"). While reading a piece today I was struck that the "diversity movement," if I can call it such, is shooting itself in the foot. The problem is not in the article, but in what the article points to.

At Gathering of Minority Scholars, Optimism and Angst About Job Prospects: At the downtown Hilton hotel here throughout the weekend, it was easy to find a ready-made pipeline of minority scholars.

That's because the hotel was the site of the largest gathering of minority Ph.D. students in the country, also known as the Compact for Faculty Diversity's annual Institute on Teaching and Mentoring. The four-day conference that ended Sunday drew 1,500 or so doctoral students, their mentors, postdoctoral scholars, and even some junior faculty members. The goal of the Institute, in its 18th year, is to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who earn doctoral degrees and then go on to work in the professoriate.

Do you see the problem? The Compact for Faculty Diversity's focus is on minority Ph.D. students. Diversity is being conflated with minority. One can recognize a similar problem in the early stages of a transition from "women's studies" to "gender studies." For quite a while, and sadly still for many today, "gender" simply replaced "women" to make the study sound more academic and less contextualized. Fortunately, scholars have begun actually studying "gender" - its constructions and uses thereof - and not simply the "plight of women." What gender studies recognized that the diversity movement has apparently failed to recognize is that when someone is trying to rewrite a script, when someone wants to offer a dissenting view, relegating yourself to the margins only serves to further inscribe the system against which you are dissenting and makes your work that much easier for others to dismiss.

Do I think it is important that those who represent minority groups should pursue doctoral degrees and related positions? Absolutely. But I also realize that pushing for that goal does not necessitate that "diversity" will follow. To put it bluntly, as long as "diversity" remains a substitute for "non-white" and/or "non-male," then diversity will never be reached.