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When Colleges Talk about Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism, What Do They Mean?
- Thesis: Colleges sometimes use the terms "diversity," "equity," and "antiracism" as if they are interchangeable, but they have very different implications.
- Background: Colleges are looking to use inclusive language to show their support for students who are at a disadvantage in their education because of who they are.
- Consider the history of academia, largely centered around white, Western European men.
- Social change movements have demanded progress
- The Civil Rights Movement lead to access, but no real changes in academic language.
- The Equal Rights Amendment increased interest and awareness of Women’s Studies.
- Chicano Rights Movement lead to the creation of Chicano Studies courses of study and major programs.
- In some cases, mainstream core curriculum maintains a Eurocentric Western male focus; in others, that's no longer true.
- "Diversity" emphasizes inclusion and representation of different identities.
- The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of "diverse": “Different in character or quality; not of the same kind; not alike in nature or qualities” (OED).
- "Diverse" doesn't refer to a precise form of identity, but can include race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability
- Such an open definition extends inclusion to all possible groups in an academic setting.
- Note that "Diverse" does not suggest a critique of systems of power that help some people and hurt others.
- "Antiracist" draws attention to one form of oppression and the need to actively oppose that oppression
- How the term became popular
- The Black Lives Matter Movement: Social outrage over the murders of unarmed African Americans escalated with each new death: Trayvon Martin (2013), George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery
- X. J. Kendi’s work, How to be an Antiracist introduces the world to the definition of “antiracist.”
- The national conversation changes to include antiracist; educators take note and respond.
- "Antiracist" doesn't refer to other forms of oppression, such as classism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism, anti-immigrant sentiment or others.
- How the term became popular
- "Equity" emphasizes providing educational resources to disadvantaged groups according to need.
- The Center for Public Education defines equity as "when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success."
- It suggests trying to compensate for systemic inequalities in how people are able to access their education based on class, race, gender, learning style, ability.
- What equity doesn’t mean (negation): Equity doesn’t refer to equal opportunity or equal rights.
- Image commonly used to show equity: Three people of varying heights pick apples from a tree. Each stands on a stool just high enough to allow them to reach.
Conclusion: When considering which term to choose or whether to use all three, we can think about whether we want to emphasize inclusion of an infinite range of identities, resistance against racism in particular, or the attempt to compensate for systemic inequalities and get all students what they need to succeed at a high level.