Crafting a Non-performative Equity Statement
About a year ago, SRS participated in an internal equity audit. One of the findings this process uncovered was that while we have vision and mission statements with equity at the center, we had not formally articulated our approach to equity in higher education. The recommendation was that SRS create a formal equity statement.
At first, we were conflicted. While we are always eager to put more scaffolding in place around our equity-centered mission, we have also seen organization after organization publish equity statements that were little more than words on paper. We decided that if we were going to create an equity statement, it would not be performative. It had to crystalize our understanding of equity in higher education and drive meaningful change in our day-to-day work.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Gina Ann Garcia, an organizational coach affiliated with the USC Center on Race and Equity and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Gina challenged us to first root ourselves in our organization’s purpose and structure. At SRS, our work centers the postsecondary institution as the unit of change. We advance our equity mission by working in service to those colleges and universities that are making the structural changes to equitably serve students, particularly those historically marginalized by higher education. So, our statement needed to directly align to that work within the institutional context. With Dr. Garcia’s encouragement and assistance, we deeply explored the facets of institutional inequity and how it relates to student success, resulting in this language:
At SRS, we believe inequities in student outcomes will persist as long as there are inequities among the higher education institutions that serve them. We know the institutions enrolling the largest percentage of Black, Latine, Indigenous, adult, and poverty-affected students often have the fewest resources and most limited capacity to innovate and transform.
The resulting call to action was clear:
We believe our postsecondary system must equitably support institutions as they evolve to ensure the success of diverse students with complex lives.
The process of creating this statement improved our understanding of our work and impact in the field, but we did not stop there. Our organization is pragmatic to the core, so we challenged ourselves to align concrete actions that we currently do or will do in the future to hold ourselves accountable to the ideals we crafted. Then, we incorporated those actions into the statement itself.
At SRS, we translate these beliefs into action.
We center learnings from data disaggregated by race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status, including intersections of those identities
We design intentional methods for diverse students to share their experiences and embed key learnings in our recommendations
We craft customized institutional assets that prioritize the achievement of equitable student outcomes
We engage in networks that prioritize support for low-resourced institutions and those enrolling a large percentage of students of color
We develop innovative approaches to technical assistance that address inequities in access and quality, expand the number of institutions engaged in transformation, and achieve greater impact for students historically marginalized.
While most of these are core tenets of our daily work with institutions, incorporating them into the statement formalized our commitment to action and created more intentionality around them. We used to recommend that technical assistance include disaggregated data and diverse student perspectives; now we insist that it does. We evaluated the networks we were currently in, deprioritizing those that did not focus on under-resourced colleges and universities, and considered new networks we should join. We started treating innovation as a requirement of our work, and have carved out significant space to find ways to disrupt the status quo of our approach to providing technical assistance.
If your organization is considering crafting an equity statement, we encourage you to take a pragmatic approach to the task. Ask yourself: What is our locus of control? When we do our work, who do we work with and how can those interactions lead to the ultimate outcomes we seek? And most important, what concrete actions will we take in our day-to-day work to drive our equity ideals? If creating an equity statement causes tangible improvements in the way you think about and execute your work, you’ve done it right.