Diversity and equality: an ambiguous relationship ; reflections on the US case law on affirmative action in higher education
The concept of diversity has become increasingly salient in equality discourse. In the EU and in many of its member states, the term ‘diversity’ is now often used in place of ‘equality’ by advocates of voluntarist antidiscrimination policies. This trend echoes a phenomenon observable in the United States, where the notion of diversity has acquired a major place in discussions over affirmative action. Interestingly, the US Supreme Court has played an important role in this evolution: ‘promotion of diversity’ has progressively become almost the sole justification admitted for affirmative action programmes in higher education. This paper critically explores the use of diversity argument in US legal discourse on antidiscrimination. It argues that while the notion of diversity may valuably contribute to the promotion of equal opportunities, it is not without ambiguities. A first ambiguity results from the vagueness of the term “diversity.” Considered in the abstract, it may encompass all kind of differences and particularities. Absent further explanation, it is not self-evident that “achieving diversity” requires a special focus on disadvantaged racial or ethnic minorities. The second ambiguity lies with the fact that the diversity argument, as constructed in the US case law, tends to justify efforts to promote the inclusion of disadvantaged groups on the basis of its utility for the dominant majority. This line of argument may obfuscate more principled justifications and makes equality discourse more vulnerable to attacks based on claims that combating discrimination is in fact not “efficient” and thus not in the interest of the dominant majority.