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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Ezekiel Kimball

Second Advisor

Katherine Hudson

Third Advisor

Svati Shah

Subject Categories

Higher Education


Institutions of higher education are tasked with grappling with their long histories of exclusion and inequality. As more members of historically marginalized groups gain access to higher education, colleges and universities strive to create more equitable environments within their walls and to produce equity-minded democratic citizens. These institutions turn to policy to help them achieve these ends. These policies often emphasize diversity—a multivalent concept that often simply means difference, but also serves as a stand-in for the policy performances produced by institutions as they attempt create equitable and just campuses. Diversity’s multivocality inspires the main question that this study answers: What are we talking about when we talk about diversity? In answering this question, this study grapples with the tension between the perceived inefficacy and insufficiency of diversity and equity policy and its continued use and importance by focusing on language. Using policy discourse analysis, a poststructuralism-inspired research methodology, this dissertation explores discourses about diversity and their place in the institutional culture at one public, research university in the northeastern United States. Documents analyzed include institutional policies, strategic plans, and other official documents, such as union contracts. This study found that certain images, problems, and solutions related to diversity function discursively to create a Diverse Other. This study also identified the following discourses that shape diversity rhetoric, diversity work, and perceptions of the Diverse Other: a) the discourse of access; b) the discourse of institutional citizenship; c) the discourse of appropriation; and d) the discourse of bureaucracy. Taken together, these findings suggest that diversity work is widespread, but superficially embedded, in the institutional culture of the institution in question. This study also suggests that the institution engages in complex non-performative gestures that display a commitment to diversity, but ultimately undermine the concept’s transformative possibilities. Additionally, implications for research, policy, and practice are discussed.