Cloth: 978-0-226-40014-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-65107-1 | Electronic: 978-0-226-40028-0
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
What Warikoo uncovers—talking with both white students and students of color at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford—is absolutely illuminating; and some of it is positively shocking. As she shows, many elite white students understand the value of diversity abstractly, but they ignore the real problems that racial inequality causes and that diversity programs are meant to solve. They stand in fear of being labeled a racist, but they are quick to call foul should a diversity program appear at all to hamper their own chances for advancement. The most troubling result of this ambivalence is what she calls the “diversity bargain,” in which white students reluctantly agree with affirmative action as long as it benefits them by providing a diverse learning environment—racial diversity, in this way, is a commodity, a selling point on a brochure. And as Warikoo shows, universities play a big part in creating these situations. The way they talk about race on campus and the kinds of diversity programs they offer have a huge impact on student attitudes, shaping them either toward ambivalence or, in better cases, toward more productive and considerate understandings of racial difference.
Ultimately, this book demonstrates just how slippery the notions of race, merit, and privilege can be. In doing so, it asks important questions not just about college admissions but what the elite students who have succeeded at it—who will be the world’s future leaders—will do with the social inequalities of the wider world.
"If evidence were needed that tomorrow’s leaders do not enter college with the racial knowledge they need to guide the United States and United Kingdom through a turbulent time in our racial histories, The Diversity Bargain provides it. The book shows that white nationalism is not required to protect systems of white supremacy in ostensibly democratic societies. All it takes is leaders turning a blind eye to the pervasiveness of antidemocratic frames that quietly reinforce racial hierarchies."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This introduction begins by tracing the history and development of the author’s understandings of race and meritocracy. It explains that conceptions of merit in the United States are deeply tied to conceptions of race, especially with respect to affirmative action. The key question this book asks is, how do students make sense of a system of reward that is wildly unequal in its distribution of rewards, yet has rewarded them through a very selective process? The book makes multiple comparisons: British students at Oxford University compared to US Ivy League students; students attending Brown University versus Harvard University; and students of different racial backgrounds. The conceptions of race and merit students develop in college are likely to endure, and the views of students attending elite universities are especially important because many students will go on to hold key leadership positions in society in the future.
1 Beliefs about Meritocracy and Race
[Higher education;Meritocracy;Diversity;Race;Elites;Affirmative action;Britain;Admissions;Harvard;Oxford]
Chapter 1 begins by tracing the history of conceptions of merit. It explains how conceptions of merit in admissions have shifted over time, to meet a variety of institutional goals. When systems based on a notion of meritocracy have become widely perceived to favor particular groups and to block access for the disadvantaged, education systems have employed various strategies to legitimate meritocracy. Chapter 1 also outlines the history of affirmative action in college admissions in the United States, and the history of efforts to expand access to higher education in Britain. This section includes a discussion of the contrasting British and American conceptions of the role of elite higher education in society. After the historical discussion, this chapter explains how elite British and American universities admit undergraduates today. Finally, the chapter discusses the research that is the basis of this book: 143 in-depth interviews with undergraduates at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford. The chapter ends with an outline of the book.
2 Making Sense of Race
[Race frames;Racial inequality;Color-blindedness;Diversity;Culture of poverty;Harvard University;Brown University]
Chapter 2 highlights American students’ understandings of the role that race plays in society—their race frames. A color-blind frame assumes that race does not and should not play a role in society. Many white and Asian American students brought a color-blind frame with them to college. Almost all American students, across race lines, held a diversity frame, viewing race as a cultural identity that shapes individuals’ worldviews and cultural practices in positive ways. The college experience emphasized the diversity frame for many. About half of black and Latino students, as well as a small number of white students, expressed a power analysis frame, viewing the significance of race in society according to unequal power relations between groups. Finally, a small number of white and Asian American students expressed a culture of poverty frame, which suggests that minority disadvantage stems from cultural characteristics such as a lack of a strong work ethic or a disregard for marriage. Students often employed multiple race frames, using them in response to different interview questions and in different situations. These frames are the building blocks for students’ conceptions of merit, addressed in subsequent chapters.
3 The University Influence
[Race frames;Color-blindedness;Diversity;Racism;Harvard University;Brown University;Higher education;Culture]
Chapter 3 highlights differences in the campus experience for Harvard and Brown students. It begins by highlighting the similar institutional supports for diversity on both campuses, and on other similar campuses. Then, it outlines Brown’s history of institutional support for a power analysis frame, along with student perspectives on those institutional supports. Most students who engaged significantly with Brown’s Third World Center (now Brown Center for Students of Color) and the Third World Transition Program report deep, important shifts in their worldviews, and a strong understanding of the historical underpinnings of racial inequality in the United States. In contrast, non-participants—especially those who are white—expressed ambivalence and criticism for those supports, claiming they divide the campus. At Harvard, institutional supports emphasize a diversity frame, including cross-racial connections and multicultural performances. Most students appreciate these supports, yet those engaged were less likely to articulate a strong understanding of contemporary racial inequality and its roots. The chapter concludes by arguing for universities to address both cross-racial dialogue and developing an understanding of racial inequality.
