As we bid an arguably joyous farewell to 2020, one of the more positive takeaways for me is that I’ve been hearing the term “institutional equity” creeping into more and more
conversations focused on postsecondary reform and
Equity plays such a vital role in our grounding as professionals serving students at open access institutions, regardless of our role.
All students deserve a learning experience that meets their
unique educational needs, utilizing a fair and impartial process devoid of bias and long-embedded institutional injustices and barriers.
However, there’s a part of institutional equity that we
tend to overlook that is key to these critical aspects of student equity and success — and key to a culture that supports these goals.
While we normally think of equity in terms of building and providing an equal playing field, especially for marginalized students, the less-discussed definition of equity is centered on who has a vested interest and stake in an organization or
In many cases, we ultimately fail to reach student equity goals or create equitable experiences for students because colleges lack an institutional culture where educators/employees have investment or vested interest in the planning and outcomes of curriculum, programs, expenditures, governance, and policy.
When there exists a dearth of this kind of equity investment, negative implications manifest in the forms of burnout, ingrained politics, power struggles, employee turnover, and deficit mindsets, all of which pose challenges to student equity.
Power Structures in Play
Worth examination here are the power structures and decision-making processes on campus and whether or not they are inclusive to all corners of the campus from full- and part-time faculty, classified professionals, administrators, and, most importantly, students. We can start with some baseline questions to assess the presence of institutional investment equity on campus:
- Are resource allocation decisions completely transparent and linked to identified equity gaps to ensure students have the resources they need to be successful?
- To what degree do those beyond the collective bargaining units, senate(s), managers and the executive team understand why the college needs to innovate and transform into a student-centered institution?
- What roles have part-time instructors, front-line classified professionals, student government leaders, community partners, employers, K-12 districts, and four-year institutions played during Guided Pathways implementation at your college?
- Is there a firm grasp of the specific workforce training and educational needs across the entire service area?
- How well connected is the campus with local nonprofits and community organizations with resources that can be leveraged to support students, faculty, staff, and administrators at the institution?
- To what extent are policies and practices under continuous review and refinement to incorporate equity-minded principles?
If these conversation-starters seem novel or absent, there is a higher likelihood we will find a deficiency in vested interest from important stakeholder groups, and therefore taller barriers to achieving sustainable student equity.
The Value of Listening
A second dimension worth exploring in order to elevate institutional equity investment is the how, where, and with whom we have embedded the act and service of listening. In a recent article, CollegeWise CEO Kevin McMullin discusses how their simple but unique use of embedding listening into one-on-one meetings has helped the organization achieve a 100 percent employee retention rate. On our own campuses, we should be asking:
- Does everyone on campus have an equal representative voice and agency to contribute to campus planning and decision-making processes?
- What practices are in place to ensure and assess broad inclusivity?
- Are student and community voices just as important as perspectives from faculty, staff, and administration?
- What voice do local and regional employers have in curriculum development and student learning outcomes?
Tending to Your Stakeholder's Six Success Factors
Lastly, to help seed equity investment across the campus we must tend to the human side of these stakeholders and with an actionable and holistic model. A good example of this paradigm shift is occurring now within the RP Group.
In Student Support (Re)defined, the RP Group uncovered Six Success Factors, the vital ingredients students say they need to succeed.
Over the past years, we have begun discussing more broadly how important these factors (directed, focused, nurtured, engaged, connected, and valued) are for all campus stakeholders, not just students, and have even begun applying them in various aspects to our own team practices.
We need to care for our students and those who care for them.
California Community Colleges are built upon the values of participatory governance, community service, accessibility, and compassion, but we need to make concurrent investments in students and the entire network that supports them.
I urge us all, as we move into a promising new year, to look at how we can carry these conversations and actions into our mission statements and diversity/equity/inclusion plans and commitments.
How is your campus redefining and reframing equity? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.