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Problem Statement

Equity is a goal that ATI universities strive for everyday. However, what exactly do we mean when we talk about equity? Where can we see it? Where can we find it? It is not one size fits all. It is a path carved out through daily purposeful work that requires honest reflection and the acknowledgement of current equity truths in the context of each institution and its multiple stakeholders. We start by taking a closer look at what university policies, programs, pedagogies and stakeholder engagement tell us about what really happens in each of our ATI universities.

The definition of educational equity includes consideration of how a student’s social, economic and educational status contributes or hinders their academic success. In this full context, equity is about equity of access but also equity of experience and outcomes. The goal of educational equity necessitates continuous iterative processes that ask colleges and universities to reflect critically and objectively about themselves, their practices and the institutional culture.

First, a university must take a step back and recognize the language and layers of equity, such as diversity, inclusion, first-gen and low-income students. Second, a university must align an institutional (top-down) transformation agenda with local (bottom-up) efforts. Next, a university must Identify the hidden inequalities on their campus. Finally, a university must confront the biases against inclusive excellence on their campus.

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

  • There is an urgent national context to which every institution, including selective institutions, must respond.
  • Most selective U.S. colleges and universities were not built for a diverse student population. Adapting our institutions to diverse populations, and the mission of inclusion, requires rethinking the ways our institutions function, not isolated fixes or programs.
  • Equity is an outcome that requires a holistic approach that can only move forward if the institution has embraced it as a strategic emphasis and core cultural value.
  • Equity must be seen as integral to excellence and inalienable from what it means to be a leading institution for higher education in the 21st century.
  • Embracing diversity, inclusion and equity as core institutional values positively transforms and elevates the educational environment for everyone.

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.


  • As institutions move to embrace diversity and equity, there will be tendencies to isolate or compartmentalize equity.
  • There are biases that inclusion and broadened access will dilute excellence.
  • Acting on the equity agenda is made more difficult by the typically siloed nature of institutions and the multiple sometimes competing missions.


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.]

The language and layers of equity: diversity, inclusion, first-gen, low-income:

Within what context does equity live on your campus? Despite the increasingly common construct of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), equity intersects in complicated ways with diversity and inclusion.In this session we will explore strategies for understanding the language and frameworks upon which equity has been built on your campus and ways of negotiating the intersections with identity, as well as broader categories of inclusion.

Starting Questions:

  1. What does equity mean to your campus? Considering the nature of your school’s equity agenda, if your equity and diversity goals were achieved, what would your campus look like?'
  2. What are the specific daily interactions and efforts that allow each member of the university community to understand that equity and diversity are priorities for the university?
  3. What do you know about how different stakeholders understand the language of equity? Are there ways you can educate around the language as you are making the case for equity?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. How is your campus selecting the equity issues it addresses?
  2. Who is affected by addressing issues of equity on your campus? Who has a place at the table in developing practices and policies related to equity? How do students contribute to your institution’s definitions of equity, diversity and inclusion at your institution?
  3. How do the characteristics of students’ identities affect their experiences? Where are implicit biases and/or microaggressions present on your campus and how do students experience these?
  4. Who do we typically fail to include in discussions of diversity?H. How do slow changing institutions (i.e., higher education) keep pace with rapidly changing social norms?

Aligning an institutional transformation agenda with local efforts:

Aligning an institutional (top-down) agenda with local (bottom-up) effortsSustained institutional change typically requires alignment between top-down agenda setting and bottom-up efforts. Even if high-level messaging includes equity and inclusion, it is possible that this does not filter down as priorities and incentives at the school and program levels. In this session, we will discuss the challenges and strategies that might help coordinate campus-wide efforts with high-level strategic goals, mission and policies.

Starting Questions:

  1. What are the top-level priorities of leadership in your institution?
  2. What are the contexts in which campus strategic plans, or priorities, are set? Do they include campus leaders in the equity space?
  3. How might a campus build better connections between top-level priorities and mid-level and grassroots practices?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. What is the impact of external rankings (e.g., U.S. News and World Report) on your institution’s priorities?
  2. Is there coordination among mid-level and bottom-up equity units to sharpen a shared message around equity, diversity and inclusion? Where are student voices in your institution’s equity discussions?
  3. Typically, there is a range of institutional priorities among top leadership that are not explicitly about equity but have implications for the equity agenda (e.g., innovation in teaching and learning, student research, growth in STEM, alignment with employer and workforce needs, student well-being, revision of General Education). Are there channels and contexts for explicitly aligning equity and inclusion efforts with this broader set of priorities?
  4. What do budget allocations and resource flows say about the relationship between top-level priorities and bottom up equity and inclusion efforts? H. Who is leading the public dissemination of equity issues on your campus? Are there efforts to create an integrated or shared vision of equity, diversity and inclusion, or is there compartmentalization?

Identifying the hidden inequities on campus

In sustaining equity work, it is necessary to acknowledge the hidden inequities that hinder student success (progress to degree, persistence, retention), as well as overall equity of outcomes in the student experience (academically and more broadly – e.g., sense of belonging, development of meaning-making). In this session, we will examine how the hidden inequities that underlie some university policies, programs, pedagogies or stakeholder engagement can be addressed and realigned so that university equity agendas can come to fruition.

Starting Questions:

  1. How does your campus identify inequities?
  2. Where can you see inequity manifest itself on your campus? What policies, programs, pedagogies, or stakeholders perpetuate these inequities? How do they represent barriers?
  3. What aspects of your campus culture keep inequities hidden – from students, faculty, staff, administrators, and other stakeholders?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. During what time of the academic year does inequity tend to manifest itself? (Start of the school year, winter break, holidays, final sessions, summer break) How?
  2. How might you invite those who are least affected by inequities at your institution to engage with the data and evidence on inequities?
  3. Which inequities are best addressed at local levels in real time and which will require broader institutional transformation? Which inequities can be addressed using current policies and which require innovative solutions?
  4. How does inequity hinder the evolution of a university (e.g., innovation, research and development)?

Confronting the biases against inclusive excellence

Confronting the historical and present realities of discriminatory or biased structures and processes embedded in the university landscape is a necessary, yet often difficult, step towards sustainable equity work. Too often traditional measures of excellence set up a false dichotomy between equity and excellence. In this session, we will explore the biases and attitudinal challenges facing inclusive excellence on your campus.

Starting Questions:

  1. What framework does your program use to address the challenges of inclusive excellence?
  2. What is the impact of external rankings (e.g., U.S. News and World Report) that often narrowly define excellence on your institution’s priorities?
  3. Where is the space for the innovation [RJB2]to address the biases on your campus?

Extending the Conversation Questions:

  1. How do we make the effort to understand biases before we pass judgment?
  2. How are privileged students (and other privileged constituencies) included in the process of confronting the biases against inclusive excellence?
  3. What actions show you are confronting the biases against inclusive excellence? What data can you use to demonstrate the success of inclusive excellence?
  4. What is your institution’s growth mindset and how can you leverage that to promote a culture of inclusive excellence? Do you have a culture at your institution that can openly and candidly address biases?