From Equity Talk to Equity Walk
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From Equity Talk to Equity Walk

Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education

Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux

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eBook - ePub

From Equity Talk to Equity Walk

Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education

Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux

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A practical guide for achieving equitable outcomes

From Equity Talk to Equity Walk offers practical guidance on the design and application of campus change strategies for achieving equitable outcomes. Drawing from campus-based research projects sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California, this invaluable resource provides real-world steps that reinforce primary elements for examining equity in student achievement, while challenging educators to specifically focus on racial equity as a critical lens for institutional and systemic change.

Colleges and universities have placed greater emphasis on education equity in recent years. Acknowledging the changing realities and increasing demands placed on contemporary postsecondary education, this book meets educators where they are and offers an effective design framework for what it means to move beyond equity being a buzzword in higher education. Central concepts and key points are illustrated through campus examples. This indispensable guide presents academic administrators and staff with advice on building an equity-minded campus culture, aligning strategic priorities and institutional missions to advance equity, understanding equity-minded data analysis, developing campus strategies for making excellence inclusive, and moving from a first-generation equity educator to an equity-minded practitioner.

From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: A Guide for Campus-Based Leadership and Practice is a vital wealth of information for college and university presidents and provosts, academic and student affairs professionals, faculty, and practitioners who seek to dismantle institutional barriers that stand in the way of achieving equity, specifically racial equity to achieve equitable outcomes in higher education.

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Chapter 1
From Equity Talk to Equity Walk

A Shared Starting Point

This equity journey begins with you.
Change must happen individually before it can happen collectively. People drive change, lead change, and sustain change. Lasting change happens when educators understand both the meaning of equity and that meaning is represented through personal values, beliefs, and actions. This is why this journey must start with you. We want you first to engage in self-reflection on your current equity definition, values, and beliefs before we delve into the explanations and examples of what we mean by equity, and more specifically, racial equity.
How do you define equity? What is your understanding of how equity and equality intersect or are codependent? What are specific examples of how equity is a value for you and to your institution? What motivates you to ensure equity at your institution? How does your understanding of equity translate into your values, beliefs, and actions? Do you have an equity talk and an equity walk?
In our experiences working with educators at hundreds of higher education institutions, there is common desire among most to address equity in student outcomes. It is popular to hear, “We want to close the equity gaps in graduation, progression, and retention for our underrepresented students,” or “Closing the opportunity gaps in our student outcomes is our equity imperative.” For most, this is the place where they enter into the equity conversation. In this context, equity is defined as understanding students' needs and addressing those needs by providing the necessary academic and social support services to help level the playing field so students can achieve their goals. Data are shared and discussed to highlight the equity gaps in student success. The institution makes a commitment to eliminate those gaps, and the interventions to do so are discussed and implemented. In this book, we will emphasize the importance of collecting data on student success outcomes. We realize that it is a critical first step for engaging in conversations about equity. What usually creates angst among some educators is when we turn the discussion to the reason for the equity gaps, and we point out that there are biases and privilege in the language we use to describe students, the way we present data, and the interventions that we propose to eliminate inequities. For our efforts, by focusing first on your willingness to engage in conversations about student success outcomes, we acknowledge that we want to meet you where you are in your current journey, based on the conversations you are having at your institutions. We will hopefully outline a path not only for examining equity in student outcomes, but also for encouraging you to expand your practitioner knowledge for racial equity and justice in higher education. This is what we believe is the equity imperative.
Educators with an equity talk and an equity walk critically examine institutional policies, practices, and structures through a lens that questions why inequities exist to change the educational environment to support the success of students – especially students who have been historically and continuously marginalized in our educational systems. These educators don't just talk about equity, but it is evident in their inquiry-process, decision-making, interactions, and reflections. Equity talk and equity walk educators interrogate the concept of equity and its relationship to equality, including how the paradox of equality requires a critical examination of the historical, social, cultural, and political perspectives that make the concept of equality a misnomer for many in our society, especially minoritized students.
Unfortunately, some educators only have an equity talk, but not an equity walk. In this category are the educators who preach equity, but equity values and practices aren't evident in their actions. They have a cursory understanding of equity. In our experiences working with educators across many sectors of higher education, we have seen those who embrace the equity talk, but struggle with the equity walk if the reason behind embracing equity talk stems mostly from it being the current buzzword or hot topic. We don't want to imply that educators who have embraced equity talk do not want to make their respective institutions more equitable. But having an equity talk that will lead to change calls for a comprehensive understanding of what the term means in relation to current and past experiences and institutional contexts. This is where educators in this group are falling short. Often, within this context, when we ask users of the word equity what it means for them individually and for institutional practice and change, colleagues on the same campus have various definitions and lack shared understanding of the historical and social contexts that have shaped the need to address equity. This makes it difficult to believe that equity is a pervasive institutional value, especially when campus practitioners have limited knowledge of the multifaceted contexts surrounding the examination of equity.
Other educators have embraced equity talk not from a personal belief but because it is the current buzzword. We love buzzwords in higher education. When we find ones that we believe reflect what we should have as our goals and our values, we quickly add them to our vernacular. The buzz around these words evolves into the reasons we seek to redesign, update, or transform our strategic plans and vision statements to be more like our peer institutions and to join the popular dialogue. Our motivation for engaging in equity talk may contradict our actual beliefs. As pointed out by Estela Mara Bensimon, “It seems like ‘equity’ is everywhere. 
 Equity, once viewed suspiciously as racially divisive and associated with the activism of social justice movements that academic purists disdain as ‘advocacy’ work, is now being enthusiastically embraced on the academic ...

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