A glass half full or half empty?: A comparison of diversity statements among Russell group UK vs US Research universities

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O'Mara, K ; Morrish, L (2010)
  • Publisher: The Diversity Collection; Common Ground Publishing

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 ofvocabulary 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 ofsemantically 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.
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