Everyday Political Whiteness and Diversity University


  • Mohan Ambikaipaker




There is a paradoxical situation in higher education today: the discourse around the concept of “diversity” has become widely institutionalized, but advocates of equality still struggle to operate within a broader and deeper racialized political and everyday cultural context that is hostile to their success. A besieged current climate for the hopes and projects of pluralism, social equality, peace, and justice imbues the higher education concept and discourse of diversity with an enhanced aura of progressive institutional value and perhaps even a residual locus of political hope.

The vast majority of academic workers would not, in the abstract principle, object to the general good of diversity and educational pluralism, even as ideological and political currents may differ. Daily encounters with students and face-to-face relationships, in teaching, mentoring, or advising situations, provide many regular opportunities to engage with the lived experiences of diversity but often within an antagonistic context, where hierarchical institutions routinely place inclusion and equality as subordinate priorities in relation to other values, goals, and projects.

As Sara Ahmed notes, “Diversity work is hard because it can involve doing within institutions what would not otherwise be done by them. . . . The social desire to institutionalize diversity does not mean the institution is opened up; indeed, the wall might become all the more apparent, all the more a sign of immobility, the more the institution presents itself as being opened up.” Diversity in higher education is therefore a moral and polemical concept that points to a tacit awareness and often grudging collective recognition, despite the prevailing political mood, that the university as it is currently configured is a place of injustice and inequality and in need of social change.