Title: Deconstructing meanings of diversity in university spaces 

Author(s): Rachel Jones 

Affiliations: College of Health and BiomedicinePsychology DisciplineVictoria University 

Citation/publication/thesis detailsSubmitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) 

About the Project

“Well, I’m not Australian, so I think I fit into that diverse category.” (Nina, 22) 

Locally contextualised within a university located within Melbourne’s inner west, Victoria University serves as a microcosm of some of the most culturally diverse populations in Melbourne, Australia. Victoria University claims itself as “one of the most culturally diverse universities in Australia” (Victoria University, 2018, p. 6), with students and staff representing over 90 countries and speaking over 200 languages, the university has a strong emphasis on celebrating and encouraging diversity. This research examined how a diverse group of students, reflect on the spaces they occupy, apply meaning and negotiate their spaces. The current study will examine the following research questions:  

  1. How do students, including those from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, interpret and give meaning to diversity within shared university spaces?
  2. What are the implications of these meanings on experiences of belonging at university? 

Why is this Important?

Diversity explains the racial status quo in two ways. First, framing exclusion as the cause of racial inequity and fair representation as the solution. This is accomplished through the visible representation of non-majority members across a range of axes of marginalisation. Secondly, diversity ideology protects Whites and Whiteness from racial inequality both psychologically and materially (DiAngelo, 2018). While Australia has a history of colonialism and a dominant White group, the cultural, social and racial landscape greatly differs. How Australians and those that live in Australia construct boundaries, attribute meanings and engage with diversity is still lacking in the literature 

Key Findings 

The current study showed that there is a disconnect between the diversity work being done within university spaces, and how it is engaged with by students. Cultural events were seen to showcase non-dominant cultures, posters displaying of members of minority groups were perceived as tokenistic and diversity was imagined as a marketing tool for the university to increase profits through international students’ higher fees 

It was found that understandings and attitudes to diversity are highly variable and through processes of commodification of difference and practices of othering, the ultimate function of white normativity and diversity was the reproduction of social hierarchies. While the idea of diversity as a goal for inclusion and tolerance is commendable and should be worked towards, the current state that it is in, is barely more than “conservative” or “corporate” multiculturalism (Giroux, 1992; McLaren, 1997) 

Community Psychology perspectives

Looking at diversity from perspectives of critical community psychology, critical whiteness and critical race, discourse analysis methodologies provided appropriate tools to examine the ideologies and social positionings that impact how individuals apply meaning and negotiate diversity in everyday settings, as well as its effect on psychosocial factors such as inclusion, identity and belonging. 

Implications for Research and Evaluation

This research is important as it highlights tensions and problems within current institutional diversity policy and practice, and suggests that to increase student belonging, there needs to increased engagement with students so they do not feel that their cultural and ethnic identities are being used for show.