In this paper we bring together the literatures on frame analysis, the meaning of race and campus racial climate to analyse the race frames – lenses through which individuals understand the role of race in society – held by white students attending elite US universities. For most, the elite university experience coincides with a strengthening or emergence of the diversity frame, which emphasizes the positive benefits of cultural diversity. Still, many also hold a colour-blind frame, which sees race groups as equivalent and racial identities as insignificant. We highlight the ambivalence that these divergent frames create for student perspectives on affirmative action and interracial contact on campus. Our findings demonstrate the mutability of race frames. We also highlight the impact that institutions may have on individuals’ race frames. The paper is based on in-depth interviews with forty-seven US-born white undergraduates attending Brown University and Harvard University.