Performing diversity: A historical and organizational analysis on the rise of diversity-related offices in American universities


 Presenter (s) S. Gabriela Gavrila, Lisa Overbey, Francisco O. Ramirez

The civil rights and related social movements in the sixties pressed for a more inclusive and equitable society. Given the centrality of higher education to social mobility, these movements also pressed universities to become more inclusive. Over time universities responded in multiple ways to developments in the external environment, one of which was the establishment of diversity-related offices (DROs). While DROs are currently a highly institutionalized feature of American universities, their presence is not quite ubiquitous. We explore the difference between public and private universities in terms of their likelihood to have established such an office, as well as distinctions based on other institutional characteristics (i.e. academic selectivity, religious identity etc.). Clearly, not all universities established DROs at the same time: some started addressing diversity at the institutional level as early as the 1960s, while others have only adopted these offices in the last decade (since 2010). Throughout this paper, the term “diversity-related” is meant to capture the multiplicity of names under which these offices have been known on university campuses over time: from earlier iterations favoring terms such as “multicultural,” “affirmative action,” “minority affairs” to more contemporary terms such as “diversity,” “equity,” “inclusion,” etc. This paper attempts to model differences between universities in terms of their likelihood to adopt this organizational feature, as well as the evolution of the terminology that props DROs, and the implications of specific word choices.

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