Communication ETDs


Hannah Oliha

Publication Date



The demographic changes in the U.S. and the contestation of taken-for-granted social dynamics are breeding fragmentation and discursive struggles over individual, group, institutional and national identities. Questions of who fits into the category of "American," who should be included in U.S. institutions, and the boundaries for their inclusion have taken center stage in this 21st century moment. Unsurprisingly, the word "diversity" has taken on epic proportions and is now the channel for engaging in these conversations centered on issues of equity, inclusion and difference. This dissertation explores the multiple ways diversity is viewed in one U.S. institution, higher education, to understand how different views of diversity are grounded in the standpoints of different socially embedded actors, while also affecting institutional practice and the larger social order. The data for this dissertation emerged through interviews with administrators, faculty and students at the University of New Mexico and the University of Minnesota. Grounded in standpoint theory and critical discourse analysis, this dissertation explores multiple discourses of diversity, the social practices they reflect, and the ideological assumptions they encourage. These ideological assumptions implicate issues of agency. Five diversity discourses emerged, representing different subject positions: (1) extreme pluralism; (2) thinking through practical and institutional constraints; (3) diversity "work" offers socio-political currency; (4) diversity is embodied and has material consequences; and (5) diversity requires collective advocacy for change. Interviewees also discussed social practices regarding diversity by critiquing practices that reinforce ongoing inequities, those that reify the status quo, and finally, practices that encourage assimilation. Additionally, interviewees called for practices that recognize intersecting identities and oppressions. The interviews also demonstrate how dominant diversity discourses may engender individual and "goodwill" meritocracy, the notion that the marginalized must be the primary change agents of oppressive social structures and the idea that racial and ethnic minorities must "play the game" to be successful in U.S. institutions. This dissertation makes the following contribution: it elucidates how diversity is understood and operationalized differently by social actors. Therefore, to fully realize the promise of a democratic and diverse society, different views of diversity must be understood to comprehend their impact on individual and group agency, and institutional and social practices. Finally the data suggest that views of diversity must be analyzed critically to understand how they may be challenging and/or reifying problematic social structures driven by a monocultural ethnoracial Eurovision. As institutions continue to face challenges related to the inclusion of historically underrepresented voices in the context of a diverse society espousing the ideals of equity and justice, this study posits that there will be a greater need to understand the multiple discourses of diversity that exist and how those discourses affect institutional practice and the success of differently positioned groups and subjects.




Diversity, Discourse, Equity, Inclusion

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Collier, Mary Jane

First Committee Member (Chair)

Coleman, Finnie

Second Committee Member

Rodriguez, Illia

Third Committee Member

Schuetz, Janet