Openness to Diversity and the Maintenance of Distinction in Elite Higher Education: The Case of Muslim Students

Sociologists generally agree that contemporary American elites distinguish themselves not through exclusive institutions and tastes but by claiming superior social and cultural openness. This article employs a case study of Muslim students at an elite university to investigate the consequences of that discourse of openness for minorities in elite higher education. Drawing on content analysis of archival sources, I show how the university constructed openness to social and cultural diversity as a prized virtue that distinguished its students and prepared them for national and global leadership. My analysis of observations and interviews with Muslim students on campus, however, unmasks how the discourse of openness implicitly demands that minorities enact social and cultural “difference” for the benefit of dominant groups, thereby reinforcing the former’s symbolic segregation. This advances our understanding of how elite institutions reproduce status distinctions in the midst of democratic demands for inclusivity.