Equity as a Mindset

Many of us are at least generally familiar with the idea of “mindsets,” and their relevance to teaching and learning. Carol Dweck, one of the most notable researchers working in the area of mindsets, makes the distinction between “growth” and “fixed” mindsets. Learners with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and abilities are essentially fixed, finite commodities, Dweck argues, and when they fail to accomplish a particular task, they assume they’ve reached the limits of their capacity for that thing. So a student who has told themself “I’m not a math person” is operating within a fixed mindset, and it makes learning extremely difficult—because they’re convinced that further learning is, at least for them, impossible. Far better, Dweck argues, is for learners to work within a growth mindset, where they understand, by adopting effective strategies, they can augment their skills and abilities in a particular area. To put it simply, a learner with a growth mindset, would react to a failing grade on a math exam not by saying “I can’t do this,” but rather “I can’t do this yet.” And it’s that “yet” which is the most important part of the equation. 

When it comes to student learning, mindset research has some significant implications, if approached skillfully and with intentionality. But what if we applied the concept to larger institutional issues that help shape the climate for teaching and learning at our university? The AAC&U’s initiative on promoting “Inclusive Excellence” is one way to approach diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campus with a growth mindset—that is, a commitment to doing this work with the understanding that, a. it’s work which we need to do, and b., even though we have a ways to go as a campus community, that the efforts expended to get there are important and meaningful even if they’re not yet complete.

This is particularly true when it comes to race. Our students are telling us, for example, that there is much work to do when it comes to racial disparities in such key academic areas as curricula and graduation rates. Grand View’s graduation rates, when broken down by race/ethnicity, resemble the national averages in their far lower numbers for African American and Latinx students when compared to the proportion of white students who graduate. Yes, some of this is shaped by larger socio-political factors, but it’s undeniable that we have work to do, and that there are absolutely ways in which we can effect meaningful change.

It’s in this light that we can approach the challenge issued by the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education for institutions to foster “Equity-Mindedness“:

The term “Equity-Mindedness” refers to the perspective or mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who call attention to patterns of inequity in student outcomes. These practitioners are willing to take personal and institutional responsibility for the success of their students, and critically reassess their own practices. It also requires that practitioners are race-conscious and aware of the social and historical context of exclusionary practices in American Higher Education

But even more importantly, being Equity-Minded includes the willingness to practice the types of critical self-reflection that undergirds any effective pedagogical practices:

In order to understand and become “Equity-Minded”, it warrants that various practitioners (faculty, administration, staff, etc.) assess and acknowledge that their practices may not be working. It takes understanding inequities as a dysfunction of the various structures, policies, and practices that they can control. “Equity-Minded” practitioners question their own assumptions, recognize stereotypes that harm student success, and continually reassess their practices to create change. Part of taking on this framework is that institutions and practitioners become accountable for the success of their students and see racial gaps as their personal and institutional responsibility.

The CUE article poses a range of tough questions (appended in a PDF at the end of this post) which challenge all of us—staff, faculty, and administration—to see where we fall short, and to discern our blind spots. But I think these are precisely the types of questions we ought to be asking ourselves, because they are the very questions some of our students and their families are asking already, and will continue to do so. What answers would we give? And are they good enough? Our responses to those questions might very well be the basis for our work in adopting a campus-wide Equity mindset.

Using Carol Dweck’s framing of the “growth mindset,” we might consider that, though we’ve fallen short in equity-related areas, we have the capacity and the willingness to get better. Our ability to enhance the sense of belonging on our campus has not been exhausted; we aren’t where we want to be yet, but committing to Equity-Mindedness might just be the way in which we get to our goal. As we move through the semester, let’s challenge ourselves and our institution to be responsible for equitable opportunities and outcomes for all of our students.


Tuesday, Jan. 28, 4-5 PM  ♦  Creating Presence in Online Teaching

Thursday, Jan. 30, 11-11:30 AM ♦ Lunch and Learn: Financial Precarity and Student Learning

For a complete schedule of CETL programming for the semester, click HERE or consult the CETL Calendar.



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