Episode 1: Equity Talk

Marquis: Alright, hey everybody and welcome to Flashes of DEI. This is a podcast where we explore topics and ideas related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am Marquis, pronouns he/him/his, and we’re keeping this conversation in house today. I'm joined with a couple of friends from the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and I’ll let them introduce themselves.

Dr. Gooden: Hi everyone! Dr. Amoaba Gooden. I serve as the Vice President for the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and my pronouns are she/her/hers.

Katie: Hey y’all. My name is Katie and I use they/them/their pronouns. And I serve as a director here in DEI. Now, Marquis, I don’t know how excited you are, but I’m pretty excited that we get to take up some of Amoaba’s time today, our fearless leader here in DEI. And we are so grateful that we get to bask in your greatness right now, for the next couple of minutes or so.

Dr. Gooden: Oh

Marquis: Yeah, Dr. Gooden. Receive it

Dr. Gooden: I think people can’t see the smile on my face

Katie: Hopefully they can hear it

Marquis: So, Katie I absolutely agree with you. I'm excited that we do get to explore some topics that are especially near and dear to our hearts. Especially the one that we are going to be talking about today - equity. So Katie and I have some questions for you, are you ready?

Dr. Gooden: I’m ready

Marquis: Alright, so the first question I want to ask is can you give our listeners a little overview of what equity actually is? We know that this word has definitely been talked about more and more in mainstream media. But not always in ways that are very clear, can you explain what that is?

Dr. Gooden: Yeah, so I like to think  about equity as an absence of barriers, especially around individuals who are historically marginalized around race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, and sexual orientation. What equity does is it asks us to think about how these barriers show up at the institutional level and what we can do to actually shift these barriers. Oftentimes people conflate equity and equality together. There's a distinct difference, equality is offering everyone the same thing and equity asks that we provide or open doors, if you will, to individuals based on access. And so based on the challenges they have on the institutional level. So a really great infographic that I like is the infographic around the bike, you can’t provide the same bike to individuals. You’ve got to provide bikes based on their need, so you wouldn’t give a child the size of an adult bike for example.

Katie: Okay, yeah and so if folks haven’t found that graphic you can google equity versus equality and that’s one of the first ones that pops up. It’s got some green and purple colors and it says exactly that, right. There’s people of different sizes, people with different abilities, there’s a person in a wheelchair. If you give all of them the same bike they can’t all use it. But when you take that context, the needs into account and give folks the bikes that they need, then we can all ride bikes.

Marquis: We were actually in a training the other day and we showed the infographic and one of the participants said the vehicle instead of using the bike. When we were thinking about the vehicle, we were looking at different areas which can be the vehicle for access. And when I heard that, the language changes and when you start to think about the language you’re like “oh” this is the vehicle that can give those identities or groups the vehicle to access certain things.

Katie: Equity’s the vehicle. Marquis, woah! That’s good stuff! Now Amoaba you mentioned equality in your explanation of equity and some of the differences between it and so for a long time and even still today, a lot of conversation has kind of revolved around equality and we need to give people equal access/equal opportunity. We need to give folks kind of the same. And you talked a little about your definition for equity why it’s important to make that shift from equality to equity, but could you get maybe a little more specific: why is it important to move past equality and get into equity?

Dr. Gooden: So If you’re thinking about Kent State University or in fact all institutions of higher learning. It’s really important that we think about what individuals need to be successful so if we’re thinking about students and Kent State being a student ready college. We know that all students don’t arrive at Kent State at the same place, just different historically experiences different educational experiences and for students to be successful we’ve got to provide them with what they need to be successful so it might be one student for example needs additional financial support so that they can graduate in a four year time period. Rather than working full time or part time and increasing student loans, we want all students to be successful. We want all students to graduate in four years so I always think about equity as providing individuals what they need to succeed also that they can actually make you know and graduate in particular. You can think about equity and equality in other ways I think often times when there’s a hang up we think about equality because I think we’ve been socialized to think that everybody should be given the same thing at the same amount of time and they’re going to actually arrive at whatever that end goal is, and if they don’t make it it’s somehow about their inability to do so.

Katie: Yeah, individual failure.

Dr. Gooden: And then success really becomes about the individual attaining or not attaining and it becomes about their built in failure. I think having a conversation about nuancing equity and equality kind of allows us to think  institutionally and recognize differences. History plays a part in the differences and that we honor and recognize these differences, the failings are not the individual failings but really institutional failings.

