John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

“We Are Committed to Equity”

February 25, 2013John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner

Several years ago my wife and I made our first visit to South Africa and we noted and I blogged at the time about my strong reaction to the repeated references I heard to the importance of social justice. The main thrust of my observation was that we used to talk that way in the United States, back in the 60’s and 70’s but rarely do I hear such language in the 21st century, even on college and university campuses. And when I do, it is only on campuses in the bluest of the blue states.

I am reminded of and write about this again today because I am writing this posting after a two-day visit to a Canadian research university. I have just spent an intensive interactive experience with about 65 faculty, administrators, staff and students sequestered in a fairly confined meeting space. So I was able to hang on every word.

And the one word I heard repeatedly, that I don’t hear in similar settings in my country was the word “equity.” The word was used in the context of why this institution could or could not do certain things—because they either would or would not support the national commitment to “equity.” As was put to me multiple times: “We are committed to equity.” I just don’t hear my fellow Americans talking that way.

I lived in Canada for five years when I was a child. I had an excellent education there. And I have visited twenty of so Canadian post secondary institutions in my adult life and hosted numerous Canadian/American conferences on the first year. So, more than most Americans I consider myself understanding of and sensitive to the elements of Canadian history and culture. I know how much more carefully they observe us, follow us, and think about us and our influence than we do them. And while they love to visit Florida and Arizona in the winter, they definitely do not want to be like us.

And one of the ways they do not want to be like us is our retreat from the national goal of equity. They are very aware of the enormous differences of distribution of wealth in the US and how this plays out in disparities in higher education access, resources, attainment, and so many other areas of American life.

I left Canada reflecting on the meaning, significance and power of just that one little word. And I am reminded that for my adult professional life I have been pursuing my own version of equity: justice for first-year students. I am encouraged that my readers share this commitment with me.

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