The Diversity Bargain

Natasha Warikoo, Harvard Graduate School of Education

How  can campus communities address race in ways that promote cross-racial dialog while also fully acknowledging racial inequality and its historical roots in the United States? In candid interviews with students at prestigious universities, Warikoo explores how tomorrow’s potential leaders conceptualize diversity, and how institutions can move them toward more productive and considerate understandings of racial difference.

As Warikoo illuminates in her SSN brief and recently released book, The Diversity Bargain: And Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities, many elite white students understand the value of diversity abstractly, but they ignore the real problems that racial inequality causes and that diversity programs are meant to solve; misunderstandings about institutional intentions are compounded by universities’ poor communication or refusal to engage deeply with these complex issues. The most troubling result of white ambivalence is what she calls the “diversity bargain,” in which white students reluctantly agree with affirmative action as long as it benefits them by providing a diverse learning environment. Meanwhile, popular media is currently saturated with talk about “safe spaces” (whether for minority students or students who supported Donald Trump) that often fails to include a recognition of real, material differences in resources between racial groups in the U.S., and the need to foster dialog across lines of difference.

Natasha Warikoo is Associate Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where she studies the relationships between education, racial and ethnic diversity, and cultural processes in schools and universities. Prior to her academic career, Warikoo was a teacher in New York City’s public schools for four years, spent time working at the U.S. Department of Education, and served as a fellow with the Teachers Network Leadership Institute.

January 2017