Divergent Diversities: Conflicting Meanings of "Race" in Higher Education

How do participants in academic colliquia, including professors, artists, and diversity professionals, express race and diversity in higher education after the college campus movements of the 1960s and 1970s?

This project answers that question by examining race-related speaker series, conferences, lectures, and other intellectual events at American colleges and universities. More specifically, it analyzes primary sources from the Ursinusiana Collection and The Chronicle of Higher Education to study whether or how participants in such scholastic events define race. Our reading of race is informed by the scholarship of academics such as Dorothy Roberts and Charles Mills, along with readings like The Black Campus Movement. Charles Mills defines racism as "a political system, a particular power structure of formal or informal rule, socioeconomic privilege, and norms for the differential distribution of material wealth and oppurtuniities" (The Racial Contract, 4). Dorothy Roberts shows the direct correlation between her definition of race and and Mills definition of racism when she states,"Like citizenship, race is a political system that governs people by sorting them into social groupings based on invented biolgical demarcations" (Fatal Invention, 4).

Ursinus College is our main focus, and we contextualize its intellectual life within broader national conversations about race on campus gleaned from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Ursinus events have centered a range of topics, such as creating a more diverse and inclusive curriculum to how racism operates in Norristown and Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Ursinus has also celebrated Black History Month to emphasize how African Americans have influenced history and changed Ursinus. The majority of primary sources included within this project are from after the campus movements of the 1960s and 1970s to present day 2021.

In most of the cases explored here, artists and scholars advocate for higher education curricula to be more inclusive of African Americans, Native Americans, women, and other non-white or non-male groups. These artists and scholars use race similar to how Roberts and Mills define it. In other cases, speakers leave race undefined or hazily explained. This absence of meaning and clarity is also applicable to individuals who speak out against concepts such as "diversity". 

Our group decided to focus on expressions of race in higer education because we wanted to learn how the definition of race, taught to us in AMST-200, compares to the definition of race given by scholars, artists, and students across the country. Throughout our research we have come across many well-educated scholars and professors leaving the terms race and diversity undefined and thus take their meanings for granted. 

This project would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Patricia Lott, Mr. Andrew Prock, and Ms. Carolyn Weigel. We thank them for their continous support.


Evan Coffey, Donia Ajaja, and Jaden Goldglantz