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December 10, 2021

scrabble tiles spell out equity

A primary function of the Office of Inclusive Community is to promote the use of equity-mindedness throughout all facets of higher education and workplace policies, practices, procedures, curriculum, norms, etc. We want all of our faculty and staff to view their work through an equity-mindset in order to advance diversity and inclusion. So what is equity-mindedness? Well, first you need to understand what equity is. The Center for Urban Education provides a great series of illustrations to define equity. The graphics explain equity and inequity based on the student experience, but you can generalize their explanation to the faculty and staff experience as well.

Imagine an equal world in which we attempt to treat all people equally.

Most of us like to think we live in a world where if we treat all people equally, they will have the opportunity to succeed. If we all just work hard, we will have everything we need to succeed.

The problem with that imagining is, the world isn't equal

But the world isn’t equal, because individuals are born into varying sets of circumstances with varying privileges. Person 1 may be born into a family that is middle class, while Person 2 is born into a family that is lower socioeconomic class. Through no doing of their own, Person 1 has built-in privileges that Person 2 does not. The circumstances one is born into creates unequal pathways to success in which some must work much harder than others to achieve upward mobility.

In fact, the world is inherently biased, making it much more difficult for some people to achieve upward mobility because not only were they born into a not ideal circumstances, they were also born into a marginalized or minoritized community.

Bias and systemic oppression further decrease opportunity and access for minoritized and marginalized communities, breaking down their already unequal pathways to success and creating more work for them to achieve upward mobility.

Remember Person 2 from the previous scenario? Person 2 was born into a lower socioeconomic class. Say Person 2 also identifies as an underrepresented minority. As a result, Person 2 faces additional barriers to success and upward social mobility on top of the difficulties associated with living in a lower socioeconomic class.

When we try to make our institutions more diverse without first making them inclusive and accessible, we bring people from specific minoritized communities into a world in which they may not feel a sense of belonging and they may not be equipped to succeed.

As we work to increase diversity in our institutions, we cannot forget to implement equity and inclusion. After all, our institutions have been built in such a way as to work best for a very narrow population.

What we need to do is reflect on our policies and practices, our systems, values and norms, so we can ensure the equip those individuals from marginalized and minoritized communities to advance and feel a sense of belonging.

An equitable institution will examine resource distribution to ensure those resources are allocated to the communities who have the greatest need. They will provide extra support to those communities who have been served least well by existing systems. They will rethink how they define and apply processes and policies to ensure they don’t perpetuate the exclusion of underrepresented minority groups.

Watch the following video to gain an even better understanding of how inequity is built into systems and institutions.

Now that we have a better understanding of equity, let’s go over equity-mindedness. Equity-minded individuals examine unequal outcomes… unequal outcomes in student persistence, student grades, graduation rates, faculty and staff retention, faculty and staff advancement, etc. Equity-minded individuals look at these unequal outcomes to identify patterns based on race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, and other facets of self-identity. For example, a course text that uses a derogatory homophobic slur may cause specific students to disconnect and stop engaging in the class, resulting in lower grades. As the instructor, are you positive you would notice this change in behavior? Would you automatically attribute those lower grades to assumed stereotypes (which are often false) based in the student’s identity? Would you consider whether or not that student may be affected by the course text as a result of their identity? Would you continue to use that text? Would you provide a trigger warning before using that text to prepare your students for any potential discomfort or post-traumatic stress?

 Estela Mara Bensimon, Alicia C. Dowd and Keith Witham explain equity-mindedness best in their article, Five Principles for Enacting Equity by Design.

“Equity-minded individuals are aware of the sociohistorical context of exclusionary practices and racism in higher education and the impact of power asymmetries on opportunities and outcomes, particularly for African Americans and Latinas/os. Equity-minded individuals are:

  • Color-conscious (as opposed to color-blind) in a critical sense. Being color-conscious means noticing and questioning patterns of educational outcomes that reveal unexplainable differences in outcomes for minoritized students (Gillborn 2005); it means viewing inequalities in the context of a history of exclusion, discrimination, and educational apartheid. 
  • Aware that beliefs, expectations, and practices assumed to be neutral can have outcomes that are racially disadvantageous. Racial disadvantage is created when unequal outcomes are attributed to students’ cultural predispositions or when practices are based on stereotypical assumptions about the capacity, aspirations, or motives of minoritized populations (Bensimon 2012). 
  • Willing to assume responsibility for the elimination of inequality. Rather than viewing inequalities as a natural catastrophe (Coates 2015), equity-minded individuals allow for the possibility that inequalities might be created or exacerbated by taken-for-granted practices and policies, inadequate knowledge, a lack of cultural know-how, or the absence of institutional support—all of which can be changed. 
  • Aware that while racism is not always overt, racialized patterns nevertheless permeate policies and practices in higher education institutions. When policies have a disproportionate impact on students of color, they have the effect of maintaining racial hierarchies.”

I challenge us all at the University of Central Oklahoma to really understand and embody equity-mindedness and become equity practitioners. Let’s systematically review our policies, procedures, and curriculum for potential barriers and exclusionary practices that hinder the success of those students, faculty, and staff who belong to minoritized or marginalized communities. Let’s work to remove those barriers and advance inclusive excellence. Let’s constantly examine our assumptions and identify our blind spots. Let’s be lifelong learners who study the social histories of those minoritized and marginalized communities in an effort to increase our understanding and empathy.

Are you with me?