Katie: Yeah, that’s deep! I know everybody can’t see Marquis’ face but he just had an “ohh” face, that was good.

Dr. Gooden: Thank you for that face, Marquis

Marquis: You mentioned briefly in that example looking at it from an institutional lens as to what equity and equality is at Kent State, how does that work fit into what we are trying to do especially in the past year that we just had. So how does equity work into the framework with the institution especially when you just said looking at it from an institutional failure.

Dr. Gooden: Yeah, you mentioned this past year and it would be remiss of me not to mention you know the murder of Goerge Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Mr. Arbery has really driven a lot of organizations to take concrete actions to address racism in the workplace. So this past year at Kent State we focused a lot on race as well as other forms of inequity in terms of how they show up. I think at Kent State I’m thinking specifically about the work that we’ve done in creating a kind of a diversity inclusive workplace building teams, providing educational opportunities, and building the capacity of our leadership team to address issues around equity. So at Kent State I’m thinking about our anti racism task force, I’m thinking about our focus to kind of infuse competency both in the individual and the organizational level. Really addressing racism so that we can kind of strengthen Kent State. So specifically both you and Katie have provided training to thousands of individuals both on campus as well as off campus right and I say thousands cause it really is thousands cause it recognizes that we are coming at this at different levels and that people need support and we need to build their capacity so they can address inequity as they show up. One of the things that Kent State has done that I really admire is to center students and really to center the needs of those who have been historically marginalized, so I’m thinking of our focus on scholarship I’m thinking of the cares center that was just created and I’m thinking about addressing issues about mental health again these are all equitable actions we all don’t need access to the CARES center at Kent State or we don’t necessarily use psychological services at Kent State's campus but if we need to we have resources on campus that can address some of those things. That’s really addressing inequity in particular, did I answer your question Marquis?

Marquis: Yes, you did

Katie: Those were some great examples, I think one of the biggest things from this part of the conversation is that equity is not a one size fits all right? You need varied attempts, varied avenues, varied ways of doing; because equity’s also about action and change. And so you need, I don’t know why this is a saying but you need to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks you just have to keep trying different things keeping specific populations and specific issues in mind. So that you’re targeting and really trying to get at the core.

Marquis: And that goes back to the vehicle so when we’re talking about the care center like not all students are going to utilize it but it’s the vehicle to help them maintain care

Dr. Gooden: You know Katie‘s point about the core it just seems that we think about equity that there are a couple of things that need to show up, this idea of justice and fairness support. I really like your idea of throwing spaghetti at the wall, it’s really about being open minded and flexible in a lot of ways right? And kind of really developing in a very intentional way excellence.

Katie: Equity is excellence cause then when things are equitable people can be excellent, institutions can be excellence. And it’s really interesting to, I keep thinking about again you mentioned fairness to shift how we think about what fairness actually is cause I think there’s such a strong connection between fairness and equality right? Everybody gets the same thing and that’s seen as fair but that’s not actually fair and equity teaches us that right?

Dr. Gooden: Yeah, that’s a great point Katie

Katie: So for people who are interested in equity and wanting to shift from that equality viewpoint into more of an equity mindset, what are ways that either you’ve developed or you’ve seen people develop and kind of get more into that equity mindset?

Dr .Gooden: That’s a great question you know it really starts itself, so I think at the individual level there needs to be a concerted and intentional effort to yearn and think about the difference between equality and equity and to actually just let that sit with you for a while. And think about what we’re uncomfortable with when we talk about equality and equity. Cause unless you do the work at the individual level it’s really hard to step up as an ally as advocate and as a change agent so my recommendation would be to start at the individual level whether it’s reading a book, being in conversation, attending some of the sessions that both you and Marquis do or facilitate would be a really great way to start. And the second piece I think individuals are starting on this journey is to be gentle with yourself and not beat yourself up. If you feel that you're not an expert or you haven’t stepped into space to advocate or be an ally some of that takes time. Now I’m not saying to use that as an excuse for not taking action so it  really is a balance and it’s also taking a risk right? In a lot of ways and being vulnerable in spaces where you want to use your voice which is really important, so I’d say start with self like doing some reflective work and then think about you know what your passionate about in terms of equity where you see unfairness and injustice show and how you can pushback or call people in so that they draw attention to behaviors even draw attention to policy’s, procedure and processes that do harm.