4 Merit and the Diversity Bargain
[Diversity bargain;Diversity;Race;College admissions;Affirmative action;Meritocracy;Higher education;Admissions;Elites;Harvard]
Chapter 4 highlights American students’ conceptions of merit in admissions. Overall, students seemed to reproduce the criteria for merit and the language justifying it that they heard from their universities. Students thought admissions officers should calibrate evaluations of merit and also consider the collective merit of the cohort—that is, how an applicant would contribute to the cohort’s diversity. The consideration of collective merit as the justification for affirmative action led many white students to express a diversity bargain. That is, they supported affirmative action in as much as it benefitted themselves, by bringing diverse perspectives to campus. This meant that they expected their black and Latino peers to integrate at all times, in order to maintain their part of the diversity bargain, and they bristled when they saw groups of black and Latino students together or joining race-based campus organizations. The diversity bargain led many white students to express a reverse discrimination script, fearing affirmative action going “too far” and preventing them from opportunities, again contravening the justification of affirmative action as for their own benefit. Black and Latino students, however, did not buy into the diversity bargain.
5 The Moral Imperatives of Diversity
[Race;Racism;Moral worth;Political correctness;Harvard University;Brown University;Culture]
Chapter 5 highlights the tensions related to race and inter-racial interactions on the elite American college campus, due in part to students’ race frames and the diversity bargain. White students fear the moral judgment “That’s racist,” while students of color are anxious about how they will be treated by whites, based on experiences of racism in the past. This chapter also discusses students’ perspectives on “political correctness.” When making sense of political correctness, most students weighed their desire not to offend with their desire for inter-racial dialogue.
6 Race Frames and Merit at Oxford
[Meritocracy;Diversity;Britain;Oxford University;Race;Race frames;Color-blindedness;College admissions;Elites]
Chapter 6 turns to race frames and conceptions of merit among students at Oxford University. It begins with a discussion of British multiculturalism and higher education. Elite universities in Britain do not have the same institutionalized supports for diversity and for minority students as exist on most elite colleges in the United States. As a result, many Oxford students employed a color-blind frame, but the diversity frame was much less common in Britain compared to the US. The culture of poverty frame was more common in Britain. Many British students did not articulate any race frame--the overall time students had spent thinking about race and racial inequality was much lower than for American students. For many, the dominant color-blind frame coincided with disagreement with any consideration of background in university admissions. Most Oxford students advocated for individualized evaluations of merit that did not take into consideration the applicant’s family or school background. This was true of white and minority students alike. Overall, like students in the United States, students in Britain were deeply embedded in their universities’ cultures, both past and present, and reproduced the admissions criteria of their university.
7 Race, Racism, and “Playing the Race Card” at Oxford
[Race;Racism;Oxford University;Britain;Political correctness]
Chapter 7 illuminates how race shapes campus life at Oxford. Many white British students saw tolerance and multiculturalism as endemic to their British identities, and consequently rejected accusations of racism. Still, many minority students at Oxford reported experiences with blatant racism. Both minority and white students on the Oxford campus rejected the notion of “political correctness” for going “too far”—that is, for seemingly absurd recommendations. Relatedly, many white British students defended race-related humor as acceptable, despite some minority students reporting a lack of space to criticize those jokes. Overall, many Oxford students were quite blunt in discussing racial differences and inequality, not fearing the moral judgment of “that’s racist” as many students did in the United States. White Britons felt free to define the limits of offense and morality related to race. The result is a lack of a forum to address issues of race and racism on the Oxford campus.
[Higher education;Meritocracy;Diversity;Race;Elites;Affirmative action;Britain;Admissions;Harvard University;Oxford University]
This concluding chapter highlights key findings from the book and brings them together. Students in both the United States and Britain espouse perspectives on admissions that legitimate their own status as winners of a highly competitive admissions contest. The problem with this understanding of the admissions process is that it blinds students to the numerous sources of inequality in admissions. It argues that being an inclusive democracy requires a rethinking of conceptions of race and merit. This could be done by first defining the goals of meritocratic processes such as elite college admissions. Second, it argues that affirmative action should rest on an argument about redress rather than diversity. Third, college campuses should address race in ways that go beyond the diversity frame, emphasizing the production of racial inequality in the United States, past and present. Finally, the conclusion argues that it is important to recognize that meritocracy is never complete—that is, complete equity of opportunity is not possible, and hence it is important to also pay attention to the needs of those unsuccessful in meritocratic processes.