Ellen Berrey, University of Denver

Lecture title:

The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice at the University of Michigan


Ellen Berrey, University of Denver

Speaker(s) Web Pages:

Semester: Winter 2016

Date: Friday, March 25, 2016

Time: 1:30 - 3:00 PM

Venue: Room R1240, Ross School of Business

Additional Notes:


Diversity has become a hallowed American value, from corporate HR training to the Supreme Court. This is a remarkable change from the U.S. Civil Rights era—but does this public commitment to diversity constitute a civil rights victory? Ellen Berrey discusses her recent book, The Enigma of Diversity, which examines what diversity means in contemporary American organizational settings and what is accomplished by efforts to support it. Drawing on six years of fieldwork and extensive historical sources, her work investigates three case studies of diversity politics; this talk will focus on the legal conflicts and organizational politics around the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in admissions. Berrey finds that diversity has complicated, even troubling meanings as different groups invoke it for competing, often symbolic ends. The movement for diversity affirms inclusiveness, especially in the most coveted jobs and colleges. Yet it resists fundamental change in the practices and cultures that are the foundation of American social inequality. This has led racial progress itself to be reimagined, transformed from a legal fight for fundamental rights to an organizational celebration of the competitive advantages afforded by cultural differences. As she demonstrates, the public embrace of diversity has come at a cost: the taming of demands for racial justice.

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