How do you solve a problem like diversity? Representing diversity in college admission websites
Higher education in this country faces a significant problem when it comes to diversity, and the troubling part is that higher education, as a whole, is only contributing to the problem. While universities and colleges claim to value diversity, rarely does the reality match these proclamations. Even with programs like affirmative action, the enrollment gap between certain populations still persists and inequity remains a large problem for access to higher education. Undoubtedly, colleges and universities have an obligation to embrace diversity in order to help correct this injustice, yet it is unclear if or how they do. To this end, it is important to explore how or if schools truly value diversity.
Through an ideological analysis of four university or college websites, I look at how higher education has come to represent and communicate diversity. Through a close analysis, I argue that higher education's stated commitment to diversity belies a disregard for the intrinsic value of diversity. Relying on Goffman (1979) and Wang and Cooper (2010) to analyze the depictions, I find that the ideology being communicated is that diversity is narrowly defined as visibility, and the image of diversity reinforces subordinate roles of underrepresented groups such as women and minorities while maintaining the legitimacy of the dominant class's status. Using the concept of commodification, I explain how diversity has been removed from its original context and incorporated into the dominant ideology. Diversity, in this sense, does not need to be discussed at length because it is recognized in terms of its instrumental value. Universities and colleges have imbued diversity with artificial meanings and recognize diversity as something to be bought or sold. Overall, two ideologies emerge in this analysis. First, diversity is a commodity to be bought and sold by the dominant class. Second, diversity is artificially and narrowly defined in terms of visibility and numbers, rather than the true inclusivity that the schools often profess. What comes to substitute for diversity in the process of commodification is simply having enough people who look visually diverse: the image of diversity.
The implications of these ideologies are significant. Students who come from underrepresented backgrounds are undervalued or left out entirely. They are told that they do not have a place in higher education. Students in the dominant class are led to believe that they are participating in diversity, rather than participating in its suppression. Rather than fulfilling the progressive potential of higher education, college and universities remain static ideological state apparatuses that indoctrinate students to fit the dominant ideology. For society as a whole, this means that the status quo goes unquestioned and the hegemonic dominant structure remains intact. The analysis shows how ideology surrounds us and is imbued in everything, even things as seemingly neutral as a college or university admissions website. I conclude my findings by suggesting ways that higher education can buck these trends and offering possible directions for future research.
0745: Higher education