Diversity is largely accepted as a positive value in American society. Nevertheless, policies to encourage diversity, e.g. affirmative action, language policies and legalising illegal immigrants, are still largely disputed, and often understood as having contradictory and largely negative consequences. The implementation of diversity is still seen as a threat to meritocracy, national cohesion, and democracy. This paper analyses how excellence and diversity are discussed in two academic decision-making processes: admission at two elite public universities and the distribution of competitive research fellowships. We argue that excellence and diversity are not alternative but additive considerations in the allocation of resources. The administrators and academics we studied factor diversity in as an additional consideration when decisions are to be made between applicants of roughly equal standing.