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December 10, 2020

What we've learned from 2020: Equity Matters

By Dr. Andrew Mac Intosh
Author: Dr. Andrew Mac Intosh

This has been a busy year, one that has been challenging for all of us.

There was of course COVID-19, which created a number of health, financial and logistic implications for many. There was a Presidential election. And most importantly to me, there was a reckoning as it relates to racial equity and social justice. One that involved difficult conversations about police killings, town halls, rallies and riots, phenomenal athlete activism at all levels and corporate commitment to racial justice that has been unprecedented.

Yes, this year has been challenging, but truth be told, it has impacted us in different ways. Take a moment and let that sink in.

As I look towards this year's end and begin looking ahead to 2021, I realized that all things considered, this had been a relatively good year for me and for us at RISE. While our organization endured significant strain this year, we have had many achievements. Perhaps one of our biggest achievements this year has been the transition to doing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work in the digital and virtual spaces.

One of the ways that has been realized has been the curation of our Digital Learning Series, which explores eight topics all related to racism and social justice. While all the topics we covered are important, perhaps none has been more important to us as Equality/Equity. A key lesson in all that we teach at RISE is recognizing that we are each different and diverse individuals. Our backgrounds and experiences are different, and as such, the resources we all need are different.

These differences have been especially highlighted in the arrangements that school districts put in place for their students. While the ways in which inequities manifest themselves in the education system of our country have long been discussed and examined, the disparities that account for differential rates of graduation, discipline and funding for students of color have been much more visible because of the pandemic.

It is clear now that all youth do not come from the same support systems nor do they have the same safety upon which to fall back. The disparities that we are currently seeing related to students who do not have access to the technology that is now required for them to receive a basic education has never been clearer. As a result, many youth have not been to school since the spring, and if they have, we are not sure what they have learned. Our approach to realizing better outcomes within education therefore needs to take equity into account.

This year reinforced that the sports community has indeed been a leader in the space for racial and social justice. Athletes like Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Naomi Osaka all demonstrated the passion they have for this work and reinforced a clear understanding that difference must be accounted for as we examine the systems and institutions that make up our society.

Had you suggested to me prior to 2020 that DEI work could be effective virtually, I probably would not have agreed. Looking back on the content that we have been able to create, however, as well as the feedback we have received, it is clear that our work has resonated. We are truly happy about that because as a society, we needed to find ways to continue having difficult conversations about race and racism. For us, no lesson is more critical than the fact that we need to prioritize equity much more in our work going forward.

The counterintuitive tension between equality and equity is that we must give differently to everyone (what they need) so that we can all have equal outcomes. For all that this year has been, for the untold hardship that it has created, that hardship has not been universal. If 2020 has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that though our journeys are headed to the same destination, they are unique to each of us.

The counterintuitive tension between equality and equity is that we must give differently to everyone (what they need) so that we can all have equal outcomes.

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