Equity versus equality has been a major theme of my week. This was the theoretical framework for class readings, a major component of a panel discussion I attended on Wednesday, and the topic for two presentations I saw on Thursday.
It was at the panel, Invisible No More: The Impact of the University of Rochester in Increasing Faculty Diversity on a National Scale, that I first heard that equity and equality are incorrectly used synonymously in conversations about inclusion. Dr. Laura Porterfield informed the audience that equity means treating everyone the same while equity is about fairness and providing everyone what they need. Dr. Paula Booke pointed out that, when these terms are confused, diversity efforts try to build on existing spaces with established traditions rather than creating new spaces where there are no privileged groups.
On Thursday I attended a presentation by the University of Rochester’s Diversity Resources department. Again, the topic of the difference between equity and equality came up along with a discussion about rethinking spaces so that specifics groups aren’t privileged. The Director of the department, Amy Wight, used the following illustration as an example.
She explained that her office focuses on equity by providing accommodations to students. However, since disabilities are environment-specific, the ultimate goal is to design spaces where certain characteristics aren’t privileged.
I encountered another version of this illustration later that afternoon in a webinar entitled Beyond Diversity: Confronting Racism and the Obstacles to Equity and Justice on Campus. In this case the speaker, Dr. David Leonard was speaking specifically about institutions of learning. He described the boxes in the illustration as representing things like the number of Advanced Placement courses offered at a school, access to tutoring, and the quality of the teachers.
What I am left to wonder is how do we restructure schools so that we don’t have to “accommodate” students? Is that something worth putting effort into? The speakers I listened to this past week seemed to focus on providing equity, giving all students what they need in order to succeed in spaces where they are disadvantaged. This may be where change agents will see the most change with respect to effort. Yet, how long will we have to continue to “accommodate” students. Is there a way to build public schools that don’t privilege certain groups?