In Fall 2020, the American Talent Initiative (ATI), an alliance of high-graduation-rate colleges and universities committed to expanding access and opportunity for low- and middle-income students, established a community of practice (CoP) focused on academic equity. Together the 37 CoP members explore topics related to creating equitable academic communities.
Upon joining the CoP, members participated in a team-based activity to help guide the community towards a shared answer to the foundational question, “What is academic equity?,” and shape the work of the community. The statement presented below is the product of that process and subsequent conversations amongst ATI CoP members held over the course of several months. We at ATI strive for this to be a living statement, ever-evolving as the CoP learns together and acts upon a collective commitment to advance academic equity. The interactive annotations throughout the text contain reflections from our CoP members both on the contents of the statement itself, and on efforts at their respective campuses to promote equity in the academic experience.
This statement was produced collaboratively, but ATI staff compiled and parsed feedback from many individuals and made the final determinations about what to include below. Therefore, publication here does not signify that every member of the CoP has endorsed the full statement. In the spirit of continuing the conversation, we welcome comments and feedback, which can be provided below or emailed to Elizabeth.Banes@ithaka.org.
ATI staff members Elizabeth Banes, Sunny Chen, Emily Schwartz and Justin Beauchamp coordinated and contributed to this statement.
Striving for Academic Equity: A Collective Commitment
Equity, at its root, signifies fair and proportional access, opportunity, and outcomes for people of all backgrounds and perspectives, including race/ethnicity, class, gender, ability, and other social identities. In the context of higher education, advancing equity first involves recognizing and confronting a history of systemic exclusion within academic environments and society largely directed at marginalized communities, people of color, and individuals from lower-income backgrounds. At their foundings, many selective institutions were linked to the exploitation of enslaved labor and the transatlantic slave trade. While colleges and universities have since become powerful engines of social mobility, institutional practices related to enrollment, pedagogy, and hiring have also played a role in sustaining systemic racism and socioeconomic injustices.
Confronting historic inequities involves addressing biases that may exist in student recruitment strategies, admissions standards and financial aid , course and major selection, classroom instruction and learning, and interactions with and support from fellow students, faculty, staff, and administrators. These biases may subsequently impact equity in the academic experience, affecting participation in high-impact academic experiences such as capstone courses, study abroad, and research with faculty; support and representation in certain fields, especially STEM; and access to career and alumni services and post-graduate opportunities.
Yet, removing structural barriers is necessary, but not sufficient, to create true equity in the academic experience. Creating academic equity requires an institutional commitment to building programs, designing pedagogies, and promoting cultural competence and understanding so that all students can share a sense of belonging and thrive.
Equality and equity are terms both used frequently in conversations about educational access and success. It is vital for our shared understanding of academic equity to note that the two are not interchangeable. Efforts to achieve equality involve attempts to treat everyone the same, regardless of their differences, often overlooking the historical exclusion, both societal and within higher education, of Black and Indigenous communities and people of color, as well as lower-income, and first-generation students. By contrast, striving for equity means actively honoring the unique abilities, perspectives and challenges of students from all different backgrounds and life experiences, and employing intentional and targeted policies and practices that acknowledge these differences.
Institutions may pursue many strategies to advance academic equity within their communities. Uniting all effective strategies are three, essential principles. First, advancing academic equity must be a shared responsibility , requiring buy-in from, and coordination across, the entire campus community, including administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees. Second, efforts to address existing equity gaps must be grounded in evidence and utilize data to understand and evaluate the student experience. Finally, realizing true equity necessitates including and centering diverse voices and perspectives in all aspects of university decision-making.
Achieving academic equity requires corresponding institutional commitments to greater diversity, representation, and inclusion at all levels within the academic community. Thus, the pursuit of academic equity must happen alongside institutional efforts to increase diversity amongst students, faculty, staff, and senior leadership. This Community of Practice is committed to striving towards greater academic equity and supporting increased diversity and inclusion across our campuses and beyond.
- Equity in the Academic Experience (case studies)
- Higher Ed’s reckoning with slavery and efforts to promote accountability and reconciliation (blog series)