Diversity is a hugely complex topic. Richard Lewis, PhD, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Fine Arts at the University of Texas calls it "confusing and convoluted," and different people define it very differently. There is debate about what the primary and secondary dimensions are.

Political Correctness and Diversity

According to Lewis, many organizations took interest in diversity in the 1990s. Some of these efforts led only to political correctness which mistook the words being used by people for the attitudes they held. Thus, people might continue to be biased about some aspects of the primary dimension of diversity, but express them in the correct language.

Guion's Definition of the Primary Dimension of Diversity

According to Lisa A. Guion, EdD, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Outreach, and Engagement at North Carolina State University, the primary dimension is about things that cannot change, such as age, race, ethnicity and birth place, while the secondary is about things that can change, such as location and marital status.

Lewis' Definition of the Primary Dimension of Diversity

Lewis defines the primary dimension of diversity as "a physical or social difference in which society places extraordinary importance." He notes that the three chief components in America are race, ethnicity and gender, which all meet Guion's criterion of being things that cannot be changed. However, Lewis would not include such traits as birthplace in the primary dimension.

Diversity Education's Definition of the Primary Dimension

Penn State University offers a graphical definition of the primary and secondary dimensions of diversity. It classifies age, race, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities and sexual affection/orientation as the components of the primary dimension; and work background, marital status, income, education, parental status, location and religious beliefs as the second dimension.

Changes in the Primary Dimension of Diversity in the United States

Using either Guion's or Lewis' definition, America is undergoing rapid change in at least two components of the primary dimension of diversity: race and ethnicity. Per Lewis, in 1980, 81 percent of Americans were White, 11 percent were Black or African American, 6.5 percent were Hispanic or Latino, 1.5 percent were Asian, and 0.2 percent were Native American. By 2000, these had changed to 73.5, 11.5, 10.6, 3.7 and 0.7, respectively.