Interest Convergence and Diversity Programs

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Many times, diversity-related gains in society are hailed as evidence of more inclusive attitudes. Consider, for example, universities’ efforts to diversify the student body. A common narrative is that states, administrators, and faculty see the ethical obligation and value of ensuring all people have access to higher education.

The principle of interest convergence offers another point of view. The late Derrick Bell, a Harvard professor, first advanced this position. He suggested that racial minorities’ opportunities will only improve when their interests converge with those of Whites. Put another way, diversity gains are most likely to materialize when they are in the best interest of those who have traditionally held power.

This perspective has been used to critically examine several major diversity moments in history, such as the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision, or Brooklyn Dodgers’ signing of Jackie Robinson.

Recently, David Shih, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, examined college diversity programs through an interest convergence lens.

He suggests universities likely pursue diversity programs because it helps them. National rankings and the ability to attract top scholars are frequently associated with having diverse campuses. Further, students learn more when they are around people who are different from them. Given that most college students are White, their interests—that is, more learning—are enhanced when universities are more diverse.

Shih notes that interest convergence is not without its critics. Further, there are multiple ways one can examine diversity-related phenomena. He correctly notes, however, that “so much depends on our capacity to be open to the idea.” It is in that openness that growth can occur.