Student Equity: a new combined department with an invigorated sense of purpose

Amidst all the changes happening during the fall 2020 semester, one Boise State department is also getting a new name. The departments formerly known as Multicultural Student Services and Student Diversity and Inclusion have been combined into Student Equity this semester.

A 2017 report released by the Commission and Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion — created by former Boise State President Bob Kustra — prompted the decision, which was made by a committee implementing changes to the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

Photo of a student with a mask on working on a laptop in the Student Equity Center
[Photo of Angel Moro-Carrillo with a mask on working on a laptop in the Student Equity Center]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

Ro Parker, Senior Coordinator of Student Equity, said that after deliberations about multiple name ideas, the committee chose “Student Equity” because it trades better-known words like “diversity,” “inclusion” and “multiculturalism” for “equity,” which impacts all students and focuses on action.

“I thought that because equity is the goal, keeping it at ‘Student Equity’ might make people feel like they would want to know more about what that is,” Parker said. “And I think that in understanding the work that we do, it would help it align with the definition of what equity is.” 

To explain the difference between “equality” and “equity,” Parker referenced a popular graphic of three people standing behind a fence watching a baseball game. In one image meant to represent “equality,” each person stands on one box, even though they are not the same height, and the shortest person cannot see over the fence.

To represent “equity,” the tallest person gives the shortest person their box, ensuring all three can watch the game over the fence.

According to Parker, this explains Student Equity’s purpose, which is to create community and provide resources and opportunities to students who have been marginalized and denied access to the benefits of the university in other ways. Parker said this means that their work comes with misconceptions.

“When people look for help with trainings or with presentations, or just resources, the idea of equality is something that is very prominent in their mind, and they never consider that the road to equality is through equity,” Parker said. “And so I really loved that we could use the term ‘equity,’ to help people begin to understand that term, and how really equity is that work that we’re doing to help us to get to this equality piece.” 

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.

Senior political science major Angel Mora-Carrillo, the social media coordinator for Student Equity, said that when creating events and projects, the Student Equity staff constantly strive to make their programs and spaces more accessible, whether to students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, who speak different languages, have impaired hearing or any other needs.

“These are conversations that we actively have — that mindset and that work goes behind every project that we do,” Mora-Carrillo said.

Mora-Carrillo also appreciated having community spaces more than anything, and hopes that other students will get involved so they can have similar experiences.

“I would say community is one of the best things that I’ve taken from it personally and I would argue that other people have similar experiences,” Mora-Carrillo said.

For Parker, Student Equity’s signature event “Tunnel of Oppression,” an interactive experience focused on a particular group or issue that will be made into a documentary this year, embodies what Student Equity tries to do by spotlighting violences that are often unheard or silenced.

Eric Scott, the associate vice president of Student Affairs, said that another example of an equitable program is the First Forward Success Program, designed to help first-generation students transition to university, meet their goals and graduate.

[Graphic of a Student Equity banner placed over the door of the department previously known as Multicultural Student Services]
Graphic by Sarah Schmid | The Arbiter

Creating specific equity-minded initiatives and programs is important at a university, Scott said, because of the myriad benefits that college degrees have to offer. The university’s accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, specifically assesses universities based on their ability to address achievement gaps, which are also known as equity gaps.

“Those gaps really are evidence of unequal distribution of life chances, and we know that postsecondary education and a postsecondary credential is the single intervention in an American’s life that we know of that can actually change long term outcomes,” Scott said.

Those long term outcomes, according to Scott, include increased financial earnings, levels of happiness, length of life and civic and philanthropic engagement. But beyond those impacts, Scott also said that he and his peers see equity as a moral duty.

“People can have the same work ethic, or the same grit, but not necessarily achieve the same outcomes because of the way that our society has at times been set up,” Scott said. “So, from an ethical standpoint, I feel an obligation to help move our world towards a place where discrimination doesn’t happen anymore. But until we reach that world, we have to realize that folks need different levels of support, and that everyone needs opportunities to learn and grow.”

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