Marquis: Yeah, I think what we have adopted when we facilitate some of our training we tell the participants hey this is not about perfection, it’s always about progress. That’s kind of like our unadapted mantra that we kind of tell everyone, when you’re thinking about the self reflection piece you have to peel back the layers to see exactly who you are and then how you can use what you’ve learned in your position and your power and influence like you said to help advocate or be an ally for those individuals from marginalized groups.

Dr. Gooden: And another piece to that and that’s a great point Marquis, every time you and Katie talk I feel like I need to sit in your workshops more. It really triggered something, a thought in me and this idea that you know we can’t do this work in isolation we have to collaborate we have to build coalitions. And really doing equity work requires that we are in relation to each other ourselves and each other as we push forward.

Katie: And once you do that self work which is a continual process you’re never going to fully arrive, but that self work is important to get that community piece because if you end up jumping right into that community you can end up doing harm. And if you’re trying to get into it you don’t want to do harm so that self work piece before entering a community is really important and that community piece is really important because it’s easier when you’ve got ally’s, friends and folks who you can count on to push things forward or bring attention to it so you’re not the only.

Dr. Gooden: And having people around you that are going to check you and be critically honest and show up when you make mistakes pointing it out is really important.

Marquis: So before we transition and get out of the equity talk that sounds like a plug for our book that we just did, is there anything else that you think individuals should know about equity? Because I feel like we touched on a lot in this brief conversation.

Dr. Gooden: Yeah, we did. You know I think Katie’s point that this is a continuous learning process, that this is a journey that we’re all in and there is really no race to innocence. And that we must continually challenge ourselves and use our privileges. We all are privileged in different ways to shift the need for those who are not privileged.

Katie: Before we close things out our division has gone through a lot of different changes in the past year and a half now. So for folks especially in Kent state who might be unaware of some of our directions and changes would you be willing to talk a little bit about that.

Dr. Gooden: Yeah, you know I would. So I mentioned the death of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Arbery earlier particularly Mr. Floyd again the change through the division were seeing across the nation in fact were seeing it across the world where institutions are really facing and reconciling past work or inability to do past work but are really redefining themselves in really unique ways and so this is one of the things that we’ve done at Kent State really building on the legacy prior to 2020. We’ve really created a different division so the identity centers are no longer part of DEI but we’ve got six fabulous staff members so we focused this year on decentralizing diversity equity and inclusion across the university we’re  leading the university in a university wide strategic plan that’s really geared towards building capacity across the division but really also geared at units or areas focusing on specific goals and intentional ways to kind of do a self reflective audit in terms of where units are but also to create goals that would advance the work of DEI we continue with our training anchoring values in really clear and strong ways in our surrounding communities. Doing some work with our local schools, so we’ve done a lot this year and the division has really also focused on building the educational capacity of individuals by working with faculty and staff. A series of town halls will continue for the 2021-2022 school year, really doing some tremendous things. It’s a pleasure to lead the division and be apart of such a wonderful team, it would be remiss of me not to mention some of our faculty affiliates we’ve got some amazing faculty affiliates that I know Katie and Marquis work with you very closely in the lab and so we’re looking forward to continuing working with them this year.

Marquis: Well it has been a pleasure to actually work with you over the last year and to be guided by your leadership and, as mentioned, we have done a lot of work with only six staff members with faculty affiliates helping as well. We could not have done it without your direction and your willingness to be that servant and that champion of diversity and so we are as good as our team but also as good as our leader.

Dr. Gooden: What I love about the work that we do is that we think about everyone. We think about how we can as the division to include everyone in our program and in our activities and I really appreciate doing that work at Kent State and doing that work with you.

Katie: We're a division of six but a Kent state university system of tens of thousands and so we we hope you’re - all the tens of thousands we know  will definitely be listening to this podcast, but we hope you’ll join us in this work and we can count you in as part of our team too!

Marquis: This is just a small piece, so I really want to say thank you all for listening. If you are interested in learning more about what we do as a division you can check out our website at Kent.edu/diversity. And if you have topics that you would like for us to discuss you can feel free to use our email diversity@kent.edu or connect with us on all of our social media at @DEIKentstate and we will see you all next month with a new episode.

Katie: Bye everyone. Thanks for listening!

Marquis: Bye

Dr. Gooden: Bye