School Administrator. May2022, Vol. 79 Issue 5, p1-1. 1p.
My View: Equity Thoughts From a Diversity Trainer
STICKS AND STONES may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
That statement is not true. Words do matter. But today, in an effort to appear "woke" during a time of multiple challenges from COVID-19, criminal justice reform, health disparities and the killing of unarmed Black men and women, people tend to hide behind words. They use "entanglement" when they mean cheating, "alternative facts" instead of lies and "equity" when they are addressing the fundamental issue of inequality.
My issue with using the term "equity" as a catch-all phrase versus using the specific terms associated with inequity is that equity pro-vides a politically correct term that substantially waters down the issues of racism, discrimination and systemic policies that support inequalities. As a country, we have found a way to twist words.
It seems politically correct to use equity, but why not use the terms "injustice" or "inequality" to address issues that affect race, racism and inequities? Ask 10 people to define "equity," and you'll likely get 10 different answers.
According to the Oxford Language Dictionary, equity is the quality of being fair and impartial. As a diversity trainer from the 1990s, I contend equity is the ability to address the inequities that create barriers that prevent marginalized populations from accessing equal opportunity.
To rectify these inequalities, we must first acknowledge there are inequities because equity is about addressing inequities -- the unfair or corrupt practices that create barriers to opportunity.
The work of equity begins with awareness of individual biases that arise from experiences, examples, exposures, encounters, environment and education. These biases influence our perceptions and expectations of people different from those with whom we were socialized.
Despite the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in our nation's schools, the academic achievement gaps, graduation rate disparities and disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for people of color have not changed significantly.
Perhaps rather than equity officers, our schools should have inequity officers who examine the systemic disparities that for generations have existed for students of color, exceptional students and other unique groups. Today, many district equity officers conduct needs assessments and provide professional development on stereotypes and mindsets, but they lack the financial resources, capacity or staffing to address the hiring practices, inequitable spending or the disproportionate opportunity gaps that permeate our inner-city schools.
For example, incorporating curricula that includes representation of the student population we serve in urban districts is a quick win, yet we fail to incorporate minorities into a standards-based curriculum and their representation is limited at best on any state assessment questions. Sharing current status on issues of inequality and posting measurable gains and action steps on the progress made in closing academic, behavioral and hiring practices are all foundational steps.
Becoming woke will not banish inequality. School board members designing and implementing policy and superintendents gaining self-awareness to address implicit bias is a start. Programming designed to improve the outcomes designed by the consumer, not the producers of inequity, would be a start.
The first step to solving a problem is recognizing it exists. We are currently fighting to change history with the state policy debates on critical race theory. Inequality and "His-story" have impacted generations, creating a mindset that meritocracy is the most effective means of upward mobility. How can this be when we are attempting to eliminate a discussion about past practices that contributed to racism?
Inequity work requires that we look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, "Why do we believe what we believe, feel the way we feel, think the way we think and perceive an inevitable reality about people who are different?"
Words matter. We must name it: inequity, racism and inequality. The country is becoming more diverse, requiring us to find commonalities rather than failing to address how we found ourselves divided.
By SANDY D. WOMACK JR.
SANDY WOMACK JR. is an area superintendent in the Office of Transformation & Leadership of the Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio. Twitter: @sandywomackjr