A Glass Half Full or Half Empty? A Comparison of Diversity Statements among Russell Group v. US Research Universities

By Kathleen K. OMara and Elizabeth Morrish.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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The term diversity is ubiquitous in university mission statements, strategic plans, recruitment brochures, and university websites. This paper argues aims to compare university diversity statements from US Research Tier 1 universities with those from the elite UK Russell group universities
In order to compare the language of diversity, we have used the techniques of corpus linguistics. A corpus is an electronic collection of sample texts which can then be processed by software, in this case the Oxford Wordsmith Tools (Scott 1996) package. This enables a corpus to be searched for frequent words, concordances (the linguistic environment of target words), and collocations (the company that those words keep).
The resulting analysis suggests that there are differences between US and UK diversity statements, significant enough that they cannot be said to conform to the same ‘genre’. There is overall similarity in terms of vocabulary choice and of grammatical structures used (nominalizations, modalities etc), however, the UK Russell group diversity statements display a modality position of certainty, which resonates with the noun commitment. In contrast, US Research university diversity statements are formulated more as aspirations, and focus on benefit to the community, but claim a less certain outcome. Diversity is seen as ‘a good thing’ and signified by multiple linguistic markers of appreciation.
The word frequency analysis of the diversity statements suggests that they are largely made up of semantically vague lexical items – Strategically Deployable Shifters - which contribute little to the overall meanings of the statements. These words, e.g. excellence, diversity, respect, even equality are multi-functional, polysemic abstractions which invoke fair play.
Discursively embracing diversity commits institutions to recognizing little difference, and certainly not to institutional or structural change, rather diversity is seen as the property of individuals, and is congruent with the project of the neoliberal university.

Keywords: Diversity, Equity, Community, Commitment, Corpus Analysis, Mission Statements, Minoritized, Strategically Deployable Shifters

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp.243-260. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 687.386KB).

Dr. Kathleen K. OMara

Chair, Africana & Latino Studies Department, Science and Social Science Division, , State university of New York, State University of New York, Oneonta, NY, USA

Professor of History and Africana Studies, Kathleen O’Mara’s primary research areas are Western and Northern Africa, especially urban history, gender and sexuality. Her current project is a history of Tema, Ghana and the emergence of new social networks and communities in greater Accra. She also has researched and published on US LGBTQ campus organizations, and other aspects of contemporary academic life including diversity, affirmative action, women’s academic leadership and marketization.

Dr. Elizabeth Morrish

Principal Lecturer, Communications, Culture, Media Studies, School of Humanities, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, England, UK

Dr. Liz Morrish who possesses a PhD in Phonetics from Leeds University is subject head of linguistics at Nottingham Trent University, UK. She is active in research in linguistics and queer theory and co-authored with Helen Sauntson New Perspectives on Language and Sexual Identity (Palgrave, 2007.She also manages the blog Resisting the Neoliberal Academy.


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