This paper investigates the ways in which the global spread of multicultural policies affects local ideas about race, inequality and diversity as evident in affirmative action policies in Brazilian universities. Our interviews with university administrators and university students indicate that, when implemented in Brazil, affirmative action acquired new meanings and predominantly class-based justifications. Such a transformation is illustrated by the idea of diversity, which acquired a different meaning to diversity discourses in the United States and international agencies. For administrators, the idea of diversity did not take racial groups for granted but was part of a broader, black consciousness-raising project. Students experienced diversity within the university environment, but often understood it as class, not racial, diversity.