What Is? Equality Vs Equity
I think this image in particular really captures the difference between equity and equality.
So when we look at the image above we see, on the left-hand side, this image of equality. Equality, the definition is that we give everybody the same thing. We treat everybody the same. So in this image we have three boxes. We’ve given each of these three people the same box, it’s the same height, it’s the same color, the same shape, etc. What we notice though is that if we give everybody the same thing it doesn’t mean that everybody is going to achieve or succeed because people need different things in order to succeed. Because they have different barriers to their success.
So in the image on the right-hand side you see that the person who’s the shortest needs something different. That person needs extra boxes in order to be able to see over the fence. The person who’s the tallest, they don’t need any boxes so we don’t have to give that person anything for them to be able to succeed. And then the person who’s the medium height just needs one box to be able to see over the fence.
Equity means you give people different things. So if boxes is what we’re giving people to succeed, we give people more boxes who have different life circumstances. That means they have started from a different position. Because that’s what privilege is, that some folks have started from a different place based on an unearned advantage that they have merely because of the skin color that they’re born into, for example. Or in the case of the image above, their height.
So that’s the difference between equity and equality.
Now some might look at this image and say, “Well, we need to just remove the fence? What if we just got rid of the fence in general because the fence is the barrier, right?” Even if we give people what they need to succeed there are still these barriers in place, but what happens if we actually try to remove those barriers so that everyone has what they need in order to be able to succeed?
Q – That analogy and then the the picture with the boxes, is something we talk about often in teacher education, but I’m curious what to say when you get push back on that? -Dr. Stacy Duffield
A – When somebody says, “No, I’m teaching this class, everyone gets a box and everyone gets one box. Everyone gets the same amount because I need to be fair.” Fairness often gets in in the way of us being able to do this kind of work because we’re seen as giving somebody something extra.
I think there are a couple ways to to push back on that, I often find asking questions to be quite disarming. When I’m feeling myself get defensive, I’ll just ask a question because that helps me disarm it.
Some things I might ask are, “Tell me more about that?” or I ask people to reflect on their own upbringing or their background. Let’s talk about where you grew up, where you went to school, what kinds of resources did you have, or did you not have. I think that is important as well. I also ask people to help me understand why it’s not fair or how are they defining fair?
I also think bringing in the concept of justice is important so when we talk about justice, what does that mean or look like. Let’s deconstruct what the box is. Let’s talk about your specific class and what is the perceived box that you feel like that everyone should get the same of because that also helps me understand more deeply what “fair” is. What they think somebody else is getting extra of. That might also help me clarify why it is actually not unfair to give somebody more of that box.
So those are just some thoughts off my head that I might use to disarm the person or respond.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen John Quaye, is a professor in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program at The Ohio State University; Editor of The Journal of Higher Education; and Past President of ACPA: College Student Educators International. His research concentrates on engaging students in difficult dialogues about privilege, power, and oppression, and the strategies educators use to facilitate productive dialogues about these topics. His current work focuses on student and scholar activism, as well as the strategies Black educators and students use to heal from racial battle fatigue.