What is equity is a looming question. Is there a difference between equity and equality? What policies, practices, and procedures can advance equity? I recently participated in a panel that explored these questions in the context of the future of higher education.
I was asked: “What does equity mean for you?”
For me, equity is about Justice however often times it reflects a notion of ‘Just US.’ The latter focuses on just what is best for us (a particular social group) based upon our myths, rituals, customs, and taxonomic structures. However, justice compels us to explore: what type of society do we want to build together? What are the shared values?
Since I was a child, I dreamed of becoming a part of the Justice League. I could envision myself as Miss Freedom Fighter Esquire. Basically, Wonder Woman with a law degree and afro. Can you see me now? I was determined to use my education in the struggle for justice.
Today, I travel all around the word to raise the question: “what is your hands to make a difference in the world?” This question is often overlooked, however, it presents both a challenge and opportunity. A challenge to unleash your inner superhero and leave the world a better place than how we found it. An opportunity to begin leading change today.
Next, we explored the question: Can your different institutions learn from one another about equity? I gave an affirmative answer based upon the common goal of training students to lead and effect social change. This is an interdisciplinary endeavor that begins with a robust exchange of ideas and ends with practical application of theory and knowledge.
Lastly, we were asked: “What is higher education’s role in helping to close the achievement gap in Minnesota?” In order to address a problem, we must first define it: does the “achievement gap” accurately reflect the problem of barriers like:
· need for early childhood education resources- 0-3 are critical years, however 96% of children eligible for HeadStart never participate due to lack of funding
· economic disparities- roughly 15 million U.S. children live in poverty
· mass incarceration- over 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent
· food insecurity- 1 in 5 American children encounter food insecurity
This list is not exhaustive since there are many more examples of issues to explore in order to define this problem. When discussing this question with a colleague, I was reminded that diagnosis determines the type of therapy or care rendered in the medical field. Could it also be true that diagnosis determines how we address issues like the “achievement gap”? My colleague raised a thought-provoking question when she stated: “Are we diagnosing the children when we should be diagnosing the structure (i.e. society, community, policies)?” In the end, it is clear that social problems do not begin or end at the schoolhouse door. Therefore, we need to continue asking critical questions and unleashing our moral imagination in creating change. This is a call to leadership.
My books and research focus on redefining leadership by moving beyond a position, title, and exercise power to focusing on making a difference in the world. A leader is a planter—a planter of ideas, seeds of change, and a vision for justice.
Higher education’s role is to train the next generation of leaders and change agents. “Schools are the garden for leadership- the places where seeds are planted and first green shoots spotted, tended, and encouraged” (Adair, How to Grow Leaders, 2005). Hence, there is an opportunity to re-imagine education by placing an explicit focus on leadership development and social justice advocacy. The classroom will then become a learning laboratory for exploring, addressing, and eradicating the social justice challenges of the 21st Century. This is the foundation for building a more just and inclusive society. This is the very essence of equity.
What does equity mean for you? What steps will you take to advance equity?