Discussion for Ch 2: Building an Equity-Minded Campus Culture

As we prepare for the second reading group meeting to be held on June 10th, we will be asking you to consider the obstacles from chapter two. Which of these obstacles do you and/or your institution struggle with the most?

  • Obstacle 1 – Claiming to Not See Race

  • Obstacle 2 – Not Being Able or Willing to Notice Racialized Consequences

  • Obstacle 3 – Skirting Around Race

  • Obstacle 4 – Resisting Calls to Disaggregate Data by Race and Ethnicity

  • Obstacle 5 – Substituting Race Talk with Poverty Talk

  • Obstacle 6 – The Pervasiveness of White Privilege and Institutionalized Racism

  • Obstacle 7 – Evasive Reactions to Racist Incidents

  • Obstacle 8 – The Incapacity to See Institutional Racism in Familiar Routines

  • Obstacle 9 – The Myth of Universalism

  • Obstacle 10 – Seeing Racial Inequities as a Reflection of Academic Deficiency

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I do not currently teach, but reading about Obstacle #10 has really given me food for thought related to the language in my syllabi when I did teach. “Deficit-minded instructors often write their syllabi in ways that tell students the many ways in which they can fail the course rather than succeed” (p. 47). I was often guilty of this. In my mind, it was in service to having “high standards.” But what were those standards based on? In reflection, they smacked of universalism. In my defense, my syllabi often were built on an ever-lengthening, complex template required by the department/institution, with nearly the only “original” content the curriculum reflected in the course outline/schedule. Still, I hope I have the opportunity to teach again and take action to be more equity-minded in this regard.


I frequently see students coming to the library for help who show me examples of Obstacle 10 in the language of their assignments – as Judith describes, this is evident in all the ways listed that students will have points taken off or will not receive credit. I also facilitated a conversation about our city’s public schools for a community group that is trying to support improvements in the K-12 system and our faculty who attended that conversation said almost verbatim the things on pp. 46-47 in the book about what students haven’t learned or can’t do. These things come up in meetings, too.

Similarly, I often hear discussions about income or poverty, and I recognize that many of these obstacles (esp. 2,3, 5, 8,9) are often part of our discussions about student success. I don’t think we disaggregate data by race or ethnicity (possibly obstacle 4, or if it’s just not happening rather than being resisted, maybe obstacles 2 and 3)) or if we do, that happens above my pay grade.

Considering we have several DEI initiatives going, it is a bummer to be able to so easily notice all these obstacles. I definitely want to share this book with leadership if I can!

I am going to miss our live discussion because I have an appointment but I hope to join you all next time and look forward to discussion here.


Bummer indeed! All well said, Deb.

Unfortunately, I see many of these obstacles play out at my institution. The one I’ll focus on here is Obstacle 8: The Incapacity to See Institutional Racism in Familiar Routines. Many of us at my institution have talked about ways to re-organize or re-structure in such a way that would help to dismantle the racial (and gender) inequities that happen so regularly. We have considered our hiring practices, our promotion practices, our communications practices, our workload distributions, our pedagogical strategies (including syllabus creations), our OER efforts and other curriculum work, among many others. As a Department Chair, I get to lead my social sciences faculty who are spearheading the collegewide efforts to decolonize higher education, which includes decolonizing our professional behaviors.

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I took live notes on our bi-weekly EDI Book Reading meeting on “Chapter 2: Building an Equity-Minded Campus Culture.” in the book “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk” by Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux.

Thank you to Asantewa Dawson and Lori-Beth Larsen for being our facilitators. I really appreciated the questions asked of the community and the way that people engaged bravely and constructively with the conversation. I meant for this to be live notes, but it turns out that I am posting a few hours after our meeting.

As is becoming a habit, we started our conversation with a reminder of our Code of Conduct and our commitment to open conversation. We also asked permission of those in attendance to do these live notes.

What is Equity Mindedness?

Chapter 2 starts with a reminder that the term equity is used in a variety of contexts and it is important to have a shared definition of what we mean by equity. This is a reflection of chapter 1, but for the sake of this chapter, McNair, Bensimon, and Malcom-Piqueux presented 3 principles of equity. The 3 principles are presented, very briefly here.

  • Equity as a means of corrective justice.
  • Equity is an antiracist project to confront racism built into institutional structures.
  • Equity letting practitioners see whiteness as a norm. (Page 21)

10 Obstacles

Our conversation turned to the ten obstacles and case studies examining those obstacles. I’ve captured many of our questions about the obstacles.

Part of our goal needs to be to meet people where they are. If that is the case, how can a person examine privilege inherent in whiteness, if that is all they have ever known? This question is surrounded by and contained within many of the obstacles as shared in the chapter- so it is about building a habit of asking questions and interrogating our own positionality?

What does it mean to decolonize our professional behaviors? (in hiring, in establishing workload, defining who does EDI work, and developing professional learning practices.)

Finding and maintaining a balance between poverty and the real need to address it with the realization that racialized poverty- or blaming racialized practices on poverty/class is a real need. Is it about naming the differences between the types of poverty?

In terms of some of the “solutions” expressed in the book chapter’s resolutions or solutions to the obstacles: Some of the solutions required people to make investments of their own. “In my own time” is a common refrain for how we try to address systemic inequity. What are the roles of the institution in supporting (financially, in terms of time, and in terms of reprioritizing activities) to foster equity activities? Who is responsible for this work? How are we building a profession that doesn’t unjustly burden responsibility for equity on colleagues of color?

We talked a lot about the use of language to describe cultural groups and regional uses of language. We know that we need to meet people where they are because in many cases this can be troubling for the people who might be counted in these groups but who have very different cultural (or even regional) backgrounds. We talked a lot about terms like Hispanic and Pacific-Islander. The uses of these terms need to be considered for the local/regional context and support the realities that some of the people who are considered parts of these groups would not identify within those groups. (e.g. Native Hawaiian vs Pacific-Islander)

What do we do with the struggle between the communities we serve which might be highly invested in white-supremacist systems/ (What if your college is in a state, county, or district that would prefer that the institution not do equity work?

What does it mean to work toward equity, and how do we get into that mindset? Part of our work has to be to ask tough questions in polite, understanding, but inflexible ways so that equity is a consistent refrain.

The discussion in our meeting room was varied and interesting. These notes only catch a small portion of the overall comments.

Thank you to everyone who participated for giving your permission for me to take and share these notes. I would also like to ask that if anyone wants to expand on these comments, please do!

Shinta, that all sounds very promising. What stands out for me is the last piece you describe. I think there is so much work on decolonizing curriculum and hiring practices, and not nearly enough work on decolonizing professional practices and white dominant work culture, or even making people aware of it. That’s a terrific thing to focus on, that can have a lasting impact.

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