Theses Doctoral

“Diversity”, Inequality, and Elite Education: A Genealogy of “Diversity” Discourse in U.S. Independent Schools

Greene, Andrew Charles

The past 45 years have witnessed unprecedented growth in social and economic inequality in the U.S. Much has been studied regarding the economic, sociological, and educational conditions that have led to increasing inequality, but it has mainly focused on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Recently there has been an increase in research on elites, but one area that has remained relatively understudied is the private, independent school industry.

Since the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s, most of the 1,600 independent schools in the U.S. have attempted to become accessible to more students, mainly by admitting growing numbers of students of color. However, over the last 20 years financial aid relative to school revenue has remained essentially flat, suggesting that “diversity” in independent schools has taken on a particular meaning. This study traces the history of “diversity” and interrogates why “diversity” is a problem worth addressing, how it has been conceived at different times, and what doing so has accomplished for independent schools. Previous literature has relied on Marxist and Bourdieusian structuralist theories to describe the mechanisms of social reproduction in elite schools. Instead, this study employs a Foucauldian framework and discourse analysis to examine the primary industry journal, Independent School, to construct a genealogy of “diversity” discourse since 1976. This approach endeavors to broaden the theoretical perspectives of elite research and reconceptualize independent schools’ role in perpetuating inequities in the U.S.

The study finds six distinctive eras of “diversity” discourse within these 45 years, each with its own “diverse” subjectivities. “Diversity” has functioned in two primary modes corresponding to different regimes of truth. The first that spans 1976 to 1998 appreciates “diversity” as a matter of threat that must first be neutralized and then can be harnessed for the benefits of elites. In the second period (1999 to 2021) “diversity” transitions to a series of actions and skills that elites can equip themselves with to better their chances of success in their futures as societal leaders. The implications extend from there that by producing conceptions of “diversity” like these, particularly as matters of race, sexual orientation, and gender, (and not socioeconomic status) the institutional apparatus maintains a moral façade and obscures the role it plays in maintaining social stratification in the U.S.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Friedrich, Dani
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2023