DU is in its second year of participating in the Institutional Change (IChange) Network, part of Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty. IChange focuses on building capacity among current and future institutional leaders to improve how institutions look, act, and feel for faculty from underrepresented groups. Year two focuses on engaging campus in an inclusive-planning process. To engage the campus in a process of continuous learning, the DU IChange leadership team is planning events, including collaborations with DU-MERISTEM,.
To support this work, we share the six “Equity-Minded Action Planning Principles” that inform IChange and will be central for Spring quarter engagements with campus stakeholders. (Hat tip to Morgridge College of Education’s Chair and Professor of Higher Education, D-L Stewart. Principle 5 engages Dr. Stewart’s scholarship).
Principle 1: Clarity in language, goals, and measures is vital to effective equitable practices.
Clarity in language. “Inequality in higher education is a structural problem that is hidden or revealed through the use of language imbued with political and social meaning. Language conveys how individuals, alone and in the company of others, give meaning to numeric patterns; how they talk about race without talking about it (Pollock, 2004); how they shape the reality of racial inequity. Language reflects culturally acquired knowledge that forms the schemas of practitioners, leaders, policymakers, and others whose actions can make—or unmake—the antiracism project in higher education” (Bensimon et al., 2016).
Clarity in goals and measures. “Quantitative data are typically not available in user-friendly formats, and individuals who do not routinely work with data may struggle to use them. This can pose an obstacle to the goal of developing clear goals and measures. Practitioners who are unaccustomed to using data—the majority of faculty, staff, and administrators—often feel overwhelmed by long data reports. Worse, they may be too embarrassed to admit that they can’t see a “story” in the percentages and numbers” (Bensimon et al., 2016).
Principle 2: “Equity-mindedness” should be the guiding paradigm for language and action.
“An equity-minded approach raises consciousness of the need to consider equity in connection with historical and political understandings of stratification…
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 faculty of color, they have the effect of maintaining racial hierarchies.
Principle 3: Equitable practice and policies are designed to accommodate differences in the contexts and content of faculty work—not to treat all faculty the same.
“’Rather, [equity-focused] policies and practices in higher education recognize and accommodate differences in [faculty’s] aspirations, life circumstances, ways of engaging… and participating in college [life]… (Witham et al., 2015b, p. 31)’” (Bensimon et al., 2016).
Principle 4: Enacting equity requires a continual process of learning, disaggregating data, and questioning assumptions about relevance and effectiveness.
“While disaggregated data are necessary to identify and prioritize problems, disaggregated data alone are insufficient to attain equity-focused change. What matters is how practitioners interpret the data. Do they interpret racialized inequities as a symptom of [faculty] deficiencies or as an indication of failed practices? The interpretive lenses through which [administrators] make sense of data are far more consequential than the collection of the data itself” (Bensimon et al., 2016).
Principle 5: Equity must be enacted as a pervasive institution- and system-wide principle.
- Let go of traditional schemata. Solutions are shaped by the way problems are defined, and by the questions we ask ourselves.
- Understand the difference between horizontal and vertical equity. “The standard of horizontal equity asserts that those with equal needs deserve equal educational resources. Vertical equity, which is more often contested, states that those with greater needs should receive greater resources (Dowd & Bensimon, 2015, pp. 10–11)” (Bensimon et al., 2016).
- Learn to make the pursuit of equity a normal practice. That inclusion should be “evident in how problems and solutions are defined, implemented, and evaluated. Leaders, administrators, staff, and trustees must demonstrate equity-mindedness through language, reasoning, and action” (Bensimon et al., 2016)
Drawn from writing by D-L Stewart (2017), these question pairs, set in dialogue with each other, may be useful to return to regularly as you consider each phase of the action planning process, to reframe the questions you ask, understanding equity for whom, and to incorporate as a regular part of your practice. The questions prompt consideration of both the how of the work—who needs not only to be at the decision-making table, but should direct and shape the table—and pushes towards potentially transformative work by indicating the differences between the kinds of questions asked during this work.
|Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?”||Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”|
|Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?”||Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”|
|Diversity asks, “How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?”||Equity responds, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?”|
|Inclusion asks, “Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?”||Justice challenges, “Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?”|
|Diversity asks, “Isn’t it separatist to provide funding for safe spaces and separate student centers?”||Equity answers, “What are people experiencing on campus that they don’t feel safe when isolated and separated from others like themselves?”|
|Inclusion asks, “Wouldn’t it be a great program to have a panel debate Black Lives Matter? We had a Black Lives Matter activist here last semester, so this semester we should invite someone from the alt-right.”||Justice answers, “Why would we allow the humanity and dignity of people or our students to be the subject of debate or the target of harassment and hate speech?”|
|Diversity celebrates increases in numbers that still reflect minoritized status on campus and incremental growth.||Equity celebrates reductions in harm, revisions to abusive systems and increases in supports for people’s life chances as reported by those who have been targeted.|
|Inclusion celebrates awards for initiatives and credits itself for having a diverse candidate pool.||Justice celebrates getting rid of practices and policies that were having disparate impacts on minoritized groups.|
Principle 6: Change efforts in pursuit of equity must be grounded in a relational, coalitional approach.
In adapting Bensimon et al.’s (2016) five principles for enacting equity by design, IChange believes a sixth principle is essential. This work should be done in collaboration, consultation, and coordination with the communities most affected by the inequitable practices and policies that are being changed. How we identify the solutions we seek to enact is just as important as what those solutions are. Understanding how each individual’s cultural background may serve as a lens for asking questions, engaging in meaning-making, and identifying potential solutions is key. An equitable action-planning process would create space that acknowledges these different backgrounds and remains open to various points of view and paths forward. In fact, we believe this sixth principle operates in the background and in conjunction with the other five.
Aspire’s Inclusive Professional Framework is an equity mindset that is relational at its foundation: “This research-grounded framework identifies three transferable conceptual domains that are foundational to [leaders] being equitable and inclusive across the multiple student-focused roles of instructor, advisor and research mentor, as well as institution-focused roles of colleague and leader. These conceptual domains are:
- Identity – developing an awareness of self and student social and cultural identities, the intersectionality of those identities (Crenshaw, 1990), and examining the role identity plays in creating effective learning environments.
- Intercultural awareness – an instructor’s ability to understand cultural differences in ways that enable them to interact effectively with others from different racial, ethnic, or social identity groups in both domestic and international contexts (King, & Baxter Magolda, 2005).
- This domain encompasses many features of intercultural humility, including the following: (a) awareness of one’s own cultural backgrounds, including intersecting social identities; (b) recognizing one’s biases and privileges in relation to self and others; (c) committing to learning about others’ cultural backgrounds; and (d) addressing disparities in relational power by in part, learning to recognize power differentials (Bibus & Koh, 2021).
- Relational – building one-on-one connection, trust and relationship through effective communication and relational skills, which support effective interpersonal interaction.” (Greenler et al., 2021).
- Bensimon, E. M., Dowd, A. C., & Witham, K. (2016). Five principles for enacting equity by design. http://ftla.laccdssi.org/files/2017/01/Five-Principles-for-Enacting-Equity-by-Design-1-4.pdf
- Greenler, R., Gillian-Daniel, D., et al. (2021). Aspire’s Inclusive Professional Framework. https://sites.google.com/view/aspire-alliance/national-change/inclusive-professional-framework-for-faculty
- Stewart, D-L. (2017, March 30). Language of appeasement. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/30/colleges-need-language-shift-not-one-you-think-essay