Book club conversation: Diversity in the academy

June 21, 2013 at 11:56 am

The subject of diversity — diversity among our students, in our hiring practices, and in the course materials we teach — comes up on a regular basis on this campus. It is a topic that matters deeply to many of us, and also one that perplexes and frustrates, at times. To extend the conversation about what diversity means in the context of our institution and the academy in general, a discussion group has been formed this summer.

The group will read a recent publication by feminist philosopher, Sara Ahmed, a book titled On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Duke University Press, 2012). Copies of the book will be provided in advance to those who wish to sign up for this discussion. Seats/copies are limited, so please contact Lisa Johnson as soon as possible if you are interested in participating ( or ext. 5724). The date for the discussion is Tuesday, June 25 from 2 – 4 p.m. in the Campus Life Center Ballroom.


What does diversity do? What are we doing when we use the language of diversity? Sara Ahmed offers an account of the diversity world based on interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education, as well as her own experience of doing diversity work.

Diversity is an ordinary, even unremarkable, feature of institutional life. Yet diversity practitioners often experience institutions as resistant to their work, as captured through their use of the metaphor of the “brick wall.” On Being Included offers an explanation of this apparent paradox. It explores the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and the experience of those who embody diversity. Commitments to diversity are understood as “non-performatives” that do not bring about what they name. The book provides an account of institutional whiteness and shows how racism can be obscured by the institutionalization of diversity. Diversity is used as evidence that institutions do not have a problem with racism. On Being Included offers a critique of what happens when diversity is offered as a solution. It also shows how diversity workers generate knowledge of institutions in attempting to transform them.

About the author

Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her books include The Cultural Politics of EmotionStrange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality; and Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism.