Differing about Difference: What Does 'diversity' Mean for the Diversity Committee at One Evangelical Christian University?

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Union Institute and University, 2006 - 189 pages
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This study is an exploration of the diversity meanings-in-use within a particular diversity committee at one evangelical Christian college, focusing on the paradigms that provide the foundation for those meanings, and how those meanings were negotiated within the group. The researcher was particularly interested in three questions: (1) what was the theological content of diversity meanings (if any)? (2) was diversity considered more a "problem to fix" or an unlimited opportunity for learning and organizational renewal? (3) how were differences in diversity meanings expressed within the group as it sought to promote diversity in the context of a Christian university? Structured observations were conducted of six meetings over a three month period at the end of this new Diversity Committee's first year of work together. Committee members and key informants in the organizational context were interviewed and relevant documents were analyzed. During this period of time the committee focused on institutional diversity statement oriented toward greater inclusion of people of color with little critical dialog on the nature of race, culture, particularity, privilege, assimilation, or differentiation. While seeking to socially integrate surface (racial and token cultural) differences, deeper cultural differences and the dynamics of dominance were left unexamined. The committee seemed to resist understanding diversity from a distinctly Christian theological perspective that would have been more consistent with the particular identity of the institution. Differences of perspective inside and outside the committee tended to be ignored or neutralized rather than heeded, and in numerous subtle ways dominant meanings seemed to retain their, privileged status. The researcher identifies and contrasts assimilating versus differentiating types of diversity meanings, including: singular normative standards versus multiple particular stories, fixing barriers to access versus learning from diversity, universal ideals versus particular realities, ends versus means, instrumental versus relational partnerships, responsibility as "theirs later" versus "ours now". Recognizing that a diversity committee is a different kind of committee for a different type of purpose, the researcher proposes that such a committee might best be considered an' organizational laboratory for learning about the dynamics of being "different together", knowledge that could then be shared throughout an organization.

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