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Problem Statement

Case-making focuses on the necessary evidence and information gathering aspect of implementing equity and equitable policies and agendas at universities. Case-making can be an often skipped step in the process of developing a practical game plan with strategy that flows from the urgency context. This step ensures that various elements and issues necessary to developing a strong strategy are taken into account, not only understanding the evidence for why equity is necessary but also the evidence for what barriers exist on campus that prevents its successful implementation, for example, understanding the barriers to communication that may exist.

Making a compelling case that is based on data and community engagement requires multiple questions: What does an equitable outcome look like to your campus? Is this visible? How do you track academic outcomes efficiently and effectively? How can you ensure you are understanding the whole student experience? How might you bring different institutional constituencies on board, strategizing what to communicate and how to communicate it?

In considering the above, we’ve begun to map out a set of approaches. The first part of this kit aims to set up a high level framing that outlines a brief description of this challenge, some threshold concepts, and barriers that you may identify for your campus community to take on. Part two drills down into four subtopics that we view as critical to the success of the overarching mission of scaling and sustaining equity practices

Threshold Concepts

  • Making a case for change requires careful analysis of the data that define the contexts for equity and inclusion on a campus.
  • Case-making should be relentlessly student-focused.
  • Organizational change requires widespread participation and sustained engagement of multiple stakeholders.
  • A “whole institution” approach to equity requires sharing data and strategies across institutional boundaries; institutional change ultimately requires new connections and relationships, if not also organizational and structural change.

The term ‘threshold concept,’ for those who are not familiar, comes from pedagogical theory. It is defined by Jan Meyer and Ray Land as “a concept that, once understood, changes the way that a person thinks about a topic…It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something” that makes possible further understanding, “without which the learner cannot progress” (Meyer and Land, “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge,” 2003). Like thresholds in the doorway to a room, not recognizing a threshold concept can cause one to trip when trying to gain entry and make progress a new area of ideas. And like thresholds in the doorway to a room, once you know about the existence, you unthinkingly step over it and fail to recognize the barrier it might be for another person's entry. We use it here, analogously, to start identifying those essential concepts that are necessary for an institution to understand, in order to make further progress on equity.<meta charset="utf-8">


  • Campus positions are siloed. Faculty don't often interact with student affairs/counseling or diversity offices, making it difficult to share research and best practices, and resulting in that those attempting to be leaders for equity feel like they are isolated and without support.
  • Bureaucracy & red tape. It's complicated once you have the desire and knowledge to be a leader for equity to get in front of the right decision makers with power on campus.
  • Lack of incentive. Although some campuses now include equity work as part of their tenure track reward structure, more often these leadership roles are not only not supported by any institutional incentive but are viewed as potentially lessening stature.
  • Lack of diverse leadership representation/cultural competency. Most existing leadership roles on campus are still filled by those with historical privilege; we need to not only support their work but advance leadership for others who mirror the student body. In addition, those with privilege may come to this work with a "white savior" mindset, even if well-meaning.
  • Student voice isn't valued. Students are often missing from the table in conversations on equity, inclusion, and diversity.


What emerged from these sessions that could expand the Resource Kits?

  1. Urgency Resources: Problem Statement, Threshold Concepts, Barriers[How would you annotate or revise?]
  2. Core Library Resources: Examples, Cases, Readings[Please add, annotate readings or cases relevant to these sessions; or, reference literature or cases in the core library.]

What does an equitable outcome look like to you?

Although institutions are united in their motivation to increase equity, they each face unique challenges to achieving this goal. Equity on one campus may look different from equity on another. The ideal implementation of equity at your institution is deeply personal but related to other institutions’ efforts. Clearly articulated priorities and defined equitable outcomes are vital, if barriers to change are to be overcome, especially over a sustained period of transformation. In making a case for equity, useful and shareable answers to these questions are necessary. In this session we will explore the importance of concretely stating your vision and identifying the significant data points from which progress can be measured advancing the equity agenda in your context.

Starting Questions:

  1. How does your institution define an equitable outcome? Where is your institution in the process of defining this equitable outcome?
  2. What barriers to achieving this equitable outcome exist? How might we consider overcoming them? What steps must be taken?
  3. Does your campus have a method for determining and evaluating the success of your equity goals? How will you communicate the successes and gaps to all stakeholders?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. How will you account for the diversity of perspectives around equity in making the case for your equity agenda?
  2. Could goals for equity change due to population trends, educational priorities and changing technology? How might your institution and your goals reflect this potential for change?

Tracking academic outcomes effectively and efficiently

Most academic institutions have enormous amounts of data on their students, their successes and struggles. Yet, it is not always the right data nor is it being shared with the right stakeholders. Academic outcomes data, dis-aggregated by various student populations, can help institutions identify gaps and problem areas that are obstacles to equity. An institution’s capacity to track this data is a prime example of how embedded structures can either help promote equity on a campus or hinder it. In this session we will explore strategies for outcomes data development and sharing among different institutional offices, faculty and staff.

Starting Questions:

  1. How do you track student outcomes in your equity context? How do different data sources connect? Are they accessible to the right individuals? Who are the major players and offices in this area?
  2. How do the data from tracking academic outcomes support or complicate your assumptions?
  3. How might you create stronger communication, and build trust, among those tracking the data, those who analyze it, and the faculty and staff in a position to act on it?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. Where do superficial metrics of student success mask underlying inequities?
  2. How do you shape outcomes data into case-making?
  3. What lessons have you learned about cross campus coordination and data tracking that reaches faculty and staff in other areas that can be applied in an equity context?
  4. How does data inform the way your campus understands equity? (i.e. do you have a clear definition of ‘under-represented groups’ that is matched with academic data?)

Understanding the student experience

Shaping the institutional context for truly equitable outcomes touches on nearly every dimension of the student experience. Faculty, residential living offices and academic advisors are a few of the groups at the frontline, interacting with the student population, and creating lines of communication that directly impact student experience. A baseline understanding of this experience is also necessary for all those involved in the equity space to both inform their decisions, make the case for equity in offices across the campus and provide a holistic basis on which to judge progress. In this session we will explore ways institutions can more fully understand how students from underrepresented groups commonly relate to their institution and how their experience differs from others.

Starting Questions:

  1. How do you define a sense of belonging in your community and how would you measure it?
  2. How might you gather sources of data in order to put together something like a holistic picture of the student experience? What challenges to data gathering do you anticipate in this area?
  3. How best can we share more about our students with adults in the community (faculty and staff) while respecting student privacy?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. Who are the gatekeepers of the student experience? How can you gather evidence and information about how equity enhances the student experience?
  2. How does a student’s experience in one aspect of campus life impact their overall experience?
  3. What metrics of student experience are important to you in determining if your equity agenda is successful? How might you balance and blend quantitative and qualitative data?

Bringing different institutional constituencies on board: what to communicate and how to communicate it

Starting Questions:

  1. What institutional constituencies might be the most receptive to conversations about equity? How might you best leverage their goodwill?
  2. What institutional constituencies are likely the least connected to the equity agenda? How might you integrate their interests into a conversation about equity?
  3. Who are the influential individuals - the social drivers - at your institution? How can they be empowered/recruited to the equity agenda?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. Who at your institution your institution has deep knowledge about equity? What do they know? How are – or are not – they connected to each other and to decision-making processes?
  2. What are the most effective forms and contexts for reaching faculty and staff in compelling and consistent ways? How might you institutionalize forms of communication so that they persist over time?
  3. What do you know about how different stakeholders understand the central issues of equity at your institution?
  4. Are there ways to engage a wider range of faculty, staff and leadership in equity questions by inviting a closer examination of assumptions and language?