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Where We’re Going: Everyday Equity

Where We’re Going: Everyday Equity

“Everyday equity” describes equity focused on the day-to-day routine of peoples’ lives. The things that affect us daily—bus schedules, parent-teacher conferences, community events—may be part of larger systems. The above examples are often connected, respectively, to a city’s infrastructure, education system, and local government. Systems also intersect with and affect one another, creating outcomes for entire populations within an area. For instance, a city with a poorly designed public transit system might have fewer housing and workforce options for residents who can’t afford a personal car, contributing to greater income segregation, which can have a negative effect on the social mobility, educational options, and other determinants of well-being for low-income residents.

Put that way, it’s no small problem, and so sometimes putting equity-based solutions in place can feel like trying to move actual mountains. Maybe you make slow, glacial changes, or you experience the quick upheaval of a tectonic shift. There are ways, of course, to lessen upheaval and speed along processes—and knowing how to do so can be essential to the success of any effort. But given the interconnection of these systems, the opposite can be true as well; knowing how to identify small changes that affect peoples’ daily lives can have a large impact on their success. If you’re working to improve your city’s education system, you could be undertaking huge projects, such as aligning curriculum from K-12 through postsecondary. Yet seemingly small questions can help, too: when does the district hold back-to-school night, and is it accessible to working parents? Do you know the transportation methods your students are using to get to campus, and are they reliable?

Alexa Leija, a student at West Texas A&M University, spoke to MDC and other participants in the Partners for Postsecondary Success (PPS) effort at this year’s Learning Institute. She outlines how, every day, her individual learning needs went unnoticed until she finally encountered an advisor who was willing to ask the right questions. In your school district and local colleges, are faculty and staff asking students these questions?

Alexa Leija from MDC on Vimeo.

The city of Amarillo, TX, is listening to Alexa and other students. Their stories have contributed to their PPS partnership’s reexamination of the interconnected systems—the web of educational institutions, legislative policies, and other things that contribute to a local culture—that have created the city’s status quo. As it became clear that the status quo wasn’t working, it also became clear that there were issues of everyday equity that the partnership could address.

One small change that the partnership has made benefits students at Amarillo College; the college is giving $50 gas cards to students who need them. Some programs might overlook an amount that size on the assumption that it would not be enough to have an impact, and some might overlook a non-academic intervention altogether. A gas card, however, can mean that a student doesn’t have to choose between paying the electricity and driving to campus that week. Russell Lowery-Hart, vice president for academic affairs at the college, says that they have recognized the connection that this intervention has to larger, systemic barriers. “None of the barriers had anything to do with academics. They had to do with day care, transportation, food, housing. So we tried to systemically transform our work with students.” Along with gas cards, Amarillo College has committed to addressing students’ non-academic barriers through strategies that include opening a food pantry and clothing closet.

In fact, some members of the Amarillo PPS partnership have taken these strategies as a primer for thinking of how they can personally improve their community by contributing to everyday equity. Russell says, “I shop in different places than I did before, I worship differently than I did before, I have my kids signed up for athletic events that allow them to interact with everyone in the community, not just our neighborhood community—and I’m not the only one that’s had that epiphany.”

The type of individual action that the Amarillo partnership has identified can open doors for students in an immediate and tangible way. Along with a recognition of and a dedication to changing the systemic barriers that contribute to or create these problems, these changes help shift an inequitable landscape toward even ground.

The compass points north: Practicing everyday equity can have benefits that support long-term success. 

This is the tenth installment in a series called “Where We’re Going: Places on the Road to the North Star,” which explores lessons from the past three years of the Partners for Postsecondary Success (PPS) initiative and looks ahead, toward the North Star goals the partner cities are aiming to achieve. PPS, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and led by MDC, is an effort by partnerships in Amarillo, TX; Brownsville, TX; Raleigh, NC; and affiliate site Charlotte, NC, to increase the number of low-income young adults getting postsecondary credentials that lead to living-wage jobs.