Guest column: Equity and justice respond – how organizations can create change

D-L Stewart stands facing the camera in a purple collared shirt

D-L Stewart is a professor in the School of Education, and co-chair of the Student Affairs in Higher Education programs at CSU. Parts of this story are excerpted from Language of Appeasement, appearing in “Inside Higher Ed”

Diversity and inclusion are often framed as the primary ways to create more equitable educational systems, workplaces, and environments for people from different backgrounds. But, the end goals of these efforts need to extend beyond statistical representation and the acknowledgment of unique perspectives in the endeavor for systematic change.

The way organizations and businesses talk about these challenges can have profound impacts on whether they ultimately strive for equity and justice or limit their efforts to appeasement.

Deeper questions for equity and justice

When a question is asked from the perspective of diversity and inclusion, it’s imperative that those who are seeking greater change step forward to ensure the voice of equity and justice is at the table.

When diversity and inclusion asks… Who’s in the room?
Equity and justice responds… Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?

When diversity and inclusion asks… Has everyone’s ideas been heard?
Equity and justice responds… Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?

When diversity and inclusion asks… How many more of a [minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?
Equity and justice responds… What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?

When diversity and inclusion asks… Is this environment a place where everyone feels comfortable?
Equity and justice responds… Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?

When diversity and inclusion asks… Isn’t it separatist to provide funding for safe spaces and separate support services for minorities?
Equity and justice responds… What are people experiencing that makes them feel unsafe when isolated and separated from others like themselves?

When diversity and inclusion asks… Wouldn’t it be a great program to debate Black Lives Matter?
Equity and justice responds… Why would we allow the humanity and dignity of people to be the subject of debate or the target of harassment and hate speech?

When diversity and inclusion asks… How can we celebrate the increase in our numbers of Black and Latinx population from 2% to 3%?
Equity and justice responds… Have we reduced harm, revised abusive promotion systems, and increased supports in the local community to support their life chances?

When diversity and inclusion asks… How have we individually supported diverse candidate pools in job searches?
Equity and justice responds… How can we eliminate practices and policies that have disparate effects on minoritized groups?

What can be done?

Eight proposals for enacting institutional change

  1. Open the room
    Equalize hiring practices.
  2. Value minoritized voices
    Don’t minimize the experiences of minoritized groups.
  3. Reject the traditional norm
  4. Prioritize the safety of the minoritized
    Here, the psychic, emotional, and physical safety of minoritized groups is asserted as more important to policy and practice than the comfort of those who are members of dominant social groups.
  5. Advance equity over equality
    Institutional leaders should invest resources in services that advance the equity of minoritized constituents instead of surrendering to arguments that focus on everyone being treated the same.
  6. Showcase critical thinking
    Free speech should not be elevated over the harm that may be done by that speech to minoritized groups.  Rather, strategies that facilitate critical thinking and evaluation of ideas should be made a part of any program intended to support equity.
  7. Award outcomes not window dressing
    Reward and recognition practices should center the outcomes for minoritized groups most affected by equity and justice initiatives.
  8. Reverse disparate policy effects
    Deep organizational change requires examination of the disparate effects of policies and practices and intentional action to reverse those effects.

Interested in learning more about bringing equity and justice to your organization? Attend the 2019 Diversity Symposium and join the conversation.

Student Affairs in Higher Education is part of the School of Education, an academic unit within CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.