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The goal of increasing “diversity” has become a common focus in university admissions, meaning strengthening the presence of underrepresented minorities within the student body. This kind of rationale also appears in businesses and government, with rhetoric that emphasizes how diverse groups can be more productive and innovative. In essence, most see pursuing diversity as a good thing because of the benefits of diversity.

That said, researchers question whether “diversity” policies and programs really overcome existing racial inequalities, and some argue that organizations are more interested in boasting about their diversity than they are in actually increasing minority representation. Ellen Berrey has researched the meaning and use of the word “diversity” in a variety of sites. Her research, as described in The New Yorker, suggests that touting the benefits of diversity can have an unintended consequence: glossing over issues of inequality, exclusion, and discrimination. As an example, Berrey describes an investigation of diversity in a Fortune 500 company,

“The diversity-management program functioned mainly as a surreal exercise in internal branding, entirely separate from the legal department (which handled claims of discrimination). So-called diversity managers worked to foster an “inclusive” environment, but they seemed to spend much of their time “reiterating the good that would come from diversity,” as a way of justifying their own positions.”

The New Yorker article also discusses research by Natasha Warikoo, who examines the ways that white students at Ivy League colleges describe diversity on campus. Their accounts point to what Warikoo calls “the diversity bargain” — white students accept the existence of racialized admissions programs with the expectation that students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds will expose them to new ideas, cultures, and experiences. In general, these researchers find that “diversity” rhetoric often misses the bigger picture of continued racial inequality in the United States.