“Equity” is one of the buzzwords in the Evanston community. Its dictionary meaning – outside of the business world – fairness or impartiality in allocations, as distinct from “equality,” which dishes out the same portions to everyone. In common parlance, “equity” seems malleable, if not amorphous.
Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell pondered the meaning of equity, in “What the Heck Does ‘Equity’ Mean, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in September 2015.
“Understanding equity is somewhat like the proverbial blind men describing the different parts of an elephant they touch but failing to ‘see’ the whole animal. True understanding will come by gathering multiple perspectives. As one program officer at a national foundation so astutely put it, ‘The fact is that we don’t know what equity looks like as a society, because we’ve never actually had it.’”
In the pages of this issue of the RoundTable, readers can find three examples some things different organizations are doing to achieve equity – one by expanded access, one using racial affinity groups and the third by inclusive participation. Each group has its reasons for the path it chose, and we invite readers to consider each of these as we collectively search for ways to make Evanston a fair and just community,
After training by Diversity Consultant Gilo Kwesi Logan, Enrich Evanston, composed of predominately White representatives of several local arts groups, decided that increasing access to their programs would promote equity.
At Nichols School, Principal Adrian Harries on occasion has divided his staff into racial groups, called “affinity groups,” as a means to foster understanding among the races and improve school climate. This is one small piece of what District 65 is doing to achieve its equity agenda.
The “Pathways to Peace” series, a partnership between Rotary International and the University of Chicago, advocated including in policy-making decisions representatives of all people who would be affected by those policies.
Race, the basis of the affinity groups at Nichols School, is difficult. It can be difficult to talk about and painful to hear about, but those are reasons to pursue, not evade, such conversations.
The current political climate teems with divisiveness, and the trickle-down effect on local civil discourse is disheartening.
Some latecomers have “discovered” inequalities and cast themselves as the frontline of progressiveness, conveniently forgetting the many people who have been working for years to address racism and the many efforts undertaken to help children and households in need.
It is easy to decry the slow progress toward a more equitable Evanston, particularly in the areas of housing, employment, economics and academic achievement.
It will take time and grit to peel back the layers of institutional racism, victimization and discrimination so that all residents of Evanston can be on an equal footing.
Evanston is a City of many voices and perspectives, some strong and vibrant, others more timid and tremulous. Regardless of their timbre, these voices should be heard.
The objective of this scrutiny should be to find ways to realign the community to its values of equity and fairness and to give residents what they need to thrive. Ascertaining blame can be gratifying, but its use is limited to learning from mistakes.
Evanston is still a small enough town where we can make a difference if we concentrate our efforts to achieve equitable outcomes for everyone. Equity is the pathway to equality.